13th Sunday After Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father, His Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The world is going through some major changes; socially, culturally and spiritually. This nation is in the midst of a pandemic; not only a virus attacking the physical health of the people but also ideological attacks of social warfare by one group on another.
Cancel culture seems to be the latest plague to strike our nation. Our police forces, our nation’s history, and even the pledge of allegiance is being attacked. What started out with one professional football player kneeling during the national anthem has grown to entire sports teams walking of the field or court in protest.
I don’t really get too excited about sports. Sure, I played football in High School, I even played Rugby while in college and in the Navy, soccer was the game we played in every foreign port we visited. But to tell you the truth, I find watching sports boring. To be a spectator really doesn’t get me excited. Playing in the game is where I find enjoyment.
Some people may prefer to be the spectator, after all, you could get hurt out there. Or, some people may really enjoy playing, but the training is too hard and the competition for your spot on the team is always in jeopardy.
Then there are those who believe that they should not have to work as hard as their teammates because they are better than everyone else. They may feel that their skills are so wanted and needed that they should have special treatment. They may feel that they should not have to show up for every practice and still expect to play in the big game.
Football, Basketball and Soccer are all team sports. It takes all of the team working together to achieve a goal. One person cannot carry the whole team and one person is not responsible for the success of the team. And in any team sport, the entire team takes its direction and orders from one person, the coach.
Being a Christian is like being a member of a team. Jesus Christ is the coach and God the Father is the owner of the team.
Our coach wants us to make it to the goal. And what is our goal? To take the Gospel message to all people. We are to proclaim the salvation of our Lord through his death on the cross, his resurrection from the grave and his victory over death for life eternal with him in Paradise.
Why does Jesus want us to bring this Good News to all people? So that they can all share in the victory over the opposing side and celebrate life eternal in that great locker-room in the sky.
Okay, okay, maybe I pushed the analogy a bit too far. Heaven is not a big locker-room filled with sweaty socks and uniforms. But if you think about it, being on a sports team is quite a bit like life. Life is tough. In life we are always in training. We work and we sweat and we endure pain. We have wins and losses and sometimes we have a tie. We may even experience being traded off to another less successful team.
For a Christian, it seems even tougher. As a Christian, we may feel that we are on a losing team. It may seem that we lose more often than we win. We have the good news of our Savior, Jesus Christ and we want everyone to receive his life giving salvation.
But there is a problem. There is an opposing side and they do not want us to succeed. In fact, they are training and sweating and enduring pain to do everything they can to make us fall. Sin is their head coach and The Adversary, Satan, is the owner of that franchise.
We carry the ball that is love, life, truth and righteousness by the grace of God. The other side does not want this to be received. They attack in full force, trying to knock the Word from our hands. If they can’t do that, they attack those who carry the Word. They hit hard, fast and dirty. To them, nothing is against the rules.
Even worse, we may have members of our side who have given up, or those who say they are on our team, but really are working for our enemy.
It seems hopeless, but we have hope in the knowledge that our coach, our leader, is smarter, wiser and more powerful than our Adversary. Jesus already knows the outcome of our trial. He has already beaten the opponent.
We know this in our minds and our hearts, yet still we doubt. Like Jeremiah, we complain to God, “Look! You promised us victory, yet all we see is defeat. We did what you said and we are rejected by our friends and families. We stand alone, broken, bleeding and hurting. Are you really going to save us?”
And God says to us, “Wait a minute! You need to take a better look at what is going on. You complain that I am not there for you, that I have not fulfilled my part of our contract, but look again. If you do what you are told, you will have the fulfillment of my word.
You run left when told to run right. You make things up as you go along. You don’t listen to your coach. Turn yourself around, march right back out there and follow your leader. I sent him to save you and lead you to victory.”
Pretty harsh words from a loving and merciful God aren’t they? But don’t feel so bad, we are in good company. Simon Peter also tried to call the plays on the field. Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter takes him aside and tells him, “You can’t do this. We should come up with another way.”
Jesus tells Peter, “Who are you to tell me what to do? You might as well be playing for the opposing team.” Peter was telling Jesus to do what Satan had tried to tempt Jesus into doing when he was fasting in the wilderness. In Matthew chapter 4 it is written:
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” [Matt 4:3]
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ [Matt 4:5-6]
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
The devil was trying to get Jesus to give up his mission to save us. Satan tempted Jesus to do what he wanted instead of what our Father in heaven wanted.
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” [Matt 4:8-10]
Peter was asking Jesus to do the same thing, to forget the command of his Father in heaven and to follow sinful desires. Our Adversary now works on us so that we too will give up on Jesus. We are being deceived into dropping the ball, into running the other way, or to just quit.
Jesus tells us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. [John 14:6] Jesus says, “Follow Me! I am your leader. I know it is hard to follow me. I know that you must deny yourself the sinful pleasures in life. Take up your cross and follow me.”
You want the things of this world instead of eternal life with God. If you take what the world gives, you will lose your life. If you have the world and lose your soul, what could you possibly give in return for your life?
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” [Matt 16:25]
Well team, we are all members of the body of Christ. We all wear the same uniform. We wear the garment of Christ given to us in our Holy Baptism. We have all been given the armor of God to protect us from all those on the opposing side.
It is time to get out of our comfortable chairs of this world and quit being spectators. We have all heard the final warning. It is the last two minutes of our lives. We must follow the commands of our leader, Jesus Christ, in order to win the final victory in sudden death.
Now I’m no Knute Rockne, but if I were to give a pep talk, it would be this:
Have faith. Do not be afraid. God has not abandoned us. He will restore us and make us his people, fortified like a wall of bronze. They will fight against us, but they shall not prevail over us.
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you,” says the Lord.
“I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.” [Je15:20-21]
Deny yourselves and return to me
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me. [Je15:19]