Faith and madness

Published 11:34 am Saturday, March 29, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

I don’t watch a lot of sports. It’s not that I don’t like them. In fact, I love sports. Baseball, basketball, football – I love them all.

My problem is that I don’t really have time to watch them. Once I get home in the evenings, after eating dinner, cleaning up, and spending some time with my wife, there isn’t much room left for ESPN. And I’m okay with that.  While I love sports, I can live without them.

This does, however, create a lot of awkward Sunday morning conversations. Inevitably, whether it’s football season, basketball season, or even curling season, someone will approach me about the most recent game. They’ll say something like “Did you see those Hokies play last night? That was a good game wasn’t it?” To which I’ll often just furiously nod my head and think to myself, “I knew I should have watched Sports Center!”

One of the few times of the year that I do watch a lot of sports, though, is March Madness. There’s something about the excitement of the tournament that’s hard to ignore – especially when there’s a good underdog story.

You know, there’s something about the hope of the underdog that really excites us. (Unless, of course, that underdog’s playing our team!) We’re inspired by their determination, their passion. It gives us hope that giants can be defeated, odds can be conquered, for them and for us. And perhaps one of the most exciting examples of this in the history of the NCAA tournament happened the year I was born: 1983.

That year, Houston was the most powerful team in the nation. Their record was 30-2 and their team was stacked with outstanding players, two of whom (Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwan) would later go on to be NBA Hall of Famers. In fact, the team made so many slam-dunks that season that they received the nickname “Phi Slama Jama.”

N.C. State, however, had little to brag about. Aside from winning their conference tournament and making it to the national championship game, the rest of N.C. State’s season offered little to be remembered. They finished the season 17-10, had no players with real NBA potential, and barely even squeaked through the first round of the NCAA tournament, requiring overtime in order to defeat Pepper dine.

But that’s the beauty of March Madness: anything can happen. By the last few seconds of the game, these two teams were tied 52-52. With less than a minute left, N.C. State in-bounded the ball and spent the next 45 seconds or so playing “keep-away” with Houston. After a few close calls, an N.C. State player takes a desperation shot from well beyond the 3-point line. As the ball descends, it is clear that it will never make it in; this game is going into overtime. Yet from out of nowhere, another N.C. State player appears from the bottom of the screen, leaping in the air towards the ball. And as the last few seconds tick away, he slams the ball into the hoop, solidifying the national championship and shocking millions of people around the nation (none more so than those playing for Houston).

It was a game that will be remembered and replayed for decades. N.C. State had done the impossible; they’d defeated an undefeatable team. But how did they do it?

Well, clearly they had talent. You can’t get that far without it. And I’m sure they had a little bit of luck. What championship team doesn’t? But I have a feeling something else was there too: faith.

You see, whenever you watch a game like that, one where a team with no chance somehow upsets the obvious favorite, you hear the commentators say something along the lines of “If this team keeps the lead much longer, they just might start believing they can win; and when that happens, I don’t think you’ll be able to stop them.” In other words, what the commentators are speaking of is faith. They’re recognizing the presence of what any team must believe in order to win a game like this: they can win; and they will win. They know it, they feel it, they can see it in their minds. They have faith.

According to the Bible, “faith is the confidence of what we hope for and the assurance of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). It is the belief that even when the odds seem as if they are against you and all feels lost, there is still hope. You will overcome.

As Christians, we place this faith not in teammates, or coaches, or occasional lucky shots. We place it in God. We look to Jesus as our hope, our salvation, our deliverer.

But here’s where things get tricky: faith is more than just belief. It’s action.

The N.C. State team didn’t win just because they believe they could. They practiced endlessly before the game and gave everything they had during it. They sacrificed their sleep, their bodies, their social lives and countless opportunities for distraction in order to commit all they had to this amazing opportunity. Because what they realized is that true faith isn’t just sitting back and waiting for something to happen; it’s a willingness to sacrifice everything in order to see it happen.

That’s why Jesus looked at a large crowd of people hoping to be his disciples and said: “Whoever does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, even their own lives cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In those days, hate wasn’t a matter of emotion.  It was a matter of choice. If you loved something, you chose it. If you hated it, you didn’t choose it.

So what Jesus is saying is that if you want to be his disciple, you have to choose him over everything else in your life. That’s what true faith looks like.  He doesn’t just want to hear us say that we believe; he wants to see it.

So, ask yourself: Where in your life do you need to have greater faith? Where do you need to trust God more? Where do you need to go beyond saying that you believe to actually showing it?

That’s what we’re discovering together at Courtland United Methodist Church as we go through our Lenten sermon series “40 Days of Faith.” We’re discovering what it means to have faith, what that looks like, and how we can take very real steps towards expressing it.

The truth is, amazing things can happen when we have faith. We can overcome giants, shatter the odds (or as Jesus promises, “move mountains”). But in order for that to happen, we must not just state our faith; we must act on it. We must bet everything we have on God. For then we will truly know what faith is. And only then will we truly see its power.

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or