Culture, Featured, Grace
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Echoes of grace in the Springboks Rugby World Cup Win

5 min read

South Africa’s national rugby team known as the Springboks or the Boks arrived from Japan with the Webb Ellis Cup. They defeated the English Roses with an emphatic 32-12 win. They made history. Siya Kolisi was the first black captain of the team. This was a momentous achievement. You need to live in South Africa to know what this meant to the nation and especially to black South Africans. Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe were the first players in rugby history to score tries in a final. It hadn’t happened before. The Springboks were also the first team in history to have lost their first game against the All Blacks and gone on to win the main cup. A lot of firsts. 

When they landed at ORTIA—the O. R Tambo International Airport, jubilant South Africans from across the nation met them. It was a glorious homecoming. I watched on TV the scenes unfold at the airport. Jenny was on her laptop finishing some work. Bad!

As usual, I see grace; I see the gospel everywhere. Grace is present everywhere. The point of this short post is to showcase grace in this historic win. 

Here is grace

31 players 

31 players were at the tournament but only 23 played in the final. Yet at the award ceremony, all 31 players received medals including the coaching staff. The 23 players who played in the final represented their teammates, families and South Africa. Their victory was our victory. The victory was credited to a fat slouch middle-age guy lying on the couch the whole day. As long as he was a South African, their victory was his victory. 

Most Christians don’t understand what grace is. When they hear the word grace, they associate it with sinful living or the latest spiritual fad hitting the Church. And so they lose out on the privileges and benefits accrued. 

This is what grace looks like. 

Jesus, our Bok, went into the final and won the game for us. He faced the devil, death, hell and the grave and defeated them. His victory was then credited to us. We are counted victorious as if we played in the final. We are passive recipients of his victory. 

Jesus’ victory on the cross was credited to the weakest member of the Church, that one you think is unfaithful, uncommitted, and ill-disciplined, yes that one. God looks at them and sees them victorious because of what Jesus has done. 

This is grace. This is the essence of the Christian faith. 

Underdogs

Coming into the final, the British media had hyped up the English team to transcendent levels. This was after they had decisively beaten the great All Blacks in the semifinals. Thus they were on very high spirits. The small island nation was sure of a win. 

The Boks came into the final as the underdogs. They had lost in their first match against the All Blacks. Their training camp had been fraught with injuries to key members. One rugby analyst on TV explained that in 95’ and 07’, the Boks went into the finals as underdogs and won the cup. He said the underdog tag stood in good stead for the Boks.

Again, this is what grace looks like.

Grace works for the underdog. Grace is not for the high performers, the high achievers, aka the English team. Grace works for the underdog. See if you are an underdog, you have nothing to lose. You have no pressure. You have no ego to salvage. When you play, you play with a certain level of freedom, unshackled from expectations. You play because you enjoy the game. 

The Bible is a book of stories of how underdogs achieved incredible feats when odds were stacked against them when all hope was lost. Remember Abraham, Jacob, Samson, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Joash, Jeremiah, Rahab, Joseph and Mary, Jesus, the disciples, Paul, Timothy, etc. all these were underdogs. 

In the Christian faith, God refuses to bless the most prepared, the most hardworking, the most powerful, the strongest, the wisest, the cleverest, and the most tactically astute. God uses his grace to work for underdogs. Paul writes this in the New Testament – one of my favourite lines in the whole Bible.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (NLT)

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

With grace, underdogs always rise to the top. 

Pressure

Rassie Erasmus, the Springbok coach was asked about the pressure the Boks faced and his response had echoes of grace.

This is what he said

Overall, we started talking about pressure and what is pressure? Pressure in South Africa is not having a job. Pressure is having one of your close relatives murdered. In South Africa, there are a lot of problems which is pressure, and we started talking about things like that. Rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure. It is something that creates hope. We’ve got the privilege of giving people hope. Not the burden of giving hope. Hope isn’t something you talk about or tweet about. Hope is when you play well and people watch on Saturday as a nice barbeque and feel good after, no matter your political differences, or your religious differences. The moment you see it that way, it becomes a hell of a privilege, and that’s how we tackled this whole world cup campaign. (Sport24 2019)

This is what I think happened. When the pressure to perform and be successful was taken off and replaced with rest and hope, the Boks performed and were successful. The Boks became a non-pressured rested team. Hey, of course, there was pressure to perform well, win the cup and make the nation proud. I am sure they all had individual pressures, to do well for themselves, and for their families. This is how life works. But they were rested

Again, this what grace looks like. 

Grace produces rest. Grace takes your pressure and offers you its rest. From the vantage point of rest, the players followed the game plan to the tee, played their best game ever and won the cup. 

This is what should happen in our churches every Sunday.

Every Sunday people from all walks of life troop to Church. They come having faced a week of immense pressure. Pressure from families, bad employers, ungrateful employees, peers, media, economy, exams, taxmen, landlords, mortgage companies, doctor’s appointments, ageing parents, layoffs, crime, insecurity, and spiritual doubts. The pressure doesn’t let off. Unfortunately, when they come to our churches, they are put under more pressure. They are told God is not happy with their performance. They need to do more. Or, they are given more steps, keys, principles, how to’s if they want to see progress in their lives. This should not be so.

The Christian Church is the only place where the head coach (Jesus) and his coaching staff (the pastor and his team) give rest to people experiencing untold pressures of life. This is what the head coach said two thousand odd years ago.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

The Church is not the place where Eddie Jones, the English super coach, gives tactical information on how to win in life. Most people already know what they need to do to win in life but don’t have the power to do it. The Bok coach relieved the pressure off from his players and the result was they performed at optimum levels. 

Could it be that the secret to being an effective employee, employer, boss, politician, househelp, street cleaner, executive head, school principal, rugby winning captain, etc., is this—rest? What if the world heard about grace without ifs and buts to us, what would be the result? I will tell you. The productivity levels of our people would shoot through the roof. Once the pressure to perform is removed, once the fear of guilt, condemnation and punishment has melted away, the result is freedom to perform at the highest levels.

Hey pastor, you want to see your people become generous givers, faithful spouses, hardworking employees, equal opportunity employers, selfless government leaders, and good citizens, then, give them grace. Feed them grace every Sunday. Help them take their burdens to Jesus and help them receive from Jesus the rest his offers. The results will blow you away. 

The national mood has swung from cynicism and gloom to hope, temporarily to say the least. Of course, we are not oblivious of the challenges we as a nation still face, but this win gave us hope for a better future. A hope that if we all set aside our differences, we could be stronger together.

What if we as South Africans understood grace? What if we knew what Jesus has done for us and the inexhaustible grace he has made available for us? What if we knew the game has been ‘rigged’ to our favour—that Jesus already played the game, won and they have credited his victory to us? How would we live?

That’s what grace looks like

Photo Credit – Unknown

Bibliography

  1. Sport24. November 03. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.sport24.co.za/Rugby/RugbyWorldCup2019/pressure-is-not-having-a-job-says-springbok-boss-erasmus-20191103.
This entry was posted in: Culture, Featured, Grace

by

Schulter Etyang leads The Life Place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Schulter is one whom Jesus loves. He loves his wife, Jenny, and enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, running and playing squash. He also enjoys conversations with friends about Jesus and about life.

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