Well happy… Superbowl… day! On this, America’s unofficial holiday, we celebrate all that is football and all that is American. We shall gather our family and friends together this day. We shall prepare feasts as we gorge ourselves with our supersized endless amounts of food and drink. We shall sit in front of our supersized television sets with our endless amounts of commercials and entertainment. And yes, if we are lucky enough on this day, we may even see a football game squeeze in between our bites of chicken wings, slurps of soft drinks, and commercials geared towards children with horses and puppies as they carry wagon loads of fresh beer, all to our cheers of celebration for this momentous occasion.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I was a product of a football town, and we were taught early on in life to respect and love the game. My Browns were, and still, are often absent from the playoffs and Superbowl, but I do love to celebrate the season and this great game with friends and family on this day. More people in my hometown can discuss the 11 starting offensive players on the Browns rather than the 12 Disciples of Jesus. Some might say that football has become religion or idol worship in American society today; I’m not sure I can disagree.
There are many great quotes and sayings about the game of football:
“Football is an honest game. It’s true to life. It’s a game about sharing. Football is a team game. So is life.” –Joe Namath
“Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” –Vince Lombardi
As wonderful as the game of football has been for this culture, we would be remiss to acknowledge a variety of negative events that have been associated with the game. Several years ago studies became publicized concerning the connection between repeated head trauma that many football players experienced in their careers, and the likelihood of violent behavior to others and one’s self. More recent news headlines have included stories of Ray Rice, a running back formerly of the Baltimore Ravens , and a video capturing his assault of his fiancé at the time; now wife. And even this past week people have talked more about ‘deflate gate’, the controversy concerning the inflation measurements of the footballs for the New England Patriots, rather than the coming championship game itself. The media seems to spend more time talking about million dollar contracts, child and drug abuse, and twitter accounts than the actual game.
Yes, football is much like life. With much of the good that comes with it; the game has its share of negative experiences as well. With the stories of grandeur and celebration; there are stories of horror and shame. There are good seasons and bad; victories and defeats. While we celebrate this sport as one of the greatest team sports ever invented; we acknowledge that the actions of certain individuals can tarnish the very thing we love.
Today’s message is about not only football, but about community, and the sacrifices we all make for the sake of community. So let’s take a look at today’s texts.
It’s all about hype when it comes to today’s young stars. It used to be that sports stars were made when they accomplished something in their field of work. Win a Superbowl? You are a star. Now, it seems that with all of the media access in our 24/7 world, even young children are being hyped up to be the next hall of fame player. There are even stories of elementary aged children being ‘signed’ to college and professional teams around the world in sports these days!
When reading our Gospel text this morning I’m reminded of the growing hype around Jesus at this time. Mark records the impact of Jesus with the crowds:
22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit and commands it to leave. Mark goes on to write in verse 26:
26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
And just like that, Jesus is the next Joe Montana, or Johnny Unitas, …he is the Son of God.
28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Jesus wrestles with this challenge of stardom throughout the Gospels as he is often reported as pointing to God his Father in Heaven instead of himself. There are also times where he challenges those who believe in him because of his works instead of the authority of God that led to those works. While Jesus struggled with the temptation of individual glory, he reminded himself and others of the importance of not just individual success, but of a team victory as he ushered in the Kingdom of God; the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior would call this the Beloved Community.
The Apostle Paul was dealing with many of the same issues when he was responding to the young Christian community in Corinth in our scripture text today of 1 Corinthians. In this particular scenario the issue was on the topic of food. As we read this morning, there seemed to be some disagreement over whether or not Christians should partake of meals that happened to be part of other religious ceremonies.
Dr. Richard Hays, Professor of New Testament studies at Duke Divinity School sheds some light on the underlying issue within this conversation on food. Some of the community at Corinth identified with the ‘gnosis’, or knowledge, school of thought. Simply put, those who are smart enough are not subject to the archaic superstitions of things like mysterious powers within foods offered to idols. Some Christians in Corinth believed that they were smarter than others within the community, and thus, could eat the meat at such events, while other more ‘simple minded’ Corinthian Christians were not able to differentiate between the religious and the scientific because they did not have such gnosis.
The issue for Paul in this text is not about whether or not the food offered to idols is somehow blasphemous in its association with cult worship. The issue for Paul is the schism that has been formed within the Christian community between those of gnosis, and those without. Some of the Christians, to borrow Paul’s terminology, have become ‘puffed up’ in their own abilities to the detriment of the larger community.
After presenting the argument of the gnosis crowd as we read in the quoted sayings, Paul quickly moves from his rational response to the pastoral.
9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.
Paul builds upon his response, as he also alludes to the larger theological issues within what some may have simply understood as a conversation about eating.
12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Finally, Paul dramatically emphasizes his point, stating that if we need to choose between our own comfort and the spiritual welfare of our brother or sister, we need to put our own needs and wants second.
13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
For Paul, it’s a team game.
In an age and a culture here in the US where message after message is about ‘have it your way’, ‘have you had a break today’, and ‘I did it my way’, today’s Good News is a little different: God says that you will be your best when your neighbor is at his or her best. To borrow an African saying, ‘I am because we are.’
The Corinthians were living in a culture that was not very different than the one we live in today. Many had bought into the idea that if they work hard enough, if they educate themselves, if they follow the rules, then they would be okay. How many of us live with these assumptions about our own lives today? The Apostle Paul ruins that way of thinking for them, just as the risen Christ ruined it for Paul a few years previous. Today, it’s my joy to do just the same!
To put it simply, it’s not about you; it’s about Christ’s Church. The Corinthians thought they were talking about eating meat, and Paul shared with them the larger picture: our individual actions, our individuals lives, make an impact on the lives of others. So when you make even your simple daily decisions, be mindful that others are watching, and may be affected by your actions.
Today’s Christian Church is no different. This church here in Rocky Mount is no different. What we do here, from the way we worship, to the way we live amongst our community, to the food we eat, all make a difference. Yes, your life is very important, as simple or as inconsequential as you may think it is. And why is this; because you also help shape your neighbor’s life. It’s a team game.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, believe the Good News. Today we celebrate one of the greatest team games ever played. And on this day we are reminded of just how much of a team game our walks with Jesus really are. We do not walk alone. Our lives matter not only to us, but to all around us. We are bound together, and we are saved together by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is something to celebrate with the gathering of friends and family, feasts at the table, and loud cheers of celebration. Amen.