"Learning How To Coach"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 25, 2004
Psalm 30; John 21:1-17
Lest we get too far afield in
our thinking with this metaphor, we need to understand from our
lesson that Jesus was making a similar request of his disciples when
he spoke with Peter. Three times Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love
me?" Each time Peter answered in the affirmative, "You know that I
love you." Following each of Peter's responses, Jesus said, "Take
care of my lambs."
How was Peter or anyone else
expected to do this? To get ourselves in the frame of mind to
examine how this coaching job has become part of our responsibility,
let us look at the people currently in our lives.
Assume that you have already
mastered a number of the qualities in the art of living. You have
paid the price with your inner struggles and have emerged a gleaming
gem stone. How do you intend to pass on to others what you
have learned? How do you help others cultivate the desire to
develop an inner discipline that they may believe is unnecessary or
Often the first time we
recognize that this responsibility is ours is when we have
children. We teach them manners. We strategically time the rewards
we give to them. We have learned that we do not have to be their
friend in order to teach them respect. We instill in them the rules
of our particular family. We clearly teach them boundaries and that
there will be consequences when they are violated. We help them
understand the meaning of the word, "No." In spite of all this early
training and conditioning, we sadly discover that our little
darlings grow beyond the age of our control.
Our daughter brings home a
young man who is displaying earrings, tattoos and a pony tail. Our
discerning mind is waving red flags. We know that we should not
judge a book by its cover but we do so anyway because we have
learned that all behavior is symbolic. Our innocent daughter begs
that he be allowed to stay for dinner. We support her request and
they begin dating. The opportunity to coach is present.
We have a 16 year old son who wants to be 30. School is boring, his diligence with homework is sliding and he dreams of being a success without having to comply with all the prerequisites insisted on by industry and society. His attitudes are rebellious. There appears to be no respect for our values. His hormones are raging resulting in teenage mood swings which try our patience. The opportunity to coach is present.
The circle of our opportunities
widens. We work with a 28 year old colleague who is single. She is
searching anxiously for a man who she believes will complete her life.
After listening to the results of each date on numerous Monday mornings,
we sense that she is making the same mistake over and over again. She
wants to impress her male friends. In so doing, she is unable to allow
her authentic spirit to show. She fears, "If he knew how insecure I
really am, he would never want to be with me." The opportunity to coach
Opportunities to coach are
everywhere. Do we risk becoming involved? The answer, "Yes," should be
immediate if we consider, "Peter do you love me? Take care of my
lambs." We certainly cannot love people if we choose not to become
involved in their lives. Being social beings we need each other, but do
we seize every opportunity to coach?
A game is being played by
every human being whether they believe it or not. There is no choice to
opt out. No one can sit on the sidelines. No one can refuse to play.
By being born here we are given a ticket to the stadium and are ushered
on to the playing field. The problem is there are only a few people
teaching newer generations how each of us can master the art of living.
Issues of life constantly confront people often leaving them confused
and bewildered. They need a guide and Jesus said, "Take care of my
The same timeless themes come at
each of us regardless of our age or level of maturity. These themes are
testing us, confronting us, manipulating us, teasing us and offering us
rewards that ultimately prove to be empty. These themes play with our
imaginations making our dreams appear so compelling, so authentic that
we believe they can be reached without doing our inner homework.
If we believe these episodes
occur only to us, we are mistaken. They happen to all of us. We learn
that even during Jesus' day, there were prodigal sons and daughters who
found the wisdom of their parents beyond their comprehension.
Concerning intimate relationships, we learn that Jesus met a Samaritan
woman near a commonly used well. During a lengthy discussion with her,
he said, "You are right when you say you do not have a husband. You
have been married five times and the man you live with now is not your
husband." (John 4:17)
Being a coach is not for the
timid. We may have to take some abuse because often our intentions are
not understood. The task of the coach is to teach people how to bring
order out of chaos. Our world is a beautiful location for this unique
education to take place. The world is forever changing, preventing
people from sinking permanent roots into anything that has to do with
the eternal world. When they venture there, they will need guidance to
prevent being trapped by disillusionment.
For example, if we stake our
identity on our physical beauty and charm (the trap that frequently
catches those in their 20s and 30s) as our bodies change so must our
identities. Some people are quite enthusiastic about having their
bodies sculptured by plastic surgeons. What are we thinking? Do we
actually believe that surgery will ultimately defeat genetics and poor
If part of our identity rests
with material success and wealth, the time may come when we are
diagnosed with an illness from which we will not recover. We will learn
that the best medical specialists money can afford will not restore the
health we took for granted in an earlier day.
If we stake our identities on our religious beliefs (the trap that catches many who consider themselves among the righteous), we may find that we spend more time on Mt. Olympus with those who are just like us than we do in the service of coaching others along life's superhighway.
Coaches need to help others
embrace their worst fears so they can move through and beyond them.
By showing himself after his crucifixion, Jesus did just that.
The challenge is to teach people how to greet their fears, their anger
and their frustrations with enthusiasm. We must teach them how to think
differently about what they encounter: "What has come up for me is
God's way of helping me stretch behind my known capabilities!"
For example, Peter knew he was a
rugged individual, but Jesus spoke to him very calmly, "Peter, before
the rooster crows tonight, you will tell people three times that you do
not know me." Only when Peter hit the wall of his own frailties was he
humbled. He discovered that his weakness would later help others to
deal with their own.
One of my favorite scenes during
my days as a minister of youth was standing in front of a high school
girl just as she was about to repel down a 150 foot cliff. She was
hysterical. I said, "I want you to jump away from the ledge and let
your feet come back against the rocks. Try to be nearly perpendicular to
the rock face." She said, "No, I can't! I'm not doing this!" I said,
"No, is not an option." She said, "Dick Stetler, I hate you! I hate
you!" I shouted back, "Your attitude about me is not going to help you
conquer your fear." She said, "I'm going to die." I said, "Then die,
but you are going off that cliff!" She screamed as she jumped.
My coaxing a young woman to take
that leap off a cliff may appear to have been a cruel and unusual
request, but she was entirely safe. What we do not understand when
we are faced with something that terrifies us is that we are always
entirely safe. One of the lessons that can be found in the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is this one -- Jesus was never in
any real danger. We have to make that leap as he did in order to
understand that God can be trusted with everything that we are and
Jesus was now coaching Peter on
what must happen next for the disciples. We have had Jesus' request
passed down from two thousand years ago. We must sow our seeds, knowing
that there are all kinds of soil in which those seeds will fall. As
powerful as Jesus was, he knew he could not make others want to learn.
He was fine with that.
If people wanted to embrace their
rebellious attitudes, if they wanted to remain aloof from challenging
relationships or if they wanted wealth, prestige and honor for their
life's priorities, he readily recognized that they were not yet ready
for what he had to offer. He said, "My sheep know my voice." (John
Jesus did not personalize the
behavior or attitudes of others, so he was spared feeling hurt and
As coaches, so can we.
We have to let people be who they are. The simple truth stands that not
everyone wants to stretch, grow and mature in spirit. They are not
ready and we have to be patient with their answer to life.
Included in any recipe for
success in the contact sport of life is helping others to understand
that their painful experiences are symbolic. Each pain is symbolic of a
skill they have not yet learned. Growing a healthy spirit comes from
understanding this, not from appeasing our more seductive desires that
appeal to our vanity or our need to be in control.
There are two major
orientations to life. The one says, "If I could only have more, I would
be happy." The second says, "Because of who I have become, I am happy."
These two levels of understanding life stand miles apart. The one
teaches us to desire and remain needy. The other guides us to radiate
our presence for others because we have found the pearl of great
price Jesus had been pointing to.
Perhaps this latter orientation
is what permitted Pat Tillman to lay down his multimillion dollar life
last week to help others experience being free from tyranny. What makes
him stand out from the pack of others who volunteered to make this same
sacrifice was his choice to walk away from being a world class
professional football player to help preserve what most of us take for
granted -- our freedoms.
The role of any coach is to
help others understand that their unhappiness, their struggles, their
hostile attitudes, their resistance to change, their feelings of
inadequacy, their low self-esteem are the result of being caught in the
game of living without much understanding of how to play. A number
of the faithful today point to Jesus as being the answer. While what he
taught was true, we need to remind ourselves that in our lesson today,
Jesus was pointing to us and saying, "You take care of my
We are here to learn, to grow and
ultimately help others to find their way. The survival of civilization
may depend on it. Jesus said, "Peter, take care of my lambs." If doing
so was impossible to accomplish, Jesus would not have given us this
Along with saying "yes" to coaching, will come opportunities and the power to guide others. We need to point with our lives and allow the people surrounding us to choose. This is exactly what Jesus did. If you are a light in the world as Jesus suggested, others will always find their way when they discover themselves standing in the midst of darkness. (Matthew 5:14) Do not be afraid to be a coach; you have the creator of the universe giving you the plays.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
How caring and merciful you are, O God, with
all people in the world. As we look upon ourselves, so often we sense
the fruits of our own neglect. We hear your word with open minds, yet
often lack the confidence to take the risks living that word requires.
We are hungry to evolve in our understanding, but remain reticent in
letting go of what hides our radiance. Teach us, Lord, how to listen to
your voice within us. Encourage us to remain open to the urges of
spirit which would direct us. Coach us on how to release our guilt so
that we might live as people who have been forgiven. Today we ask that
you lead us beside the still waters that our spirits might be restored
and nourished. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, that in the midst of our
week's experiences, we each have made the choice to turn aside from our
routines and focus on you. We admit that we are not as articulate with
you as we are with each other. Sometimes we are not aware how best to
share our thoughts and feelings with you. It is awkward if we are among
those who do not know how to pray.
Today we ask that you help us expand our
level of spiritual awareness. Help us become aware that the fruits of
the spirit come as a result of the choices we make. We want to be
grateful for all life's experiences. We want to be blind to the faults
and failures of others. We would like our words to soothe troubled
spirits. We would like to grow a spirit that is never offended by the
lack of good judgment occasionally used by others. We would like our
faith to radiate from us when we grieve. We would like our lives to be
an example that others might use as a blueprint for their own. Remind
us, Lord, that there is no magic required to develop such a life. We
have learned that choosing makes visible every response we honestly want
to give. We thank you that when we fail at reflecting our best, all we
need to do is choose again.
Help each of us assume that we are here on earth to fill the vacuum created when increasingly "love thy neighbor" becomes invisible to more and more of our minds. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .