I was at Dover Plains UMC this past Sunday (Location of church) this morning. The Scriptures for this Sunday, 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, are Isaiah 58: 1 – 9, 1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 12, and Matthew 5: 13 – 20.
In 1966, following their 51 – 0 loss to the University of Notre Dame, John McKay, the coach of the University of Southern California football team told his team “that it didn’t really matter. There are 750 million people in China who don’t even know that this game was played. The next day, a guy called me from China and asked, ‘What happened, Coach?’’’
A few months later, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in what was billed as the “NFL – AFL World Championship Game.” The term “Super Bowl” didn’t get attached to the game until the 1970 game, when the Chiefs met the Minnesota Vikings and beat them. And while Super Bowls are a virtual sell-out once the game site is announced, there were plenty of empty seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum for that first championship game. By the way, tickets for that game costs upwards of $12.00; that might get you a parking place at today’s game.
Interestingly enough, there are no video tapes of that first game as the tapes were reused because no one thought that the game would have the status that it does today. Clearly, that didn’t happen. The game is no longer just a game between league champions on a Sunday afternoon; it has evolved into a multi-hour spectacular with companies spending millions and millions of dollars for a few moments of advertising time (even when research suggests that the return for that moment is miniscule at best). Half-time at a Super Bowl has taken on a life of its own, with entertainment superstars vying for the right to headline the half-time.
Today’s Super Bowl game will be broadcast to practically every country on the globe that has a radio or television station and probably in most of the languages that people speak. It will almost certainly be broadcast on the Armed Forces radio and television networks so that serviceman abroad can have a taste of home. But it will also be broadcast to countries where football is played by kicking a round ball; it will almost certainly be viewed as curiosity to many of those viewers.
I have nothing against football but I no longer care about professional football. I have, on occasion, noted that the most common words uttered by a football official at an elementary, junior-high or high school game is “this isn’t Sunday, coach.” Too many coaches spend all their time watching the professional games in hopes of finding a play that will bring their team success instead of focusing on the fundamentals of the game.
Against the backdrop of glitz and hype and the possibility that a football game might be played, some youth will gather cans of soup in the “Souper Bowl of Caring.” Last year, some 14,000 organizations collected over $10 million through this organization (see www.souperbowl.org). I am appreciative of the fact that the Dover Church has decided to participate in this project this year.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t have the Super Bowl; I am just saying that the focus, the effort, and the energy that is put into it all are in stark contrast to what else is happening in this country. Our focus is on a game when it should be on the problems of this country.
How much more could be done if all the money and energy that were put into producing the Super Bowl were directed towards the problems of hunger, homelessness, and health care in this country? How ironic that Isaiah’s words, written some three thousand years ago, are that the bottom line is profit. How ironic that we are spending so much money on a game that has turned into a business.
This is not one of those statements that so dominated our society in the first years of the game where we would say, “well, if we can put a man on the moon, we can do such and such!” This is a statement about where our focus as a society, as a culture, as individual beings lies.
When we say something like if we can go to the moon, we can solve other problems, we make it easy to ignore the problem or think that sufficient funds could resolve the problem. But you cannot cure the problem by simply giving those without food or shelter or clothing food to feed them, shelter to house them, and clothing so that they will be warm.
You have to change the attitudes and mindsets of people who are more interested in the football game than the condition of their fellow human beings. We are reminded of the ancient proverb that states that when you give someone a fish, you feed them for the moment but when you teach them how to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.
It is one thing to say that we are a Christian nation. It would be an entirely different thing if we lived as if we were Christians. Go back and read the passage from Isaiah again; how ironic that words written some three thousand years ago can speak so loudly in the 21st century.
God, through Isaiah, called the people’s bluff; He pointed out that their attempts at fasting were charades. The people of Israel were absolutely convinced that if they said the right words and acted appropriately in the temple, then God would find favor with them. But such acts are hypocrisy when the world outside the temple walls doesn’t change.
What did God want from the people of Israel? What does God want from each one of us today? Share your food, invite the homeless into your house, put clothes on the ill-clad, and be available to your own families. Break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed and cancel debts. Those were the words of God three thousand years ago; do we not think that those are His same words today?
Ah, do we not think? You can almost hear Paul writing to the Corinthians about the new wisdom found through Christ. Didn’t Paul point out that the message of Christ is still true today while the words and thoughts of experts disappear over the years? Didn’t Christ point out that God’s words will last long after the stars burn out and the earth wears away?
Again, we hear Paul pointed out the fallacy of the so-called experts being able to offer a solution. Isn’t the current mantra of society to cut government spending and things will get better? Aren’t there those who espouse that attitude also telling you that spending money of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and bringing healthcare to the sick is some sort of socialism? I agree that our government is spending far too much money but I think that the areas that need to be examined are in what we might as well call the military-industrial complex.
Listen to the experts who will tell you that the poor get more than they deserve and that many stay on unemployment because they make more money that way. Since what one receives in unemployment benefits is based upon what one earned, I don’t see how that logic prevails. I can only imagine what Paul would say today in response to what the experts in society and in the church are saying today.
But, there is that light. It was a light that began to shine when Isaiah wrote his words. It was a light that became brighter when Jesus spoke to the multitudes and offering not only a vision of hope but a means of achieving that hope. It was a light than began to get much brighter when the message was carried by Paul and the disciples to lands beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Israel.
It is a light that begins to burn bright when a small church sends messages to soldiers overseas to let them know that they haven’t been forgotten. It is a light that begins to shine brighter when a small church takes part in a nationwide gathering to remind us what our focus should be.
When the light is burning bright, it is hard to not focus on it. As Paul also wrote, your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not what others would have you to do. If you have allowed the Spirit to be a part of life, it will shine through all that you do.
Our society, our culture has focused too long on the superficial. We put great stock in what happens in the moment called now. We tend to ignore or not even care what might happen tomorrow. The words of Isaiah, the words of Paul, and the words of Christ all call us to shift, to not focus on the superficial or the self but to focus on all the people.
It begins when we take that first step of opening our hearts to Christ and then allowing the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives. It begins at the table that was set for us that one night in the Upper Room some two thousand years ago. It begins that night when the authorities tried to extinguish the light that shone through Christ. We have the opportunity to change the world, small and remote though we may be. We have that opportunity because it was given to us at that supper in the Upper Room. We have allowed our focus to shift from that time and place. We have that opportunity to regain that focus.
My friends, what is our focus this day.