Monday, February 14, 2011

Choose Jesus Christ

Sermon from February 13, 2011
(Epiphany 6 – Year A)
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

I just knew that if I watched TV long enough last Sunday night, I would get me some good sermon material.
After the unfortunate singing of the National Anthem by Christina Aguilera,
After the opening kick-off between the Steelers and the Packers,
After the retro-80s half-time show,
After all of that, the hit TV show Glee was back on for a brand new episode.

For those who do not know, Glee is a TV show on Fox about a high school glee club.
The glee club is filled with a menagerie of kids:
The disabled, the losers, the geeks, as well as a few kids who are also on the cheerleading squad and the football team.

In last Sunday night’s episode of Glee, 3 of the girls are in the glee club, as well as members of the cheerleading squad, under the tyrannical direction of Sue Sylvester.
Yet Sue Sylvester has scheduled the championship cheering competition for the exact same night that the glee club is to be performing the half-time show at the football championship.
The girls, Santana, Brittany and Quinn, must make definitive choice.
The girls can either be on the cheerleading squad –
Or they can be in the Glee club.

Puck, who is a football jock and also in the glee club, comes to talk with the girls.
Puck reminds the girls of the story, the narrative of how the glee club brings life.
Then he gives the girls a choice:
Do you find life and meaning as an up-tight cheerleader?
Or do you find that your heart sings with life when you are in the glee club?

Santana, Brittany and Quinn choose to perform at the half-time show with the glee club.
And the coach of the glee club, Mr. Shu, smiles from the sidelines, pleased that his kids have chosen what brings them life.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, the Hebrew people are presented with a choice.
The Hebrew people can choose to not follow God and to chase after idols.
Or the Hebrew people can choose God and his commandments of justice and love, which will bring them life.

In many ways, Moses has been the coach of the Hebrew people.
Moses led his people out of their slavery in Egypt and through the waters of the Red Sea on dry land.
Moses led the people in the desert for 40 years, striking a rock so that water would gush forth and calling down bread from heaven for them to eat.
And now Moses has led his people to the edge of the Promised Land.

Moses recalls the narrative, the story of his chosen people.
Then he asks them to make a choice, as Moses cries out in his farewell address:
“I have set before you life and death.
Choose life [by] loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him.”

Last Sunday night in the episode of Glee, the jock named Puck recounts for the girls their story of singing, the narrative of their abundant life.
And then the girls are faced with a choice.
And Moses, the leader of the Hebrew people, recounts the exodus story, the narrative of their abundant life.
And then the Hebrew people are faced with a choice:
A choice to choose death and false idols by going their own way and not following God.
Or a choice to choose life, by loving the Lord and following his ways.

And this morning, my brothers and sisters, we are faced with a choice.
Do we listen to the story, the secular narrative that the world gives to us?
Or do we listen to the story, the sacred narrative that Jesus Christ gives to us?

Last week, I stumbled upon a piece of writing that I know is going to change my ministry.
The Rev. Paul Winton, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina has written a paper, a paper that deals with the concern that our young people, as well as our older people, are not practicing the Christian faith.

This priest writes:
“What is obvious is that from Little League to the summer swim team phenomenon,
When parents are energetically engaged with their children in the actual enterprise…
These are the very enterprises that their children come to value…for a lifetime.”

This priest also writes this:
“The Sacred Narrative…has in fact been driven out by the secular narrative;
Principally the sports narrative.”

Last Wednesday night, Jimmy and I attended the Baylor men’s basketball game vs. Nebraska.
During a timeout in the game, cheerleaders ran down onto the court, carrying boxes of hot pizzas from Pizza Hut.
Those in the stands who cheered the loudest were given an opportunity to win a free pizza.
Consequently, children of all ages screamed at the top of their lungs.
Women began to squeal with excitement.
Fully-grown men jumped up and down like school girls, yelling:
“I want a pizza! I want a pizza!”

Jimmy turned to me and said:
“I just wish that people would get half this excited about receiving Communion.”

My friends, I am serious when I say this:
When we are more excited about receiving a free pizza at a basketball game than we are to receiving the bread of heaven,
Then we are not choosing life, but we are choosing to worship idols.
When we are more engaged and energized by the narrative of the Super Bowl than we are to the sacred story of Jesus’ resurrection that gives us eternal life,
Then we are not choosing life, but we are choosing to worship idols.

And as your pastor, as your spiritual coach, I am genuinely concerned.
And as Moses looked into the Promised Land, he was genuinely concerned, as well.

Moses was concerned that his people would choose to forget their sacred story, the exodus narrative, the story that God delivers us from slavery and feeds us in the wilderness and leads us to a land of promise.
And I am concerned that we will choose to forget, or never even know, our sacred story, the narrative of how Jesus sets us free from our bondage and feeds us with daily bread and leads us into the promised land of peace and justice for all.

Therefore, as your coach, as your leader, I see a perfect opportunity on the horizon for us to choose life, to choose to not forget our sacred narrative.
A perfect opportunity awaits to choose to not replace the sacred narrative with the narrative of sports or careers or upward mobility.

In one month, on Ash Wednesday, March 9th, the season of Lent will begin.
The 40-day season of Lent is the Episcopal Church’s version of a revival.
And during this upcoming season of Lent, we will re-double and revive our resolve to choose to say ‘no’ to death - and to the worship of the world’s idols.
We will choose to say ‘yes’ to life, by sharing and witnessing to our sacred story and by following Jesus all the way to his cross and his empty tomb.

So, choose life – and put more energy and enthusiasm into weekly worship and Sunday school and Bible study than you do for soccer practices or gymnastics or cheering at Little League games.

Choose life – and put more energy and enthusiasm into reading the sacred scriptures than you do for researching basketball teams to complete your March Madness brackets.

Choose life – and put more energy and enthusiasm into your practice of prayer than you do for your practice of jogging or bicycling or arm-chair quarterbacking.

The cheerleader girls on Glee had a choice.
The Hebrew people on the edge of the Promised Land had a choice.
And you have a choice:
To choose the secular story that the world gives;
Or to choose the sacred narrative of Jesus’ abundant life.

I am concerned about the choices you make.
Choose life.
Choose Jesus Christ.


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