As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Go All The Way, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 9 November, 2014. The Reading was Mark 10:17-31.
Vincent T Lombardi was born in Brooklyn in 1913, to Italian immigrants. His father ran a butcher shop that allowed the family to prosper during the great depression. His family attended Mass every Sunday, which was always followed by dinner with friends, extended family and local clergy. Vincent graduated from the eighth grade in 1928, and then went to Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Brooklyn to become a catholic priest. After four years, he decided not to pursue the priesthood, and instead headed to St Francis Preparatory high school in 1932. He was offered a football scholarship in 1933 to Fordham University, where he was aggressive and spirited on the football field. After leaving university, he tried his hand at Semi-pro football, and as a debt collector, but failed rather quickly. He enrolled in Law, but withdrew after one semester. In 1939, He accepted an assistant coaching job with the St Cecilia High School in New Jersey. By 1942, he was head coach, and in 1943, St Cecilia’s was recognised as the top football team in the nation.
In 1947, he was coach of the Fordham University Freshman teams, and in 1948 an assistant coach of the varsity team.
In 1949, he started as an assistant at West Point, before eventually joining the New York Giants in 1954 to start his NFL Coaching career. He accepted a head coaching role with the Green Bay Packers in 1959, and was named Coach of the year. He turned the team around from its worst record in history in the 1958 season, to a completely sold out season in 1960, and the Packers have sold out every home game since. The Packers won the 1960 NFL Western Conference, and made it to the NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in what would become his only ever championship game loss. He led the Packers to three consecutive NFL Championships in 65, 66 and 67, and win the first two Superbowls in 1966 and 1967, and would eventually have the Superbowl trophy named after him.
Religion was always a constant part of his life. While at St Cecilia, he would attend mass every day, and when he was head coach, he lead his team to Mass before each home game. While coaching the Packers, he would stop at St Willebrord church every day. His faith, and his experiences when growing up, affected his coaching – seeking to break racial prejudice that was rampant in the league, in a time when the Civil Rights movement was only just getting started. He viewed every one of his players the same, saying he “viewed his players as neither black nor white, but Packer green”. He even went as far as telling all Green Bay businesses that if they didn’t accept his black players as well as his white players, then their business would be off limits to the entire team.
Being a Christian is tough
One of my favourite quotes of Lombardi’s is this: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” It describes his mentality of how he lived his life. And you can see by looking at his story that his faith clearly had a part to play in it.
In our story today, we hear of a guy that – by all external appearances – has got it all. And I mean – he’s got everything. He’s rich – he’s got many possessions – and he’s got a deep faith – he knows that what he wants is eternal life, and he’s been keeping all of the commandments. If anyone is to be looked up to in life, surely this is the guy.
But, I’m sure that we can all attest to the fact that today, being a Christian isn’t easy. It’s not an easy ride – it can be really tough. Just listen to what Jesus says we must do: Do not murder (well, I hope that’s easy for everyone here), no adultery (again, hope that’s easy for everyone), no stealing (not even any of the office stationary), don’t lie (hmm… yea), don’t defraud or cheat (especially not when you’re playing me at golf), and honour your father and mother. How did we all go?
But it’s not quite as easy as that, is it? In Matthew, we hear Jesus extend these commandments so that they’re not just actions, but it comes from the heart as well. Where scripture says “Do not murder”, Jesus says “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement”. Where scripture says “Do not commit adultery”, Jesus says “Anyone who has looked at a woman in lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. How are we doing now?
But it’s not even just what Jesus said these days. As much as we would like it to not be true, Christianity isn’t exactly “in vogue” these days. There are attacks on our faith coming from all angles. It’s becoming harder and harder for us to be able to tell people about our faith. So yes, being a Christian is tough.
But this guy – he had kept all of them since his youth. And Jesus looked at him, and saw him, and loved him. Jesus looked at this guy, and saw the one thing that was holding him back. He told him to go and sell everything he had, and give the money to the poor, then follow him.
Now, this isn’t saying that we have to live lives of poverty with no possessions. Jesus looked at this man, and saw what was the one thing holding him back from giving his all. Maybe a love of money and possessions is that for you. Maybe for you it’s status, or power, privilege or perception. None of them bad in itself – but if it is what is preventing you from giving your all to Jesus – then that’s what Jesus is asking you to give up.
We have an opportunity to give our all
The wonderful thing though is that we have an opportunity to get over what is holding us back. That thing that you think you can’t give up? Jesus can help you with that. That thing you think is impossible? Not for God – for God all things are possible.
Think you can’t give up your love to be seen doing everything? Not for God – for God, all things are possible.
Think you can’t give up your ability to make people jump? Not for God – for God, all things are possible.
Think you can’t give up the special treatment? Not for God – for God, all things are possible.
Think you can’t give up your love of what other people think of you? Not for God – for God, all things are possible.
We need to look deep into our own lives, and look at what is holding us back from committing fully to Jesus.
When we give our all, things happen
When we are able to give our all to Jesus, amazing things can happen. Peter told Jesus “we have left everything to follow you!” and Jesus responds by saying that no-one who has left family or property for him and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this life and in the life to come. It may seem counter-intuitive, but by giving it all up, we gain more.
Vince Lombardi could’ve been a priest. He could’ve been a football player. He could’ve been a lawyer. But he gave it all up, and became one of the game’s greatest coaches, who shaped the game for many years and whose influence still dominates the game.
When we give our whole lives to Jesus, imagine what can happen. Imagine what would happen if every single person here made a decision today that every word that came out of their mouth would give praise to Jesus? How incredible would that make our lives?
Imagine what would happen if every conversation we had, we would find an opportunity to talk about Jesus, and what’s happening in our lives? How much of an impact would that make on the lives of our friends and family?
Imagine what would happen if we had people, who had decided to give it all to God, who were able to get out in our community and work with the people who need God the most, who need our help, through soup, soap and salvation? How much of an impact would that make on our community?
I want to share with you a poem, by Charles Bukowski. There’s one word – or really, one letter – that I don’t agree with, but the message is the same with or without it.
Go and give it your all
And you’ll do it and it will be better than anything else you can imagine.
So go on. Do it. Do it. Do it. Go all the way. All the way. All, the way.
Give your all to Jesus. Whatever is holding you back, give it to Jesus, and let him deal with it. Let him in, because he’s got incredible things planned for your life.