Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page, of St Patrick's Anglican Church. Our radio devotionals this month are sports-inspired.
Let's start with a question: what do Conn Smythe, Bob Feller, and Roger Staubach have in common? If this were a live broadcast, I might have a prize for “the 4th caller with the correct answer.” But it's not, and I don't. Conn Smythe was the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 20s to the 60s, a time when the Leafs actually won 8 Stanley Cups! I wonder what that's like? Bob Feller pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956, winning 266 games. Roger Staubach played quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1969 to 1979, winning the Super Bowl twice in that time.
What do they have in common? For one thing, they are all in the Halls of Fame for their respective sports. But they have another thing in common, too: Smythe, Feller and Staubach all stepped away from their chosen sports for a time to serve a higher cause. In particular, they all spent significant time with their country's military.
Conn Smythe was captain of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues hockey team and led them to a championship in the OHA. But this was 1915, in the early days of World War 1, and a week after they won the title, Smythe and several of his teammates enlisted in the military. He went overseas first with the Artillery then the Air Force. His plane was shot down and he spent 14 months as a prisoner of war. Years after his return he became a key businessman in the Canadian sports scene.
Bob Feller broke into the big leagues at 17. He pitched a no-hitter, set the record for strikeouts in a game, and led the league in wins 3 times. If you ever get cynical about the big bucks of modern athletes, remember that when Bob Feller signed his first contract, he was paid a signing bonus of $1 + an autographed baseball. Well in 1941, the day after Pearl Harbour was bombed, Feller enlisted in the US Navy. He missed 3 seasons while he served aboard the USS Alabama in World War 2. When he returned, he continued to play well, leading the league in wins and strikeouts several more times.
Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy in 1963, and led his college team to the #2 ranking in the whole country. But when his college days at the Naval Academy ended, he spent several years in Vietnam. Upon his return, he joined the Cowboys, made his way through the depth charts to become starter, and never looked back, leading the Cowboys to their first 2 Super Bowl titles.
All three willingly made sacrifices, risking their lives and their careers, to serve the higher cause of their country and their people. Their examples, and those of others like them, inspire us all. There is, of course, an even higher cause than serving our country. I'm thinking of serving our God and working with God in directly and actively loving and serving the people around us.
I have some Mormon relatives; we disagree a lot, with our very different understandings of who God is. But I admire the commitment they make to missions. When Mormons turn 19 or 20, they often dedicate 2 years to mission work somewhere in the world. I feel a little embarrassed, as you can imagine, that in my church some will check “Anglican” on the census form but are not committed enough to come to church on Sunday.
You may not need to give up years of a career and risk life and limb like our athlete examples who joined the military. Maybe that WILL be your way of serving God's higher cause. But you can also serve God's great cause in the world right where you are, with a daily commitment of your whole self.
The great hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” invites us to think about Jesus and the commitment he made to us. One verse says, “Love so amazing, so divine / demands my soul, my life, my all,” I sometimes find it hard to sing. I want to respond to God's love, to all that Jesus has done for me. But loving God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12v30) can be challenging. I need your help, as I seek to uphold my commitment to the higher cause of God. I bet you need my help, too. Hey, why don't we work together, to encourage and help one another. Let's get together sometime. How's Sunday morning at 10:30 sound? See you then? For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steven Page.