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Universities and professional sports franchises are famous for picking tough-sounding nicknames for their football teams.
That’s why this fall the Wolverines, Badgers, Jaguars, Tigers, Panthers, Cougars, Bears, and Lions will all take the field.
Those are some pretty fierce animals.
There will also be some angry birds: Eagles, Falcons, Ravens, Warhawks, Skyhawks, and Seahawks, among others.
Some nicknames feature tough people: Vikings, Giants, Buccaneers, Fighting Irish, and Boilermakers. OK, maybe that last one is just semi-tough.
Then there are those college nicknames that defy categorization:
- The University of California – Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
- The University of Arkansas – Monticello Boll Weevils
- The Long Beach State Dirtbags
- The University of South Carolina – Sumter Fire Ants
- The University of Akron Zips
- The Earlham College Hustlin’ Quakers (they apparently aren’t very fierce, but they do sound pretty fast)
Salisbury University features the Sea Gulls. Years ago they called themselves the Salisbury Steaks, and their head cheerleader dressed like a bottle of A1 Sauce. I’m not making that up.
Who needs to win a national championship when you have the best nickname ever?
There’s one animal that won’t be featured this fall, or any time soon. No sports team – college or pro – has ever tried to intimidate its foes by calling themselves the Sheep.
Sheep, to put it bluntly, are not particularly bright. They’re skittish. They play Follow the Leader, even when the leader is leading the flock over a cliff. They have no claws, no threatening teeth, no wings, no breakaway speed, and no attitude. In short, sheep are fundamentally defenseless.
That’s why it ought to get our attention when Jesus tells his followers, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).
Not many wolves are going to lose sleep over that.
A sheep’s list of Things to Do Today never includes frontal assaults, sneak attacks, or safety blitzes. Instead, a sheep’s job assignment is straightforward: stay near the shepherd, listen to the shepherd, go wherever the shepherd goes.
Sheep are not heroic animals. Jesus appears to be saying that for God’s reign to come to earth, it will take a different kind of hero – a sheep that devotes its life to hearing and responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Maybe that’s why, in order to show us how to live like that, Jesus identified himself as the Lamb of God.
If we want to root for what God is doing in the world, we’re not going to find any sheep-themed “spirit wear.”
Then again, we always have that other option.
We can cheer for the Saints.