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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Clothe Yourselves in Orange and White and Love

Rally Day

Colossians 3:12-17
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


So, it's Football Time In Tennessee. Time to clothe yourself in Orange and White. The Apostle Paul wrote about clothing yourself, too. Except, Paul wasn't talking about football. But he was talking about competitions. Real competitions. 

Paul was talking about clothing yourself for the big game you face every morning when the alarm goes off and you wake up and get out of bed and face the world. How are you going to handle your opponents? How are you going to face the adversary, whether that's another person, or your attitude, or your physical abilities, or the money that is or isn't in your bank account, or a job you don't like, or what that teacher in 3rd grade called you, or what your brother thinks of you, or any other 300-pound problem that's lined up and waiting to blitz you?

How do you look when you look at what's coming at you? When you kick off the day, what's your spiritual outfit? Are you someone dressed for success or an un-blessed mess shrouded in stress? Do you have all the equipment you need? 

Every day, whether you win, or whether you lose, how are you set to play the game? 

A famous Tennessean once said, "It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game."

Of course, this Tennessean attended Vanderbilt, so, no surprise he'd say something like that. They're much more philosophical about win-loss records over there. They have to be.

Actually, the great Commodore who came up with the saying about "how you play the game," was none other than Grantland Rice, the Dean of American Sportswriters. It's from his poem, "Alumnus Football." 

His poem sounds like it's about football. But really it's about much, much more. Rice says almost as much as the Apostle Paul does about how to live your life. It talks about how to clothe yourself for the big game that happens on any and every day. It sounds like it's about sports, but it's really a sermon about how to deal with the real-world losses and real-life wins that make up your season's record.

Alumnus football
Grantland Rice

Bill Jones had been the shining star upon his college team.
His tackling was ferocious and his bucking was a dream.
When husky William took the ball beneath his brawny arm
They had two extra men to ring the ambulance alarm.

Bill hit the line and ran the ends like some mad bull amuck.
The other team would shiver when they saw him start to buck.
And when some rival tackler tried to block his dashing pace,
On waking up, he'd ask, "Who drove that truck across my face?"

Bill had the speed-Bill had the weight-Bill never bucked in vain;
From goal to goal he whizzed along while fragments, strewed the plain,
And there had been a standing bet, which no one tried to call,
That he could make his distance through a ten-foot granite wall.

When he wound up his college course each student's heart was sore.
They wept to think bull-throated Bill would sock the line no more.
Not so with William - in his dreams he saw the Field of Fame,
Where he would buck to glory in the swirl of Life's big game.

Sweet are the dreams of college life, before our faith is nicked-
The world is but a cherry tree that's waiting to be picked;
The world is but an open road-until we find, one day,
How far away the goal posts are that called us to the play.

So, with the sheepskin tucked beneath his arm in football style,
Bill put on steam and dashed into the thickest of the pile;
With eyes ablaze he sprinted where the laureled highway led-
When Bill woke up his scalp hung loose and knots adorned his head.

He tried to run the ends of life, but with rib-crushing toss
A rent collector tackled him and threw him for a loss.
And when he switched his course again and dashed into the line
The massive Guard named Failure did a toddle on his spine.

Bill tried to punt out of the rut, but ere he turned the trick
Right Tackle Competition scuttled through and blocked the kick.
And when he tackled at Success in one long, vicious prod
The Fullback Disappointment steered his features in sod.

Bill was no quitter, so he tried a buck in higher gear,
But Left Guard Envy broke it up and stood him on his ear.
Whereat he aimed a forward pass, but in two vicious bounds
Big Center Greed slipped through a hole and rammed him out of bounds.

But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
"Oh Boy," he said, "the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you've worn the piker out!"

"And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff - go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don't sit there whining-hustle up and keep on coming back;

"Keep coming back with all you've got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
'We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.'

"You'll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

"Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game's end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the Game."


It's great to clothe yourself in Orange and White. If you're facing an obstacle or opponent, it's great to do your homework. It's good to practice. It's good to watch the tapes over and over in your mind. It's fine to exercise your will, and to build up your body and spirit. It's fine and good and great to be as strong as you possibly can. That's fine. That's good. That's great. 

But all those things you can never prepare for? They're still out there, too. Failure. Competition. Disappointment. Envy. Greed. They're still lining up. And like with Bill Jones, they'll jump offsides before you know it, and the penalties called against them will be few. What do you do when they knock you to the ground?

Dress yourself in whatever helmet and pads and preparation you need for whatever you expect and whatever you have time and energy to worry about. That's great. That's excellent. But what about the rest?

The Bible says it will show you a still more excellent way. And that's what the Apostle Paul is talking about.

Beneath everything else, as a person called holy and beloved by God (which you are), clothe yourselves with compassion, with kindness, with humility, with meekness, and with patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Those fashion designers are right: It's helpful to dress in layers. Start with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Then layer on the Orange and White, or Black and Gold, or Crimson and White (well, maybe not that). But above all, clothe yourself in love, which brings everything together in perfect harmony.

Did you know that the words "costume" and "custom" (or "habit") come from the same root? When Paul talks about clothing yourself in love, what he's really saying is, make it your outermost custom, your habit, your leading edge. Lead with love. Let that be the quality by which you are known.

Did you know Einstein had seven suits that were exactly alike? He wore the same thing every day. He said it cut out at least one decision. Plus, if you always dress the same, people remember who you are. So if you clothe yourself in love - every day - seven days a week - people will recognize you, and remember you. It'll become your custom, your habit, your fashion. People will appreciate you for your fashion sense. After a while, you won't even have to think about it. That's one decision down. That's a very excellent way.


If you're anywhere in the land of the SEC, if you're anywhere in this chosen, elite conference area, and if you're wearing Orange and White, people are going to recognize you. They'll say, "Oh. Tennessee. A Volunteer. Would you sing all the verses of Rocky Top? Because, our fight song is awful. Frankly, 'Dynamite, Dynamite… Down on the field with blood to yield,' just makes no sense for our school." If you're anywhere in the Southeastern US and you're wearing Orange and White, people are just going to know who you represent and that you're a fan. 

Wouldn't it be great, if wherever you went, people saw in your eyes, watched in your actions, heard in your words, that above all you clothe yourself in love? And wouldn't it be great if they recognized you as a person who today will her all, who gives his all, for the One who gave and gives his all for you? Wouldn't it be great if everything about you shows that you live beyond winning and losing, that you live for Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in all the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love that made people recognize him, and say, "Truly you are the Son of God"? Wouldn't that be way to play the game? Wouldn't that be the way to live the Spirit? Wouldn't that be the best, most excellent way?

Set aside the things that hold you back. Turn away from the fear that creeps up on you. Take off the weight of anxiety that drags you down. And above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.