Third Sunday after Epiphany 2003

January 26, 2003
10:00 am Family Service
All Saints’, Briarcliff

If there’s one Sunday when I can get away with using football analogies in a sermon it’s Super Bowl Sunday. I won’t talk about Hail Mary’s or the Touchdown Jesus that stands in the end zone at Notre Dame’s stadium or even Franco Harris’ famous catch forever known to history as the “Immaculate Reception.” But I do want to take a moment to talk about team building. 

In the gospel reading we just heard from Mark, Jesus is forming his team. And let’s think for a minute about how most teams get put together. If you’re on the playground with some friends and you’re about to start playing soccer. How do you decide who’s going to be on which team? The way I remember it, you start with two captains and then they pick players alternating back and forth until everyone’s on a team. 

Professional teams do this a bit differently. Football teams in the NFL, like the Buccaneers and the Raiders who will be playing in today’s big game, draft players out of college they think will help them. They look for the best players, the fastest players, and the best tacklers. Then they sign some free agents, players who have played for awhile and are free to play for any team that wants them. They also might trade for a player they think might help them so if a team has a bunch of good defensive players but their offensive line is a little thin, they may trade one of their many defensive players for an offensive lineman. Eventually they get enough players to make up a whole team. 

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, he’s building his team. But the game’s a bit different. Jesus’ team isn’t trying to beat another team, his team is interested in fishing for people, that is, saving souls. And saving souls means helping people to know God. There are a lot of people who don’t know anything about God or Jesus and Jesus is putting together his team to help him teach others about God’s love.

And this story isn’t just about Jesus putting together his original team. These guys might now be on ESPN Classic. Jesus is still talking to us about putting together his team.  And he wants us to play! He wants us to join his team, to help fish for people, to help teach others about God.

It doesn’t matter how good at tackling we are to be on this team. The apostles we hear about might have been good fishermen but they didn’t know a thing about saving souls. But it didn’t matter. Because Jesus was the perfect coach, teaching them all they needed to know. And so we don’t have to know anything about saving souls either to be on Jesus’ team. He calls each one of us to strap on the helmet of salvation and get out onto the field. Once we’re out there he’ll help us develop the skills we need.

So enjoy the Super Bowl today. Root for your favorite team (sorry there aren’t any Jets or Giants to root for — or in my case Ravens), eat lots of food, and have fun. But remember that there is a more important game being played. We’re all players on this team Jesus is putting together. We all have special skills to offer. So think about it maybe at halftime maybe before the opening kickoff but remember there is always a place for you on the field.


Notes for 8am homily:

If there’s one Sunday when I can get away with using football analogies in a sermon it’s Super Bowl Sunday. I could talk about Doug Flutie’s amazing Hail Mary pass for Boston College or the Touchdown Jesus that stands in the end zone at Notre Dame’s stadium or even Franco Harris’ famous catch forever known to history as the “Immaculate Reception.”

But I’ll restrain myself. Actually, I’d like to say a word about the reading from 1st Corinthians. Really I’d like to address the last couple of weeks because we’ve been chugging through some pretty eye-opening passages. Last week we heard a lot about “fornication,” specifically we were told to “shun” it. And we were told that the “body was not meant for fornication but for the Lord.” Today we get a lot of talk about “circumcision.” And we’ll continue this way, trudging through some tough sections of 1st Corinthians over the next 3 Sundays as well. Frankly I’d rather just avoid some of these passages. They remind me of a service I once attended when, after a similar passage, the lector ended by saying “Here ends the lesson.” And someone in the back row, probably not paying too much attention responded in a loud voice, “Thanks be to God.” 

But you may even be wondering why I’m addressing any of this at all. It would certainly be easy to ignore the whole thing and pretend I didn’t hear them. We could make a little deal: you could pretend they weren’t read and I could simply neglect to mention them. But as often happens with difficult passages of Scripture, eventually avoidance no longer works. We need to examine these passages and try to determine what word God is trying to speak to us in the midst of them.

From one perspective, this whole road we’re traveling down with 1st Corinthians is a bit annoying. There are some stunning pieces to this letter from Paul to the early church community at Corinth. We’ve all heard 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 read at weddings, sometimes badly read: “love is patient, love is kind, love never ends.” And we also get the famous passage about the Church being the body of Christ and how as its members we all have a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. And on and on. But we don’t get any of that here. We get fornication and circumcision. Hopefully you won’t hear these passages read at any weddings. 

But I find that these readings don’t do us much good unless they’re put into context. Only then can we begin to figure out what God might be saying to us through them this morning. So, just to back up I want to talk about the purpose for Paul’s writing this letter to the Christians at Corinth. As many of you know, it was Paul himself who first brought the message of Jesus Christ to the Corinthians. He established the Church there and through his letters sought to encourage the faithful, to continue to teach them on questions of theology, and to respond to some disagreements and disputes that had arisen among the members of the community. 

Much of Paul’s discussion about using the body to the glory of God rather than to satisfy human desires is meant simply to keep us focused on God. The body itself is a blessing, a temple, as Paul tells us. Our very flesh is a gift from God, not something to be despised, as is so often the interpretation.

And the talk about circumcision isn’t about circumcision itself as much as it is a discussion of the coming end of the world. When will that be? Who knows? The early Christians certainly thought it was imminent. But Paul believed that our current place in life was less important than what was to come.

One of the frustrating pieces of using a lectionary for our Sunday readings is that we don’t often get the whole context. Much of what is inspiring is broader than a few passages. So in this spirit, I urge you to spend some time with 1st Corinthians in the next few weeks. Read the whole book – 16 short chapters. Listen to what Paul is saying to you. I guarantee it will make your time spent here in the next few weeks much more rewarding. And then, together, we can avoid these passages in good conscience.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2003


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