Monday, November 29, 2010

A Sermon on Living Honorably

Most of you know that I am an avid Dallas Cowboy’s fan. Most of you also know that this really hasn’t been a good year to be a Dallas Cowboy’s fan. I was fortunate enough to actually see one of their wins, which until two weeks ago was their only win of the season. But then Jerry Jones did something unprecedented in Cowboy’s history. He fired head coach Wade Philips in the middle of the season and replaced him with Jason Garrett.  
Something happened when this coaching transition took place. Suddenly, the team started playing differently. Suddenly, they had a different sense of urgency. They went from being the butt of jokes to actually pulling off a couple of wins. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my ‘boys being competitive and actually winning. But I have a rather bitter-sweet taste in my mouth.
If you actually bothered to watch the Cowboys before Wade Philips was fired, you know as well as I, that they quit playing for their coach. It looked like they literally didn’t care whether they won or lost. The looked like they weren’t putting out much of an effort to win games. The offense was offensive. The defense, which was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths looked like a sieve. Much of that has changed since Jason Garrett was promoted to interim head coach, and I cannot help but ask: why? Why did these men, many who are paid millions of dollars to play a game quit giving their total effort? What allowed them to be comfortable with losing? Did they even have any self-respect left within them, any dignity?
Unfortunately, in this day and age, when such a thing happens, we tend to look at the leader and give him or her the axe. We tend to lay the blame on the coach, the teacher, the CEO, the pastor, the Bishop, or whoever we sense to be the one in charge. It’s their fault for failing to motivate the troops. But, what ever happened to personal responsibility? What ever happened to having the courage to be self-motivated and do your job to the best of your ability regardless of the circumstances? Such questions arise in my mind as I ponder the Cowboys this year, and as I think about living the life of faith.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Believe it or not, that means we are starting a new year in the church, and of course, we begin preparing for Christmas. We begin preparing for the arrival of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I mean that in two ways. We prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but we also prepare for His coming at the last when He will make all things new. This is why we have before us this morning Bible lessons which talk about the end of days. Isaiah’s lesson points us to what will happen when the Lord returns–nations will beat swords into plowshares, and war will be no more. Jesus talks of how some folks will be taken and others will be left, and he urges his followers to be prepared. And St. Paul urges the church in Rome to wake from sleep and live honorably for salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. Each lesson invites you and me to ponder what it means for us to live and move and breathe as we wait for Jesus to return and restore creation to what it should be.
Perhaps we need such reminders in our earthly journeys because it is awfully easy to become frustrated with how things are going. It is awfully easy to become bogged down in all the messiness of life. It is awfully easy to become disenchanted with the way things are, and it is easier to just quit than to keep pressing onward. When it comes down to it, it’s easier to say, “What’s the point of all of this anyway?” and just walk away from the challenge of living as we are called to live and be the people God has called us to be.
Why would I say such a thing? Well, let’s think about it for a minute, and I will do so trying to address a couple of concerns that many Christians have. First, let’s talk a little bit about morality. There are many Christians today who are very concerned that this world, this country, and even this church are slipping farther and farther into moral decay. They decry how at one time there was an expectation of how a person was expected to conduct his or her life. Marriage was supposed to be until death do us part. Sex was supposed to be reserved for marriage and marriage alone. Drinking to an excess was completely forbidden. Pornography was supposed to be banned or at the very least completely restricted so that minors couldn’t obtain it at all. And these are just a few of the issues. And yet, for those whom such things are important, they have seen the standards challenged and dropped year afer year after year. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Young folks do not wait for sex. Alcohol is prevalent and folks are encouraged to escape reality by drinking to an excess. Pornography is just a few clicks on a computer away, and it is free. For Christians who are concerned about such things, many feel as if they are fighting a losing battle. They feel as though they are facing a tidal wave, and some even give up hope. “If so many are doing such things without any consequences, why even bother?” they ask. It is awfully tempting to quit.
Now, let’s turn to another subject which raises passion for others in the church: the need to care for those who are poor, oppressed, and facing injustice. Many Christians have a heart and passion for following Christ’s command to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. They want to make a huge difference in the battle against poverty, and they throw themselves at all the injustice: raising money and starting programs to make a difference. They rejoice when they see some positive things happening; however, no matter how much they struggle, poverty doesn’t end. No matter what good is done, there always seems to be someone else who has a need. No matter how hard they work to ensure that everyone has something to eat, awareness is raised about someone else who goes hungry. At every turn, it seems as though someone else is asking for help, not only with eating but with paying electric bills, their rent, or hospital bills. Their generosity overflows, but so does the need. Realizing the massiveness of the need can lead to such folks becoming worn out and depressed. Realizing the massiveness of those who need assistance becomes overwhelming, and there is an awful temptation to quit. “What difference am I truly making?” they ask.
Sometimes, it does feel like we are trying to slam our heads through a brick wall. Sometimes it does feel like we run into adversity no matter which way we turn. Sometimes it does feel like we are overwhelmed and underappreciated. And sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to quit. I think that’s what happened to the Cowboys earlier this year. Too much adversity turned them into quitters.
But, is that our calling as Christians? Are we called to be quitters? Are we called just to sit down and give up because the reality of what we face is too overwhelming?
“Let us live honorably,” St. Paul says. Paul goes on to address many moral issues the church in Rome was facing and calling them to be true to their Christian callings. Yet, can Paul’s phrase help us even more? Can it also give us courage as we await the return of Jesus even in the face of things which cause us dismay?
I remember something my parents taught me about academic and athletic success. It’s something that has stuck with me for many, many years, and I still strive to practice it today. Essentially, my parents told me, “Kevin, no matter what you do, give it your best shot. If you give something your best shot, and you fail, you can still hold your head up because you know you did your best.” Understanding those words helped me know that if I worked my tail end off in class and failed, I still gave it my best. Understanding those words helped me understand that if I played sports and we ran into a team that was bigger, faster, and stronger than us, and yet, if we played our best and still lost, we had nothing to be ashamed of. Understanding those words taught me about living honorably.

As Christians, we will not be able to make everyone follow the morals upheld by Christianity. As Christians, we will not be able to eradicate poverty and injustice. To do each of these would require us to wipe out sin because sin is the root cause of each of these things. Yet, we should not become discouraged in what we do because we know we are not doing them for our own benefit. We are striving to do them for our Heavenly Father. We are striving to do them because we want to give Him our best. When he returns, we want Him to find that we are striving to live honorably, responding to the goodness of His love. And when we strive to do such things for our Heavenly Father, how could we ever quit? Amen.

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