Continuation of the 'Sunday Sermon' series, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on that label below this posting.
I just heard a reporter on the ESPN flagship program 'SportsCenter' mention that the Baltimore Ravens players feel that they are playing today's AFC Championship game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers with "house money." It struck me because I had just prior to that been reading in the newspaper that some of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals were both using that same phrase this past week, that their respective teams would be playing the NFC Championship game with that same "house money." For those who don't understand, what the term 'playing with house money' refers to is the attitude that you have nothing to lose. It is an old gambling phrase that alludes to being so far ahead already in your expected winnings that you are not playing with your own money, you are playing with that 'house money' (the casino or sponsoring organization of the gambling being referred to as the 'house'.) So what the NFL teams here are saying is that they were not expected to get this far, or that they are such underdogs in todays games, that they have nothing to lose. I would argue that this is nothing more than a way to handle the pressure that they actually are feeling. I would argue that this is misleading in the sports context, and the same goes with your own life. Just as in today's respective conference title tilts, there is no such thing as a day in your life with nothing on the line. In the two games being played later today, the Eagles, Cardinals, Steelers and Ravens are playing for an opportunity to advance to the biggest stage in American professional sports, the Super Bowl. Most players will never reach that game as a competitor. If the Eagles should win and advance it will be just the third time since the game was established some four decades ago that the franchise has advanced that far. They have never won a Super Bowl. There is no house money on the line here. The Eagles are no longer that far ahead of things. They have played as well as any team in football for two months now. There is nothing surprising about their appearance here, they have fully earned it on the field. Should they lose today's game, the Eagles players and fan base will certainly not say "Well, it was a great run, we're happy with getting this far." The Eagles are not underdogs. There is something of worth on the line today. The game stands on its own as meaning something important. The prize in winning is large and worth playing, fighting and cheering for them. The same goes with your own life. We are never so well off, so safe, so saved that we can spiritually coast along. There is no highway to heaven. You can be a regular church-goer. You can pray regularly. You can participate in the sacraments. You can read your Bible. But you get no automatic pass into the Kingdom. All of those things are important. You should be doing them. They will help you live a far better, more secure life with more peace of mind. And they will give you something to hang your hat on when you ultimately leave this world and stand in front of Him looking for your place in eternity. But you cannot let down your guard. You can never say that you have prayed so much, gone to church so many times, given so much in tithing, memorized so many Bible verses that you can slip a little bit and still be safe. Sin is sin. You can do all of those good things, but if you turn your back on God and intentionally sin against his commandments at the end you will be in trouble. You will find at that time that there is no 'house money' with which you were playing. You will find that you have lost, and this time it is no game. NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula (pictured above) won a pair of Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins in the 1970's. He also lost his share of playoff games. Shula once famously said "..when you're there, it's not good enough to be there, when you're there, you better walk away with that ring." He went on to discuss the feeling the day after you lose following a nice playoff run. The feeling is no better, and in some instances is even worse, than a regular season defeat. The losers today will find out first-hand about the feeling of getting so close but falling just short of the Super Bowl, the goal for every player in the NFL. Just the same, you need to keep playing the game of life well all the way to the finish. You have to close the deal. You have to play well and practice well every day for your opportunity at the post-life of eternal bliss. Let down your guard and decide that you are playing with 'house money' and you will find yourself sitting in a worse place than today's conference game losers.