Just three little words, but in the arena of college athletics they speak volumes—Notre Dame Football.
For generations the Fighting Irish have stockpiled national championships, Heisman Trophies and all-Americans the way most schools collect bad student loans—they have far more than their share. Notre Dame is the Fort Knox of college athletic lore, the Who's Who of legacies within intercollegiate sports.
The school's legendary past is a story Hollywood loves to tell. Only at Notre Dame could Knute Rockne qualify for sainthood by coaxing his team to "win one for the Gipper." And, for whatever reason, success came to the Golden Dome. But with all that success came high expectations too.
To indelibly reinforce those expectations, each new year the Notre Dame football coaches gather the team together for The Ceremony of the Jersey. It's an annual ritual in which each new recruit is presented the football jersey he'll be wearing in the upcoming season. At any other school this may have little meaning but at Notre Dame it's like a visit to a museum.
One by one, the players are brought to the platform for each to receive his new team jersey. Simultaneously, a scroll is opened, and the names of each of the legends who've worn that number in prior years are read aloud—their names, achievements, honors and degrees.
The final name that's read from that scroll is the name of the new recruit. Then, for the first time, the player puts the jersey on, to the rousing ovation of his teammates.
The implication is obvious—wear the jersey with distinction, carry-on the proud tradition, be accountable to those who've gone before and be worthy of the honor.
Our ministry is a lot like that. We follow in a long line of notables. Some we were fortunate enough to meet, most we've only heard or read about. They were faithful teachers who left their mark. They carried their birthright well. Their message was their signature, their godly life was their visual aid. The world may have tried to dismiss them, but it couldn't ignore their impact.
Every century has those kinds of mentors—men and women who've fought the good fight, who've finished the course, who've kept the faith. They took the baton from one generation and passed it to the next.
- Each time Samuel stood to judge Israel he carried the tradition of Gideon, Deborah, Jephthah, and others. He wore their jersey well.
- When seven-year old Joash became King of Judah he chose to wear the jersey of his godly predecessors.
- Two-hundred years later, eight-year-old Josiah was crowned king. His favorite story must have been of the other young king who began to reign while in grammar school. No wonder Josiah brought revival to the land—he was only doing what his hero had done. The jersey fit.
- Hebrews 11 is filled with a roster of champions who wore the jersey, who lettered in faith.
Today our high calling is to pass that jersey on—to entrust our message "to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." As we've been led, we lead. As we've been taught, we teach.
The Philippians were a constant source of joy for Paul. They were his earthly reward for making a courageous life's transition and career move while traveling the road to Damascus. And, during all the hostile beatings he took for preaching the gospel, and for all the cold and lonely nights he spent in prison, Paul would remember "my joy and crown" in Philippi. The Philippians were wearing his jersey.
Many in your congregation are trying on your jersey right now. The fitting room is every worship service, each staff meeting and every counseling session. Your troops are intrigued with the concept of following your lead. Help them to put it on, and show how it's worn with distinction.