Called to More

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb′edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb′edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
— Matthew 4. 18 – 22

To do what those first followers of Jesus did—to give up their livelihood, to turn their back on their lives, to change their minds and directions—must have been with a sense that they were called to do something more in life than go fishing. Now I’m about to discuss the National Football League. This violates the belief sacred among some in the holy primacy of baseball and crumbles my heretofore steadfast refusal to yield our Sabbath to Super Bowl Sunday. But there you have it; it infects us all. (Full disclosure: I am an NFL owner.)

In 1958 the Green Bay Packers recorded one win, ten losses, and one tie. As a matter of record, for the previous ten years the Packers had been able to win only 34 games while losing 84, a record of futility which made them the doormats of the NFL. In 1959 they restructured. They reassessed strategy. They sold off non-productive assets and acquired a few key new ones. They concentrated fiercely on their core business—blocking and tackling. They assembled a new management team made up of old timers and newcomers, got a firm grip on their pride and their determination, and set about making one of the great turnarounds in the history of sports, or for that matter in the history of management.

To recite the record: over the next nine seasons, the Packers won more than 75 percent of their games and were NFL champions five of those years. The Packers narrowly lost to the Philadelphia Eagles at Franklin Field in the 1960 NFL Championship Game. The game marked the lone playoff defeat for Packers coach Vince Lombardi before his Packers team established a dynasty that won five NFL championships, as well as the first two Super Bowls, in a span of seven seasons. The crowning achievement was winning three straight from 1965 to 1967, something no other NFL team has done since postseason play began in 1933.

To quote from the gospel according to Vince Lombardi: “Running a football team is not terribly different from running any other kind of organization: an army, a political party, a business. The principles are the same. Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. The objective is to win fairly, squarely, decently, by the rules—but to win . . . To do that you have to concentrate on fundamentals. You have to want to succeed badly enough to take the pain and the discipline which success demands.”

Now, please, make the imaginative leap. For “success” let us substitute clarity of larger purpose, and ultimately to the faithfulness of that purpose.
What would such a turnaround, such a change of mind and strategy look like for you? If not “getting it” in life, not hearing a call, not coming to yourself, not able to respond honestly to the possibilities of life, or creatively to its setbacks—what would you have to do? What would a change of mind, a restructuring of strategy be for you? What would it be for the Church of the Good Samaritan?

—  The Rev’d Phil Ellsworth