It's that time of year again! This is possibly the greatest weekend in sports - wall to wall NCAA Tournament basketball from Thursday to Sunday. Even if you don't follow college hoops throughout the year, this weekend is the time when Cinderella comes out to play and all things are possible. It is the only time of the year when the whole nation will be pulling for Southern Illinois and Winthrop. Last second shots. Heroics from unknown players from schools you've never heard of. Big programs bowing to the little man. It's the rags-to-riches story played out before your eyes. This is the best weekend of the tournament, because as the field advances, usually the best team wins. But, this is the time for upsets, which America loves.
My favorite team, LSU - 2006 regular season SEC champs, got robbed by being given a #4 seed, but many are predicting that they will make it to the Final Four, which would be incredible. They play really well together as a team and have a great inside-outside combination. In my opinion, when basketball is played well, like it is supposed to be, it is really beautiful. It is all about teamwork, defense, moving without the ball, setting up your best shooter for the open shot by setting picks and passing well. It is about blocking out and fundamentals. And, it is about unselfishness - putting the team before the individual. This is why teams like the Detroit Pistons win in the NBA and why, if LSU plays the way they are capable of, they will go far in the NCAAs.
What makes basketball so great are the same things that make us successful in life and help us fulfill the calling that God has for us. Teamwork. Putting others before yourself. Discipline. Fundamentals. Defense. A sweet pick and roll (o.k., I lost focus). But, the point is that sports teaches us a lot about how we are to live. In real life, we need perseverance. We need to know that we can come back when we are down, that a loss does not mean we are defeated because there is always tomorrow or next year, that we need each other and we cannot do it by ourselves. For those of us who have ever played sports, these are lessons that have shaped our lives and have reminded us to never give up. They are the same lessons that we learn in the Bible when Paul says in Romans 12:5 that we "belong to one another" and in verse 10 that we are to be "dev0ted to one another in brotherly love." They are the same lessons that grace teaches us as Jesus enables us through His redemptive work to step into the real life that God has for us. In His life, we are taught to love others as we love ourselves, to put others before us, to persevere and never lose hope even in the greatest of difficulties- because He is our hope. In a very small way, basketball, when played in it's purest form, points us to that ideal and it resonates in our souls. May we be interpreters of our culture for those longing and show them the real thing - in our lives and in the church.