October 15, 2007

Rooting for Victory
by Pastor George Van Alstine

A week ago Saturday I was in sports-fan heaven. USC and UCLA were both playing important football games. LSU, the team competing with USC for #1 ranking, was playing a tough opponent. My alma mater, Rutgers, was trying to win their first league game. On top of this football smorgasbord, San Diego and Arizona were playing the pivotal game in their baseball playoff series. All four games were on television at the same time. My fingers never left the TV remote, as I flipped from one game to another, determined not to miss a crucial play.

Of course, I was strongly rooting for one of the teams in each game. This is important, because my rooting was critical to their winning. In fact, I had to actually have my eyes on the teams of preference for them to be successful. This is quite a heavy responsibility, but I did my best.

Unfortunately, my best wasn’t good enough, as, one by one, each of my four teams lost! Zero for four—not very effective rooting. Maybe my psychic powers were spread too thin, with my attention divided among four teams. Or maybe I was not concentrating hard enough. Or maybe my thoughts were impure, contaminated by some recent sinful impulse or angry interaction. Maybe if I had done the dishes the night before the results would have been different—at least one win.

Of course, my rooting didn’t really make any difference to the outcome. Another kind of rooting was the determining factor.

Have you ever thought about that word and where it comes from—“rootingâ€?? Apparently, it developed in English usage from the rooting a pig does, pushing up the ground with its snout to get to the good smelly stuff just below the surface. In football, the “hogsâ€? are those big three-hundred-pounders who grunt and groan in their efforts to root out the opposite team’s linemen so their side can advance a few yards. These guys never get any credit in the media, and fans don’t walk around with their number on their shirts. But their kind of rooting usually is what makes the difference between victory and defeat.

The Apostle Paul was a sports fan. In his writings he used analogies from racing, boxing and wrestling. I think if he were in my living room that Saturday, he would have been fighting me for the remote control.

Paul knew that in building the church of Christ on earth the “starsâ€? were not the determining factor. Whether the leader was Peter, or Apollos or Paul himself was not as critical as the faithfulness of the average believers who were dedicated in serving in inconspicuous ways. (See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:1-9, Galatians 2:6-9) He ended his letter to the Romans with a series of greetings to people about whom we know nothing else. He identified a Mary who “worked very hard among youâ€? (verse 6) and Urbanus who was “our co-worker in Christâ€? (verse 9). And he named three women as particularly faithful:
“Greet those laborers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis who toiled hard in the Lord.â€? (verse 12) Paul may have been a famous quarterback, but he knew he would have not gained an inch without “linemenâ€? like these. They were rooters in the best sense of the word, willing to get down in the dirt for the team.

In referring to his own work among the churches, Paul doesn’t remind the believers of his great dramatic moments of stardom, like his courageous appearance before thousands of hostile unbelievers in the amphitheater at Ephesus (Acts 19), or his public debate victory on Mars Hills in Athens (Acts 17). Instead he mentions repeatedly how he “laboredâ€? among them, sometimes with pain and tears (1 Thessalonians 2:9, 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:23). Paul knew that his greatest contribution to the faith was his gruntwork in the trenches. He was a true “rooter.â€?

There are lots of spectator-style rooters in the church today. These people have their remotes ready, to tune out anything too challenging they hear from the Bible or from a preacher. They want the church to win, and do all they can to make it happen, as long as they don’t have to leave the easy-chair/pew they’re sitting in.

But their rooting won’t bring the victory. It’s the other kind of rooting, the down-and-dirty kind, that builds Jesus’ church in the world. The Lord is looking for more of these rooters, and a few less of the remote-control type.