As the players jog across the field to take their positions on the side-lines, the team looks just like any other High School football team. Pads, helmets, and playful shoving are all there. But, when they start playing and you analyze their game, you start to see a big difference. It’s not that they use special plays that no one has seen before. They also don’t have a quarterback hero who saves the team. But, they do have a coach with a smile on his face, who hugs players as they come off of the field. This difference is really obvious when you look to the other side of the field and see the red faced coach yelling at the kids, hoping that his lecture will instill a sense of perfect game play. This coach is a disciple of Christ who has decided to bring the light of Christ’s love to the demanding sport of high school football. Oh, and there’s one other difference between the two teams: his team is often winning.
Now, this team is not some sort of cult for Jesus. His team is a normal high school team with all of the prohibitions against preaching “Jesus saves you” to its team members. This makes no difference, because being Christ to the kids on your team and inviting them to be Christ to each other is much more than having them repeat back the hollow words, “Jesus saves me.” This coach knows to his core that every kid entrusted to his care needs to have the opportunity to be loved. This is not huggy group counseling either, but his players will never be told to “just leave all the junk at home, and play the game.” They are not cattle after-all. They are human beings. Just as Jesus enters into the dark gentile regions and makes his home with the gentiles, this coach and his staff invite themselves into the sometimes dark lives of the players and make a home there. The hope is that if a little light is shone into their lives, they will turn around to look at the light and discover that darkness and fear do not have to win, they are people who can be loved. And when they are loved enough, they are free to play some good football.
Love and forgiveness and second chances and help to recover from mistakes are all a part of helping the players be loved. In overtly religious terms, the opportunity to repent and turn around ones life can also turn around ones attitude towards the game.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” Jesus proclaims. Jesus' message essentially says this: “Turn around from the dark road you are traveling on, look into the light, and see that you are loved and forgiven and given a second chance.” This team takes these words to heart.
Just as Jesus expects the fisherman who have heard his message to drop their nets and follow, so too the coach expects the players to follow his lead. Based closely on Jesus words, “You should love one another, just as I have loved you,” this coach expects his players to do as he and his staff have done for them. He expects the players to make sure other players are cared for. There may be poor players, but no one is sidelined from being loved. Besides, those benched players have a gift; they can see what may be going wrong in the game because they have the vantage point of the big picture. Everyone has a gift to offer. He expects his players to be the first ones to make sure a downed player on the other team is OK. They are expected to be there even before the other team’s members can reach their companion. He expects his players to get up from the jock lunch table and sit with a lonely outcast kid at another table during school lunch. It is starts out as a racing game for the players, but it ends in those labeled "losers" being cared for. No kid should be left eating alone, that is inhumane. Jesus ate with the sinners and the outcasts, and these players too will join the outcasts. He expects that his players will give others in their little circle of influence in the world the opportunity to be loved. He expects his players to love. And, they do, and it makes a difference.
The team is repeatedly a winning team. They are renown for their superior sportsmanship. The tightness of the school and the strength of the school spirit is amazing. People want to know how he pulls off such a feat, and they are continually surprised when he answers that the key to his success is encouraging his players to simply, be loved, love, and make a difference. His team may not sing “Jesus loves me” or wear “Prayer is power” uniforms onto the field, but his team knows and shares the good news of God’s grace stronger than any afterschool prayer club could hope for. Christ is not just the part of their life that happens of Sunday; Christ is their life. “Be loved, love, make a difference,” these words are who they are and it has made a difference.
Being the body of Christ is not about cheap tactics to sell the church to more people. It is not about becoming the huge rich church that can do everything. Being the body of Christ is about coming together as a group of people and living these words, “Be loved, love, make a difference.” Christ does love you. You are lovable. Christ can make your life turn around. You do have a purpose and it is the same as God’s purpose: to love. When you love others, Christ has effectively used you to make a difference in your home, or at your work, or in your school, or on your dart team, or even on your football team. “Be loved, love, make difference,” that is what being the body of Christ is about.