March Madness and Amazing Grace

College Basketball’s March Madness begins today.  It seems that everyone in the country fills out a bracket and picks a team they believe will be the eventual winner.  Well, not everyone.  I was at a funeral this week for the parent of a parishioner and the pastor mentioned something about March Madness and filling out a bracket and the octogenarian lady in the pew in front of me, in a not-quite-a-whisper voice asked her husband, “What’s a bracket?”  I saw a non-sports loving person post the following on Facebook: “I don’t know anything about football, but I filled out my bracket.”

I saw that the odds of someone actually filling out a perfect bracket (picking every winner in all 63 basketball games during the three-week tournament) is 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to one.  To quote Lloyd Christmas (played by Jim Carey) in Dumb and Dumber, “So your telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!”

I filled out a bracket, but I have no hopes of winning.  One year, when Ben was about 4 years old, I had him pick the winners and losers in the tournament.  He picked teams based on bodily functions or body part sounding names.  His final four were:  Duke, Butler, Austin Peay and IUPUI (pronounce Ewey-Pooey). He did better than me.  Jimmy the Greek, I am not.  I have heard of people choosing teams based on the color of the uniforms (i.e. “I like blue better than green”) or team mascots (i.e. “Wolverines are cuter than Spartans, I’ll take them.”)  Generally, such methods are just as accurate as the picks from the so-called experts (underdogs frequently upset a higher seeded team, hence the reason for calling the tournament “March Madness.”). Picking winners is hard.

40 years of filling out a bracket has taught me this important lesson (not about basketball, I stink at that skill, but) about God: God does not pick us based on our ability to shoot a basketball, our name, background, clothing color or any other silly criteria. In fact, the Bible indicates that God has picked all of us to be winners.  Isaiah 43 has God’s words to Israel which we can claim as our own saying: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1).  Paul tells a group of Christians, “In him we were also chosen” (Ephesians 1:11) and Peter reminds us: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

God has chosen you and me not because we can shoot a basketball straight or not but simply because we are His children and he wants us to win in life (which is a tad more important than a basketball tournament). Peter put it this way:  God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

No matter who you pick to win the basketball games (I chose Michigan to win it all, shocking I know), make sure you choose God. He’s on your side and has already picked you as a winner—that’s not madness it’s called Amazing Grace!

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