Fr. Ron Feister: A Sporting Look at Scriptures

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18A, Sunday, October 19, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 33.12-23; Psalm 99.1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10; Matthew 22.15-22.

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

It is Sunday and it you watch any television, you know that this is either NFL Sunday or Football Sunday, the games start early and last into the evening. I am not a big sports fan, usually don’t watch the games, but I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Before each game there is at least one, but many times several, “experts” who provide a commentary or breakdown of what to expect and then following the game, the same experts re-tell what has happened during the game. In both cases we are treated to a review of the plays, the statistics, the players, and the rankings.

I would like us to apply this approach to our readings from Today. Let start with the Epistle of 1 Thessalonians. First who are the players. The Letter is sent by Paul and two of his fellow missionaries, Silvanius ( also known as Silas) and Timothy. Paul had originally brought the Gospel to Thessalonica where it was not well received by the Jewish population, but was very well received by the gentiles. Silas had been a fellow missionary with Paul. Timothy seems to be the younger member of the group, but it is he who brings the report to Paul of how that Church was progressing. The Church at Thessalonica is a young church, mostly gentile with some Jewish members, but it has already undergone some persecution. What we have before us today in this the very beginning of Paul’s Letter, an address not unlike a coaches pre-game pep talk. He acknowledges that there have been difficulties in the past but he emphasizes the positive aspects of the team, that despite the persecution they have been faithful, they have been people of full conviction and open to the working of Holy Spirit, imitators not only of Paul but of the Lord their faith in God, was well known not only locally, but in may parts of the known world. They rejected idols and accepted the true God. Statistically there were small in number, they did not have the weight of many of he larger Churches, but the statistics were out-shined by their performance. Paul will end this Letter with some practical advice and guidance on how to deal some problems, not unlike a coach reminding his team of some weaknesses. But mostly Paul is encouraging them to do their best. In review. The Church of Thessalonica would remain an important Church and continue to provide great Christian witness for many years. What can we learn from this reading? That you do not need to be a big church or a well-established church to have a big impact for Christ on the world around you. That when you see others living the Faith with commitment that it is good to encourage and that even where there may be some difficulties, that we need to focus on the positive. Truly the Church of the Thessalonians ranked high in God’s eyes.

Next we will turn to the Gospel from Matthew. We know some of the Players. Jesus, of course, the Pharisees we have meet before, they are individuals who see religious justification in ritual purity and practice. The Pharisees had lost to Jesus on several occasions already. In last week’s game, I mean Gospel, Jesus told the story of the King who invited guests to attend a wedding for his son. In that story, Jesus made it clear that the Pharisees had been among those guests, but that they had rejected the invitation. The Pharisees were so mad about this that they got serious about bringing Jesus down, even killing him if necessary. The Herodians who accompanied the Pharisees were supporters of King Herod a puppet ruler and instrument of the Emperor. Not mentioned as a player, but implied, are the everyday folk who hated the empire and its Emperor for the burden of taxes had brought many to utter poverty. The match is played in the Temple. Statistically the Pharisees have not been doing very well and are losing what little fan support they may have had.

The Pharisees are noted for their trick plays, and it is just such a play that they try. They ask whether it is right to pay taxes knowing that if Jesus says yes the people will reject him and if he says no the followers of Herod will do their dirty work for them. Jesus asks for a coin. He looks at the coin and asks whose image is on it. The emperor’s is the response. Jesus says to the people to render to God what is God’s and to emperor what belongs to the emperor. The Pharisees might have thought to this as at least a tie, but not so, again the Pharisees have lost. When the Pharisees produced the coin in the Temple they showed that they really did not have respect for the Law because only Temple coins were permitted within the Temple and further they had to acknowledge that the coin had an image on it. Images were also forbidden in the temple. Jesus had shown the Pharisees to be hypocrites.

What can we learn from this lesson? Some would say that it indicates a separation from church and state. Others that Jesus was only interested in “spiritual matters.” Neither of these would be true. Jesus understood that all things, whether labeled as belonging to the emperor or not, belong first and foremost to God. Jesus, like the common people, wanted a revolution but not a political one, but rather one of the heart. Jesus believed that if enough people would trust their lives to God that a silent revolution would follow. Indeed as the Christian faith grew there was a transformation of the whole of society.

What does this Gospel say to us today? First that we need to see that all of life including ourselves belong to God. Second that while it is all right to disagree with someone, that we must be honest in the way we deal with that disagreement and not be hypocrites ourselves. We must understand that rituals and practices, while they have value, do so only in bringing us closer to God and are not merely formalities.

We now turn to the Old Testament Reading from Exodus. This is a continuation of the story of God’s dealing with his people as they are encamped at Mt. Sinai. Last week our favorite commentator, Fr. Kevin, gave us some of the background in which we saw God grudgingly accepting that these were His people but also becoming very displeased with them as they embraced a golden idol. We were challenged to see ourselves as God’s people today. Just before the passage we have shared today, there is a dialogue between Moses and God in which God tells Moses to prepare to leave to go into the promised land, a land that would be flowing with milk and honey – a symbolic way of saying a land of prosperity. God assures Moses that while he will not go with the people that He will provide an Angel to lead them. God says that he will not go with the people because they are a stiff necked and stubborn people and that if He will travel with them He fears that he will become so upset with them that He will destroy them.

Statistically, the people that God had chosen were already not doing well. They doubted God at the Red Sea, they griped about a lack of food until God fed them with Manna, and they to add to the insult they had a golden idol created to worship when Moses left them alone for a short time. Looking at the statistics, God had every reason to call them losers, and to wipe them out and start with a whole new team. As for the players, we have, of course, God, then Moses an imperfect, but faithful leader who wants only the best for his people, Aaron called to be a priest of God, but who knuckles under to popular pressure and people of God of which have already been adequately described. Moses is a good quarterback or team captain. When he is Leading, the people will generally follow and do as he asks. Aaron is good support for Moses but at this time in his life a little immature in the faith and easily lead astray. The real action is between Moses and God. Moses knows in his heart that these people can only be led if they know God is with them – an angel will not be enough. Moses is persistent in asking God to be the one who leads them.

Finally because of his pleas, God gives in. God however goes even further and grants to Moses the opportunity to experience tangibly the glory that is God’s alone although protecting Moses from seeing the Face of God which would have been too intense an experience of God’s glory and which would have ended Moses’ life.Even after the Lord God agrees to personally lead the people, it still takes them a year before they are able to move.

What does this story tell us? It assures us that we can feel comfortable in going to God with our needs, but that we must understand that such prayer must often be persistent and that we can experience the Lord’s presence in our lives that He will not overwhelm us or grant us those things which are hurtful to us.God still leads His People today for Jesus assures us in Matthew Chapter 28 that He will always be with us even to the end of time.

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