Rise Up!

January 29, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The 4th Sunday after Epiphany
Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

(Gospel Text provided below)

How about those Atlanta Falcons! It’s pretty exciting to see them headed to the Super Bowl. Now, I realize not everyone sitting here today is a football fan. And, even for those who are, I’d venture to guess that some of you may even be pulling for the Patriots in next week’s game. super-bowl-2017-top-five-upsets-of-all-timeThat’s okay. We’re Episcopalians. We don’t have to all like football, or even cheer for the same team. Our common life together isn’t grounded in football, or in loyalty to a specific team. Instead, it’s grounded in our shared belief in Jesus Christ. It’s grounded in prayer together as a community. It’s grounded in being sent-out together as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

But before I get to that, let’s get back to the Falcons for just a minute. It’s been quite a season, that’s for sure. But like most successes in life, it didn’t just happen. Even more remarkable, it wasn’t just one or two stand-out players that got them where they are. It was a full team effort.

I was intrigued earlier this season when I heard a sportscaster talk about the Falcons off-season preparation. He said that the 2nd-year coach, Dan Quinn, realized that while he had many great athletes, they weren’t reaching their full potential as a cohesive team. So, he wanted to try something different to galvanize the team. So, unbeknownst to the players, upon arrival at their training facility last April, for the 2nd week of off-season prep, instead of the normal team meetings and weight-lifting, they were introduced to seven retired Navy Seals. You know the Navy Seals – the Special Ops unit that handles especially delicate and risky military actions.

falcon-and-seals

Over the next four days these men gave the football players a different kind of preparation. Not exactly “Navy Seals Hell Week” caliber, but rigorous enough to bring out the leadership in each one. What’s more, what emerged was a mentality of “we’re not just here for ourselves, we’re here for the rest of the team.” After the training, when the coach was asked which players stood out as leaders, he rattled off 15 names and could’ve kept going. They all learned that leadership comes from all levels – the veteran players, as well as those who have only been with the team a couple of years.[i]

That shift in mentality showed this season. I won’t bore you with the stats, but feel free to look ’em up. It was the team’s ability to rely on one another, working together for a common purpose, that propelled them to where they are – where they will be together – playing in the Super Bowl next Sunday.

When I reflected on today’s gospel reading from Matthew, it has that same “pre-season preparation” feel to it. The author of Matthew’s gospel places the familiar Beatitudes early-on in Jesus’ ministry. He was baptized and then sent out into the desert for some strength and resilience conditioning.fishers-of-men Next, he put his team together, calling his starting line-up – Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John. Then it says:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Mt. 4:23)

We are told that his fame began to spread and crowds were coming from all over to hear what he had to say. When he noticed the large crowd, he went up the mountain a bit and gathered his disciples, his team, around him. He began to teach them, sharing his pre-season playbook, so they could begin to grasp their common purpose. This was essential for them, so they could begin to move in this new direction together.

Things were going to look different this year. These fishermen, these devout Jews, were in for something new. They were going to have to get prepared for what was to come. Jesus also gave words of warning about the adversity they would surely face. But then he pointed to the prophets of old, who also endured adversity for the sake of speaking God’s truth even at the risk of persecution.

AncientJerusalemAnd when you consider the earliest audience of this gospel, which was written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem – that place where God resided – it’s even more compelling. This community would be feeling the despair of having been driven out of their Holy city. They would need to figure out how to connect with God in a new way. They could readily identify with having a troubled spirit, experiencing grief, and feeling persecuted. So, hearing that these conditions in life were considered “Blessed,” holds in it a message of assurance and hope.

I believe these words also speak to the necessity of community – authentic community. For these outcast people to journey forward, they must stay connected and faithful, not only to God, but to one another. Like the Atlanta Falcons, this community won’t be able to take it to the next level without working together. They must show mercy to one another, which then manifests God’s mercy in their lives.

hunger-and-thrist-jpgThey must strive for righteousness, even hunger and thirst for it. Hungering and thirsting for doing what is right, for seeking and serving God’s will. When our nourishment comes from our commitment to God-directed decisions, we will be filled with God’s love, strength, and resilience.

If we seek to be the peacemakers when all around us are hurling verbal hand-grenades, we show ourselves as ones who live into the Baptismal Covenant we profess. Respecting the dignity of each person. Embracing the image of God in all people – even those who aren’t cheering for the Falcons next Sunday.

These reassuring words would have emboldened those first disciples to begin to grasp how to move forward – with Jesus – in the work of catching people instead of fish. They were fortifying for those early Hebrews during a time of unrest, discomfort and transition, allowing them to begin a new way of being in their transformed world. These same words hold in them the necessity of togetherness that we must embrace today.

fishers-of-men-03

Today is the day of our Annual Parish meeting. It’s a time when we look back at what we did last year, and also look ahead at what’s next in the life of Christ Church. As we do this, these same words continue to empower us. They invite us to fortify our communal life. To seek ways that we can venture beyond familiar roles, and, perhaps, do some new things for the good of the whole Body. Our common purpose depends on all of us, not just the starting line-up. We must adopt the mentality that “we’re not just here for ourselves, we’re here for the whole team.”

Bearing this in mind, when we assert that children and youth are the future of the church – or as I like to say, the church of today – what does that look like in YOUR life? What can you do as part of this Body of Christ Church, to help make that a reality? Now, some may be thinking, let those with children lead the programs. But I’ll tell you, the parents of school-age children are going 24/7 to support the myriad activities of their kids and their families. These parents come on Sunday morning for a time of prayer and renewal of spirit to help them face the rest of the week. So, for those of you whose children have grown up, or those who don’t have children, please consider how you might be able to share your gifts to help these parents and the children of Christ Church.

images-1Our discernment also revealed that we want Christ Church to be known for Outreach. We’re exploring ways to more intentionally embody this call of being SENT OUT – to help those in need and build relationships with those beyond our walls. Many of you have already begun this embodied work, taking a Heart from the Rainbow Village display in the Parish Hall, so we can provide a household of items for a new family arriving in February. Perhaps you would consider your ability to take one shift a month in the Thrift Shop – maybe sign-up as a parent/child duo. Or, get your Fitbit steps in by being part of our Hunger Walk team, or support one of the walkers with a financial donation. These are just a few of many ways we collectively embody what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

As we embark on the ministry season ahead, I invite you to participate fully. To find tangible ways to be part of our Christ Church team as we embrace this exciting and invigorating, God-directed ministry.

Let’s begin with a little fun next week. favortie-shirtWe’re all invited to come to church wearing our favorite team jersey. It doesn’t have to be football, it can be any sport, any team. And if you really don’t like sports, that’s okay. Wear a shirt with your favorite Broadway musical, or something else you love. I hope the diversity we’ll see, will be a way for us to playfully grasp the diversity of our congregation, and an affirmation that these differences won’t be an obstacle to an authentic community, living out the gospel.

I’ll leave you with a newly created, yet no less true Beatitude:

Blessed are they who despite their differences, join together for a common purpose of spreading God’s love with all people, for they will embody the good news of Jesus Christ.    

 

Gospel Text:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Mt 5:1-12)

 

[i] Kalyn Kahler, “When Falcons Train With SEALs,” May 11, 2016, The MMQB, Webpage: http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2016/05/11/atlanta-falcons-nfl-training-navy-seals-dan-quinn-matt-ryan, Accessed January 26, 2017.

 

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