February 8, 2009

Show 'em what ya got!

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Year B, RCL, February 8th, 2009

St. Stephen & the Incarnation, Washington, DC

In the name of the One God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

There was a major secular holiday on Wednesday of this week. A holiday most closely (and I dare say religiously) watched in parts of the Deep South and the Midwest and even by many on the West Coast. It is always very anticipated and gets a lot of media attention.

I’m talking, of course, about College Football Signing Day—the Christmas day of College Football, when fans all across the nation follow the blogosphere to see who has signed their national letter of intent to spend the next two, three or four years on the gridiron for their favorite team. The only days with more anticipation and speculation are the first day of fall practice and the days leading up to the first game of the season.

The recruiting game in college football has become a big business. Magazines and websites are devoted to following the stats of high school players across the country. ESPN has even taken to showing high school football games on Friday nights featuring some of the most highly sought after players. When players make their official visits to schools, they are often treated like royalty. The coaching staff rolls out the red carpet, taking the young man and his parents to a nice lunch or dinner, arranging meetings with players, professors (usually ones who are fans of the football program), and showering them with small gifts allowed by the NCAA. The coach spends some time with the parents, telling them that if their son chooses to play football for him, he will treat him like one of his own, make sure that he is going to class and running with the right group of peers. Usually the final pitch is aimed straight at the ego. On the tour of the stadium, the player will find a locker set up just for him, with the helmet and pads already laid out, and his name on the back of a jersey. Sometimes they have the P.A. announcer call the young man’s name and number so he can hear it bouncing off the empty stands.

This act, this game… is played out on college campuses from Seattle to Miami and from Los Angeles to Knoxville. College football coaches put the best image forward for their school and their program. They bend over backwards and tell these fellas and their families almost anything they want to hear to get them to come play football at their school. The coach has a school and a program that he believes in and about 99 percent of the time, he wants this young man to be a part of it.

So what, pray tell, does this have to do with anything related to us here today? Let me say that I’ve never been a huge fan of Saint Paul’s Epistles, and part of that, which I’m beginning to get over, is that people attempt to apply his very contextual writing to modern times. Those who want to cite Paul’s writings (as well as the other Epistles) often overlook that these letters were addressed to specific groups of people dealing with specific issues. While the Paul-line Epistles have much to offer us here in 2009, it is highly doubtful that Saint Paul was thinking about the United States of America when writing to the church in Corinth.

Speaking of the church in Corinth, let me paint you just a little bit of a picture of what they were dealing with-- since we heard about them last week and this week, and will continue hearing about them until Lent begins. As I told a Bible study group once, “Corinth was a city that could make Las Vegas look like Mayberry.” You have this tiny slip of land connecting two large bodies of water, making it a huge shipping port, and bringing in people (and their religious practices) from all over the known world. Then this new sect of Judiaism finds its way to Corinth, too, and Jews and Gentiles alike begin following this crazy guy named Jesus who performed some amazing miracles and it is even believed that he rose from the dead after the most gruesome of executions. Saint Paul is writing to them to set some things straight about practices and beliefs and customs, and even to offer them some reassurance.

While much of what Paul says to the Corinthians points to a specific problem or concern, much of what he says is also timeless. “If I proclaim the Gospel,” he writes in this morning’s Epistle lesson, “this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” This verse is in the middle of an entire chapter devoted to Paul laying out the rights and responsibilities of being an apostle of Christ.

What Paul is saying in all of this is that in order to win more people to the cause of Christ, he has taken himself to them. He has not so much given up his own identity, as he has begun to identify with those who he would lead to Christ. He has done it all for the sake of the Gospel so that he (and we) may share in its blessings.

Go back in your head for a few minutes to that college football coach recruiting the high school player to his campus. That coach has a program he believes in and wants that young man to be a part of it to make it even better.

Back in the days of Corinth, there was something to this Jesus movement that made it worthwhile for Saint Paul to not only risk his life spreading the message but to seek to help the budding churches have a common theology and understanding of what they were committing themselves to. Saint Paul saw the ministry and teachings of Jesus as so powerful and so valuable that he wanted everyone to be a part of it.

College football coaches get paid ridiculous sums of money to bring in the best talent and most coaches are pretty picky about who they want based on where the needs are for their team.

Saint Paul—not so much. He was willing to sculpt his message to meet the soon-to-be follower of Christ where they were. There is no earthly reward for that, and Saint Paul knew it. Saint Paul had already trashed his own reputation in the Jewish community by abandoning his Law enforcement career. As he spread the Gospel of Christ, he came to see this as his sole purpose: To bring all people to the Gospel and to bring the Gospel to all people.

So, what about us as Christians and as Episcopalians? What is it that we have to share with people about who Christ is and what Christ has done in our lives? Are we willing to share it? There are tens of thousands of people in the metro DC area without a place of worship to call home. Are we willing to share not only the message of Christ but the message of this parish with them? Are we willing to give them the royal treatment, put their name on the back of a jersey, in order to win them over?

Our call and our commission is simple—an obligation has been laid upon us to share the Good News of Christ. We can share that Gospel in words, and in actions; in how we speak to those we encounter, and how we treat those we encounter.

My challenge to you is this: How are you going to share the Gospel this week?