The mission and those who carry it out

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"It is here now, the supreme folly. This is its hour."

The aforementioned was the reputed final declaration (possibly apocryphal) of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was said to have spoken the words just before his assassination by barons loyal to English King Henry II in the year 1170.

That medieval declaration is worth considering today -- Super Bowl Sunday.

In a sense, this day -- a boon for pizza delivery outlets everywhere -- is a day of folly. People will gather in private homes to talk, to laugh, to eat snacks and to watch brand-new television commercials. Oh, and there's a football game, too. Say, who's playing again?

How many times have we sat before the TV screen following the national anthem to hear someone next to you on the couch remark, "What team is in the dark jerseys?" All over America, those words will be heard. It is a supreme folly to believe that most people care about the game.

I care that in Indianapolis, scene of today's Super Bowl, a magnificent football player will be watching the game like most of America. His gridiron exploits have made the team in that city, the Colts, successful over the past 15 years. And he, the Colts' celebrated quarterback, may never play the game again. In fact, it looks increasingly likely that he won't.

Peyton Manning, 35, is in a long recovery from neck surgery. Now we discover that the surgery has damaged the nerves in his throwing arm; he apparently can't recover sufficient velocity on his passes.

Two physicians who specialize in sports medicine have advised the team that Manning won't get any better. By early March, the team will have to decide whether to pay the quarterback a princely bonus. It's a staggering amount of money for an athlete who no longer appears to have the tools. The conventional wisdom is that the team will balk at making the payment and that Manning's playing days are over. And perhaps they are.

A supreme folly is to believe that people are irreplaceable. But they aren't. Like a glass of cold water suddenly thrown into our faces, we suddenly face the truth. We mourn their loss; we move on.

Canterbury got a new archbishop. Israel got a new leader named Joshua when Moses wasn't permitted to enter the promised land. Elijah handed over his prophetic mantle to Elisha.

Peyton Manning may well hand the football to a young man from Stanford named Andrew Luck.

Yes, it's a supreme folly to believe that people are irreplaceable.

The Church of England soldiered on after Becket's death. The church's mission was more durable than a single individual.

The Colts will find a way back to contention without Manning. It may take awhile, but the team will find success again. The mission is more important than the individuals who serve it. Another supreme folly is believing otherwise.

Enjoy the game, all. I was just kidding about not knowing who's playing. Take the Giants in an upset.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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