Sermon text put together from audio transcription software, so please read generously and with a grain of salt.
May the words of our miles and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight. Oh Lord. Our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Well, as we week by week, figure out this experiment of what it means to do worship in this setting in sunlight and in shadow I realized this morning that I didn’t preach last week. And so I wasn’t sure where I should locate myself to offer my reflection this morning. And now I kind of feel like we need a spotlight so you can see my face cause otherwise– It’s this or it’s this? Oh, well, we’ll get through it. Okay.
That’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the gospel and I want to talk about our lives as Christians and I want to do so by asking you to hear me out about a favorite TV show of mine that I watched during this past pandemic year. Like many of you, I killed a lot of time watching a lot of TV and various streaming services on my computer. And through the recommendation of a friend, I discovered a series on Netflix called last chance, U and it’s about a subject that was of surprising interest to me. Since I’m not a sports person, I don’t follow sports. I don’t pay attention to any of it. Really. I could barely tell you what’s happening even on, you know, major feast days of the sports world, like super bowl Sunday. But last chance, U is really a human story in the context of a sports environment.
And that environment is the Laney college football team. Laney college is what they call a junior college and they have a football program and they play against other schools and teams that are in the same tier of college athletics. And that’s not a very high tier those games aren’t covered on ESPN or wouldn’t show up in the newspaper, except for locally. They’re attended primarily by the friends and family and fellow students of the schools whose teams play against each other. And they’re poor in resources. And the players that play on those teams and attend those colleges typically come from pretty hard luck backgrounds. They’re working their way out in the absence of prosperity or privilege that the higher up schools might enjoy. Laney college, for example, has no housing for its students and no meal program. So the students who are playing on the football team, trying to work their way through the games and the practices, and to keep themselves fit, also have to worry about where they’re going to live and how they’re going to eat.
And there’s nothing the school can do for them about that. One of their star players, for example, who, when he’s not busy receiving touchdown passes as one of the effective wide receivers, sometimes throws passes. When he’s doubling as quarterback for the team, he lives in his car. And most of what he eats, he eats from the takeout, fast food, chicken joint that he works at in Oakland. So it’s a compelling story of human effort to overcome hardship and obstacles and to win games under the guidance and direction of their very dedicated, passionate coach who has been with the Laney college Eagles for many, many years, despite having been recruited to division one or higher college football leagues. He wants to stay where this kind of action is because he cares about these students. He cares about their livelihood. He cares about their prosperity, and he knows that football is their ticket to a college education.
And the primary goal of this team is for the players to make enough plays, to get noticed by some recruiter, who’s going to call them up to a college where they do have housing and they do have a meal plan and there’s more resources for that student so that they can continue to exercise their game and ply their trade as it were, but also have a better chance of getting a better education so they can move their way through the world. So the whole system is organized to try to make lives better for these college students who, as I said, don’t all come from the most prosperous or privileged backgrounds. So it’s in and of itself already, a pretty amazing story of human drama and the effort to overcome hardship, but it’s made extraordinary, in my opinion, by the fact that the season that they’re filming was the 2019 season.
And in the 2018 season, the Laney college Eagles won the national championship for the junior college football league in the United States. So we’re encountering the story of this drama, the team, some of the same players, but some new players trying to continue to make their best effort, listen to their coach, win their games, knowing that they are also the defending national champions of the junior college football league. And the thing that keeps standing out to me about it is just because you won the national championship last year, doesn’t mean you can’t lose this year. And I was thinking about that when I was thinking about these stories of Jesus coming to his disciples after he’s already died and been resurrected, which in our theological tradition means he has already won the galactic cosmic victory over sin and death. He didn’t just win the regional state or national championship. He won the global solar systemic galactic and universal championship in all worlds throughout all time, Jesus, by his death and resurrection has conquered sin and death.
So if that’s the case, why is there still so much suffering, heartbreak, pain, violence, and sin in the world? Why is there still so much to do?
Well, I guess I would say, I think it’s because the victory that Jesus achieved is not one that he achieved for his own sake. And our God is not a God who does the work for us, but our God is a God who gives us what we need so that we can share in God’s sacred work of redeeming the whole world in this way. We get to experience for ourselves what victory feels like. We get to experience for ourselves, the taste of that championship celebration we get to wear as it were our own championship ring, but only if we play the game, only if we put our hearts into it, only if we make that effort only if we’re willing to do the work, we might like to think that the victory that Jesus achieved by his death and resurrection is one that allows us simply to bask in his glory and live in a kind of perpetual state of championship celebration.
But I think if we think that’s the case, we’re diluting ourselves and we’re letting our opponents rack up all the points. While we sit by on the sidelines, celebrating our apparent victory. I don’t think that’s how it works. Jesus shows us what victory looks like and then turns to us and says, peace, be with you. Now it’s your turn. So we might chafe it that we might want it to be the case that the victory was won once and for all. And there’s nothing more to do. And we who call ourselves Jesus followers are just the people who celebrate his victory with him and we’re done. And it’s somehow all those other people that are making problems for the world.
Don’t think that’s how it works. And one way or another, I think all of our scriptures are trying to make it plain to us. God is with us. God shows us the way, but God shares God’s work with us and invites us to be part of the redemption of the world so that we too, we too can earn that victory. It’s not something he does for us because he want to deny us that sacred experience of being part of the world’s redemption. Let’s ask ourselves, does the world need redemption? All I gotta do is look back over last week’s headlines. And the answer is a resounding yes, there’s still so much grief, sorrow pain brokenness in the world. Let us only ask ourselves to consider three of the things that were in the headlines this past week. Another tragic shooting of a child by a police officer in Chicago, you know, on top of the tragedy of a child running around the streets at three in the morning with a gun himself, that in and of itself would be heartbreak, but his death, his heartbreak upon heartbreak, another tragic mass shooting at the FedEx warehouse outside Indianapolis, my colleague, the Bishop of Indianapolis, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville burrows wrote on her Facebook page earlier this week to remind people that this is the third mass shooting in Indianapolis this year.
That’s a lot of heartbreak and a lot of violence. And a lot of brokenness this past week, the president Biden called for a cessation of military activity in Afghanistan. I don’t know where that’s going to go or what’s going to happen there, but it’s just a reminder of the long miserable, heartbreaking saga of our involvement in that nation and the events that preceded our war on Afghanistan and so much heartbreak and misery and violence and brokenness that we don’t even know is going on. It’s all out there. Those are just three stories of things that happened last week. And if we think those stories, aren’t our stories. If we think that’s somebody else’s problem. If we think that our suburban privilege and prosperity prevents us from being involved in those things or obviates our requirement to know about care about and do where we can do it, what we can do to heal and redeem the world.
Then I think we’re kidding ourselves. We’re in that locked up a room, wondering what to do, and Jesus comes to join us. And he says, have you got anything to eat? Imagine that he wants us to give him something to eat now, what is the food that Jesus eats? Well, then another place in the gospels, he says the food that I have is the work that the father has given me to do. So when he asks us to give him something to eat, he’s saying, share with me your Holy work, share with me your redeeming, work, your labor for the sake of the world. Share with me your effort to win the victory over sin and death. I know you can do it because I’ve been there and I’ve shown you how now, if you will, let’s get to work. It’s not going to be easy. There will be hard days, but together taking up our own cross, committing ourselves to our own promises and availing ourselves of all the gifts and tools and power that God shares with us through the Holy spirit. We too can win the championship this year, maybe next year two, maybe every year from now on.