Luke 9:1-6, 10-17
“Huddle Up . . . Go Long”
September 2, 2012 Maple Grove UMC
When I was a boy we played football in my back yard.
Sometimes we played touch and sometimes we played tackle—
though honestly, there wasn’t much difference. Either way you pretty
much held the ball at your own risk! At the north end of our yard, the
end zone was an imaginary line between two trees. At that end, you
had to slow down fast because the sidewalk was about one step past
the trees and after that a sharp drop-off into the street. On the south,
the garden was the end zone, except when mom’s garden was in
season, in which case you’d better stop before you ruined her beans
or tomatoes. Otherwise the end zone was another imaginary line
between a metal clothesline pole and the wooden pole for the
basketball hoop. In those games, there were dangers great than
So we’d choose sides and at the start you’d huddle up and the
quarterback would give detailed instructions about the play he wanted
to run. You—block that guy. You—cover my back while I roll right.
You—go out five yards and cut hard right. And you, he’d say to the
fastest kid on the team—you go long. On two. Hut one, Hut two—
the ball would be hiked, and despite the detailed instructions, we’d all
just do whatever we wanted. The ball would get thrown up for grabs,
someone would catch it—sometimes our side, sometimes theirs.
Then we’d huddle up again and draw up another play.
As the game wore on, though, we’d realize that our elaborate
blocking schemes and fancy pass routes didn’t really work in the back
yard and we’d opt for simplicity. We’d still have a huddle, of course—
if for no other reason, just to catch our breath. But toward the end of
the game, it would go like this: “All right. Everybody huddle up.
You—go long. You too. Oh heck, everybody just go long.”
In the end our back yard football games could be reduced to
those four words: Huddle up . . . go long. Which is one way of
looking at the Christian life, the way Jesus taught the disciples. In
Luke 9 the story begins by saying, “Then Jesus called the twelve
together . . .” In other words, Jesus is the quarterback and he’s
saying, “Come on, guys, huddle up.” But that is not the end of the
story. Huddling up is important, but not the main point. In the huddle
Jesus calls a play: All twelve of you, he says, go to all the villages--
heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. In other words—go
long. So they went, and lo and behold, the play worked—they did it.
When they got back, it says they told Jesus how it went, and
then in verse 10, “he took them with him and withdrew privately.” In
other words, they huddled up again. But this time there were 5000
hungry people in the stands. The disciples wanted to send them
away before the concession stand closed. But Jesus says, “You give
them something to eat.” Whoa—that’s going really long, feeding
5000 hungry people. But lo and behold, that play worked too! They
Huddle up . . . go long. It’s the pattern of the gospel, the rhythm
of the Christian life. Huddling up with Jesus and his people is not just
a good idea—it is absolutely necessary to the life of faith. From time
to time—I’d say at least once a week—everyone needs to step off the
playing field, get out of the fray, and have some Jesus time. Huddling
up with Jesus and his people is how we recharge our spiritual
batteries, how we gain strength for the next set of downs, how we are
fed and inspired by Jesus to do things we didn’t think we could do.
It’s trendy nowadays to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious,”
which means, “I don’t go to church.” People say, “I believe in God, I
read the Bible and pray on my own.” Well, I’m certainly glad that
people believe and read and pray on their own. But I have racked my
brain, and I can’t think of even one place in the Bible that encourages
people to stay apart from the community of faith. In fact the book of
Hebrews says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in
the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (10:25).
Huddling up with Jesus and his people is necessary to the life
However . . . as important as it was, huddling up was not the
most important thing in the gospel stories today. They huddled up to
get the courage and strength to go long—to feed the hungry, to heal
the sick, and tell the good news to others.
The same is true in football, right? I’ve never heard a coach
say, “Great huddle, guys!” No, it’s the play that matters. In fact, if I
recall correctly, starting with Sam Wyche and the Cincinnati Bengals
in the 80s, some teams learned to run their offense with no huddle at
It’s the play that matters and the play that Jesus calls is
‘everybody go long’—go feed the hungry, go visit the sick, go share
the good news. And we do that at Maple Grove, right?
In May about fifteen of us traveled to Joplin, Missouri, where we
spent our nights sleeping on a church floor and our days
repairing and painting homes damaged by last year’s tornado.
That’s going long! Now it looks like we may have to go back to
In July our youth went to Philadelphia, where they worked in
food pantries and night shelters, they visited handicapped
seniors and cared for children off the street. They took
sandwiches and talked with homeless folks downtown. That’s
But you don’t have to go out of town to ‘go long’—you don’t
even have to leave our neighborhood. Two months every year
Maple Grove volunteers serve breakfast for needy neighbors at
CRC. Once a month folks gather here in the basement and
make sandwiches to distribute to homeless neighbors. Right
here in the front pews today are boxes for donations for area
food pantries—wouldn’t it be great to fill the whole pew with
food every month? That’s going long!
But it’s not only about food. We have Stephen Ministers who
offer the gift of listening and caring. Sunday school teachers
and youth group leaders help kids grow in faith. The New Life
team goes down to Fifth Avenue and sorts clothes to give
away. The Care and Visitation Team takes God’s love to
people in nursing homes. Maple Grove has over 80 ministry
teams huddling up and going long all year long.
So how about you? What play does Jesus have drawn up for
you? Who are you visiting? Who are you telling about Jesus?
Who are you feeding or taking to the doctor or tutoring or inviting
to church? How is Jesus calling you to ‘go long?’
All of this makes me wonder about how we ‘keep score’ in the
church. Traditionally we have counted how many people are in
Sunday school and worship. If those numbers go up, we’re winning;
if they go down, we’re losing. But that’s sort of like keeping score in a
football game by what happens in the huddle. A more faithful way to
keep score would be to count the number of people who ‘go long,’
how many people are inspired by huddling up with Jesus to go and
feed the hungry, to visit the sick and share the good news of Jesus
It’s always great to huddle up with you here. It’s especially
good to gather around the table for Holy Communion, our spiritual
training table. But remember--the huddle is not the point of the game.
The point is the play, to ‘go long’ for Jesus—feed the hungry, care for
the sick, and tell someone how good it is to know Jesus Christ.
It’s the pattern of the gospel, the rhythm of the Christian life:
Huddle up . . . go long.