Today is a tongue in cheek day in the office. Somehow Annessa and I both will root for Duke. As I say to my boys when they ask incredulously “how can you root for Duke?” Sons, you’ve got to respect greatness. But today Duke is playing the University of Pittsburgh, an institution I am an alumnus of and have been a cheering fan of ever since. It isn’t the Alma Mater, but Grove City is not in the ACC, so there are no loyalty pangs. When I was attending the school Basketball was the thing. The football team was mediocre and had been losing to Syracuse and West Virginia, the real rivalries. The Basketball team had even climbed to a number 1 ranking a few times. But since that coach (Jaime Dixon) left, the team has been on the slide. But someone got smart, hired a former Duke player (Jeff Capel) and the team got better. And it really got better this year when Coach Capel finally realized that Pitt was never going to be Duke and started using the transfer portal to bring in talent. Predicted to finish last, they ended up in what was a 5 way tie for the top. Which places pastor and secretary on opposite sides today.
That is all fine and good, but this is pastor’s corner, aren’t you supposed to say something at least vaguely spiritual if not downright theological? Yes, yes I am. So here is the connection. If you have been part of our mid-week bible studies, this past week was the Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah story. And I only somewhat tongue in cheek held up that competition as a scoreboard. If you know the story the rivalry was between sisters married to the same man. The scoreboard was number of sons. It is a story of competition and longing and attempting to fill that gnawing void.
Any athlete, other than Michael Jordan who is still attempting to crush his enemies and friends, will eventually tell you that winning is great, but what they miss when they can no longer play is being part of the team. That’s why many hang around too long. They know they can’t do it anymore, but they need that team. The smarter of them will move to coaching, the smartest to the front office. The dumb but really good will eat forever on faded glory. When you see one of these in their 60’s you realize your crumbs of adulation mean more to them to fill that void than they mean to you as a curiosity. It is the rare athlete that figures out how to fill that void in other ways. Roger Staubach never had that void being the Navy man. Barry Sanders didn’t need it and even left early while he could still walk. Philip Rivers for me was always a fascinating case. Our sports press is terrible around religion. They are a bunch of atheists covering usually a group of believers and so don’t get it. Rivers never won a Super Bowl. Those Chargers teams with Ladanian Tomlinson and Junio Seau and a bunch of other names were great. They should have won 2, maybe 3. Most athletes the never-was would eat up. Seau died early. Rivers is accepting. I’ve only seen one reporter ask him this question. And Rivers points at his wife and 9 kids and his faith. That void is more than filled.
That is the place where Leah eventually gets to. She will have a relapse or two. Sin is tough, we all do. But after her 4th son Leah says, “This time I will praise the LORD.” That child was Judah who would be the heir of the promise. Leah had been trying to fill the void with a competition she would never win. And even if she did – and you can argue that she did – it still wouldn’t or didn’t fill the void. Augustine’s famous quote is that we are restless until we find our rest in thee. His confessions are one long tale of competition that never fills the void. Of stealing pears because he could, but not even eating them. But then finding what fills it.
Finding God, as Leah found out, doesn’t necessarily end the competition. We might even get pulled back into sinful ways of competition. But when that void is full, we can be happy warriors. The victory is ours. Whether today we win or lose, that distant triumph song steals on the ear. And hearts are brave and arms are strong. Hail to Pitt, today at least!