Last night I attended the IU/Purdue basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, thanks to the generosity of Rev. George Purnell and some members at Bloomington 1st Church. Our seats were great – right behind the scorer’s bench. As a grad of Purdue it was hard to watch the Boiler lose, but it was fun to be at such an exciting game. It was actually not a well-played game by either team. IU had 24 turnovers, and Purdue missed 10 free throws which helped account for their 9-point loss. But there is always a lot of energy in these Big 10 games, and I am glad to see Purdue and IU back on top of their conference and ranked among the top teams in the nation.

All of this got to me to thinking about how basketball games reflect some of our Christian faith journey, so here is my effort at “A Basketball Guide to Faith”:

  1. Free Throws represent our opportunity to do good. Basketball even refers to the “charity line” where those shots are taken. Missed free throws are missed opportunities we all have to do good deeds. One of the General Rules of our UMC is to “do good” and we all need to avoid missing those opportunities.
  2. Turnovers are those times when we try to do something good and faithful, but we fail. Mostly such turnovers happen when fail to reply upon others on our team – like last night when one IU player absent-mindedly failed to bring the ball across the 10-second line in time, and thus turned the ball over to Purdue. Most of us have turnovers in our faith journeys – times when we fail to accomplish even the basic aspects of discipleship.
  3. Rebounds are second chances to score and achieve a faithful life. Often our missed shots are times when someone else picks up the dropped ball and helps us to try again. As a Christian it is good to know that I am part of a team which helps to pick up my misses and turn them into second chances.
  4. Fouls are those mistakes, errors, and sins that we commit when we break the rules. Being called for a foul in basketball and having the other team rewarded with the ball or free throws reminds us that there is a cost when we break the rules of the game.
  5. Three-point shots are those dramatic times when our best and most faithful efforts bring results, even more results than normal (more than a regular two-point shot). Such dramatic moments come when we think “bigger” and more “long-term” than just our usual faith efforts. And of course the rewards are greater when we really stretch our faithful efforts all the way beyond the three-point arc.
  6. Teamwork on offense and defense is important in basketball in our faith journey. Basketball is not a one-person game, and neither is the Christian faith. Working together, passing and sharing, covering for one another, and depending upon one another – all of those traits make for a good basketball team, and they also make for a good Christian life. In basketball the player who tries to do too much on her or his own is called a “hot dog” or a “ball hog.” Such traits do not reflect well in the Christian life either. I find it fascinating that Jesus called a whole team of disciples, and his first choices were two sets of brothers who were used to working together. Teamwork makes our Christian faith successful.
  7. The Shot Clock and the game clock remind players that a basketball game has limits. In our faith journey we are reminded that our time is limited, and if we want to be faithful we must live our lives with a sense of urgency because our time is limited. Perhaps that is why John Wesley urged his followers “Do not trifle your time away.”
  8. Basketball players are surrounded by the Cheering Section of fans who are clapping, shouting, cheering, and urging the team on to success. In our faith journey, the Letter to the Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” of those Christians who have passed on from life to death to life. As Christians we always have a “home court advantage” when we hear and feel the support in the grandstands of those who are praying for us and cheering for us to finish faithfully.
  9. The Final Score in a basketball games decides which team has won the game. Fortunately as Christians we can live our life as those who already know the Final Score. We know that the final victory belongs to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even as we struggle to be faithful in life, we are already assured that the Victory is ours in Christ.
  10. The Coach for a basketball team is the one who guides, directs, disciplines, encourages, plans, recruits, and teaches the team how to play well. Good coaches are often ones who have played well themselves and who know the game from first-hand experience. The best coaches are ones who lead their team through an entire season, including victories and defeats, on toward the higher prize of a winning season. For our faith journey, we have the Spirit of Jesus Christ as our “coach” and advocate. He is the One who has experienced it all and found the final victory.

May we follow Christ during this basketball season … I mean Lenten season … all the way to the Victory of Easter and beyond.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner