"Learning How To Coach"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 25, 2004

Psalm 30; John 21:1-17

     Today we are going to be considering the art of helping people to learn a contact sport when they may know very little about the game, little about the rules of play and little about the rewards that will come to them when they take the time to get themselves into shape.  For good measure we are going to suggest that many people may also have a built in resistance to playing.  What does a coach do when potential star players do not want to learn how to play at their best?

     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 unimportant?  

     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 is present.   

     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 lambs."  

     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 health disciplines? 

     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 have.   

     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 10:27)  

     Jesus did not personalize the behavior or attitudes of others, so he was spared feeling hurt and rejected.  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 lambs." 

     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 responsibility.   

     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. 


     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.


     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 . . .