As we headed into the Duke-Carolina game tonight, my daughter asked me if I thought Duke would win. She’s finally starting to pay attention to my passion for Duke Basketball, and so I sat her down to explain the phenomenon of the Duke-Carolina basketball rivalry. I told her what every Duke or Carolina fan knows: no matter what ranking either school has (including if one of the teams in unranked), no matter how well one team or the other has been playing against other teams, no matter which team’s arena they are in, when Duke and Carolina play you NEVER know who will win. The rivalry is so intense that every time the two teams play, either team could win. I am not sure whether the rivalry is so intense and so long-standing that both teams get inside their heads too much, or whether there is some weird psychological reason why this rivalry produces so much uncertainty. All I do know is that when Duke and Carolina play, it truly is any team’s game.
As I was thinking about the game today, I was realizing how we often have people or entities in our lives that get in our heads and make us second-guess our gifts and talents. We may be full of confidence, doing what we are born to do, and all we need is skeptical relative or an old high school rival to say something and our confidence stutters. We may have thoughtfully prepared our next steps forward, consulting experts and resources, and in the middle of executing our well-thought-out plan someone raises a question we did not think of that makes us question our abilities or even the whole process. Criticism can be tough, but what is worse is when we allow that criticism to erode our strong sense of self and purpose.
This coming Sunday, we will hear the story of when Joseph’s brothers discover that Joseph is alive and thriving (Genesis 45.3-11, 15). Often when we read this story, we read it from the perspective of Joseph – being thrilled to have the persecuted one redeemed. But more often, I think we are a little more like Joseph’s brothers – filled with jealousy, impulsive, and longing for love and affirmation. In a moment of hateful weakness, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery; and in our lesson from Sunday, their reckoning happens. As they come to pharaoh for help in their weakness, they are confronted with the one person who has every right to punish them. But instead, Joseph is filled with love. Joseph is able to see goodness. Joseph is able to offer redemption.
Now I am not saying Duke and Carolina fans should just turn their hearts to love (I cannot look at that Carolina blue without feeling a bit nauseated). But what we can all stand to remember from rivalries is that when we root ourselves in God’s love, when we live and operate out of love, things like criticism, self-doubt, and challenges have less power over us. When we root ourselves in love, we are able to love ourselves the way God love us. And, when we root ourselves in love, we can also see past ugliness of others and instead see God in them too.
So whatever you are facing this week, whomever is trying to tear you down (or beat your team), I offer you the collect for this Sunday: O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 216)