(A sermon for Epiphany 6A February 13, 2011 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-24)
My Daddy was a big sports fan. I grew up watching him watch football (college and professional), basketball (only college, preferably Atlantic Coast Conference), tennis, even a little golf if there was nothing else going on a Sunday afternoon. He had been a tennis player himself, but his favorite extracurricular identity had been sports writer, and it was the dream career he did not undertake, going to law school instead. He knew everything about sports, and I paid attention and asked questions, because it was a great way for me to get *his* attention.
So when we sat down to watch the Super Bowl last Sunday night with my visiting friends, and LP began asking questions about the whole point of the game, I was able to answer her questions. Maybe not with the authority of my father or my friend, KJ, but I know how to explain the basics to a beginner.
What I cannot explain to her, however, is the passion fans feel for their teams. My children have grown up in an arts-oriented household, and they have been spared camps and schools that divide kids into teams that compete bitterly. Could there be a more deeply-held passion than the intramural rivalry between the Blues and the Grays at Camp Alleghany, or the Greens and the Golds at St. Agnes School?
Not in my memory.
In my family, we rooted with passion for the University of Virginia, a team my dad loved so much he listened to their away games on a transistor radio, both football and basketball. And in professional football, there was only one team: the Washington Redskins. My cousin, Rick, loved the Dallas Cowboys, and that made him my sworn enemy.
But I had not begun to understand the intensity of a disagreement over teams in an immediate family until I became engaged to the father of my children and became aware of the team his family loved, the New York Giants. How had I missed the Giants? Too focused on the Cowboys as rivals, I guess. My eye was off the ball. Toward the end of that shortened season of 1982 came the moment of truth. I was at the home of my soon-to-be in-laws and we were going to watch our teams play each other. Would I root for my team? Or would I become one of them? The pressure was on.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22, NRSV)
It’s possible things got a little heated. It’s also possible I held my own. But more on that later.
When we read the letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we may well wonder what he is talking about. Were they really breaking up into little cliques? Did they have some sort of theological war going on? Was Apollos trying to cause trouble?
And now we interrupt this sermon for a call on my cell phone. It was a church member, calling to say his/her spouse had been in an accident, and I didn’t need to come to the hospital—
“I’ll be right there,” I said.
And when I heard the timing, I realized that many of you probably already knew something had happened and were wondering how bad it was and what you could do to help the family, because maybe you heard the Rescue call on the scanner, or maybe you went to Sleigh Day and wondered why you didn’t see them, or you happened to be at the Feed Store when the call came there explaining why people wouldn’t be where they were expected to be.
There are some assumed relationships in a small town, or a small school district or a smaller church. We don’t have a Minister of Care; we are the ministers of care. We don’t pay an Outreach Coordinator to recruit people to bring casseroles; we are the ones who reach out with whatever is needed. When it comes to an emergency, we represent. We show up and bring God’s love in whatever form it appears to be needed at that moment, whether it’s doing the chores in the barn and making sure the pony gets his medicine or taking the children for the afternoon or showing up at the back door with a chicken pie.
(Or in their case, maybe some side dishes, because I have it on the best authority they have ten chicken pies in the freezer.)
When it comes to an emergency, we represent.
What’s harder is doing it the rest of the time, when the people around us begin to drive us slightly mad with their jokes or their complaints or their tone of voice or the way they look at us…you fill in the blank, because you know what I mean.
Paul paints a picture of intramural squabbles, of people lining up on one side or the other. Maybe some people preferred Paul’s preaching style, while others thought Apollos rocked at visitation, and still others wondered if it wouldn’t make sense to find out more about that guy Peter, back in Jerusalem, because he *really* knew Jesus.
Now Paul is not threatened. If anything he is just chiding them gently, the way you might try to explain something to the children in the back seat of the car who will not stop touching each other, or complaining about being touched until you might just as soon leave them on the side of the road. And as a matter of fact, you probably need some distance if you’re going to make the lesson as gentle as Paul does.
Listen to Jesus, who is not at a distance, not at all, and who is basically saying, “You are proud of yourselves for not killing each other, but do you really think that is enough?”
During the crisis in Egypt, there have been a string of stories about cooperation among faithful people, people who understand themselves to belong to the same God, even though they are not all Christians:
On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir Square joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.
Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.
They surrounded Christians celebrating Mass in Cairo’s central plaza, ground zero for the secular pro-democracy protests reverberating throughout the Middle East.
“In the name of Jesus and Muhammed, we unify our ranks,” the Rev. Ihab al-Kharat told the crowd in his sermon…
Afterward, the crowd of both Muslims and Christians chanted “one hand” – meaning “we are one” – and held up a Koran and a cross. (Story and image from the New York Daily News.)
On that long ago day at the soon-to-be in-laws, I decided to root for my Redskins; when I look back now I see it was a young person’s passion and really not helpful in the situation. After all, the Redskins ended that season with only one loss, and the Giants had a losing record. Why did I need to be so competitive?
The next year, after I was married, I started following the Giants. They had a new coach named Bill Parcells who, on the rare occasions they won was showered with tubs of Gatorade, a mystifying football ritual. I learned their names: Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Lawrence Taylor.
That year they won 3 games. And I want to be clear that even though the Redskins had some good years, you need to understand that in rooting for the University of Virginia, my father had taught me that team spirit did not depend on results. And I’m also not taking credit for it, but by the third season I was a Giants’ fan, they were winning the division; the next year they won the Super Bowl.
And I had become part of my new family.
We’re called to live together in community, without letting intramural squabbles get in our way.
When the call comes into Rescue, we’re not looking at what neighborhood someone lives in or how fancy their house might be or what political signs we remember seeing in their yards last fall. No. When you’re passionate about something at church, when you really care about how something is being done, think about what Jesus is saying and step back the way you would anywhere else, and take a moment to consider the way you respond. What’s going to make it possible for us to use all our resources for God’s purposes?
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5: 23-24,NRSV)
Remember whose you are, and show God’s team spirit. Amen.