Golden Globes, Football, Fiscal Years and Epiphany: A Tale of Liturgical Seasons

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My church kicked off the season of epiphany in style this morning with a fun Epiphany introductory video I made with some kids.  Then we sang the traditional We Three Kings, followed by a bunch of fun upbeat songs about “light.”   Then we read the lectionary Psalm (#29) together and talked about what it means to be in Jesus’ fan club.

But I have to be honest and admit that now Christmas is over, Epiphany is one of the last things on my mind.  Instead, this first month of a New Year is weighed down by seasons of another sort.

My news feeds are saturated with stories of the Golden Globes, reminding me that for the entertainment industry this is Awards Season, a time filled with what we might call liturgies of human glory and honor.  In fact, if I was a bit more of an arrogant Hebrew Prophet I would call the awards shows worship services to the idols of vanity.

So too my social media feeds remind me that the NFL is providing another season, or rather a post season.  This week we watched the first of the teams falter in their quest for dominance, a liturgy itself of human strength and cunning.  And we watch and wait to see which team will rise to the top.  150 million will watch the last match, which is a bit more than the number of people who voted for a US President just months ago.  The angry Hebrew prophet in me is tempted to call those games worship services, worship to the idols of violence and competition.

Then there is this other thing weighing on my heart and, mostly, mind.  My church ends its fiscal year on February 28th this year.  With the close of a fiscal year comes a mountain high list of responsibilities.  We have numbers to crunch, vision to share, a new board to elect and goals to set, all of which will be accomplished with no less than 1 dozen business meetings.  We might call these a liturgy of institution.  The arrogant, angry and overwhelmed Hebrew prophet in me is tempted to call those meetings worship services themselves, worship to the idol of human control and manipulation.

Yet today was not just the first Sunday of Epiphany.  It was also the Baptism of our Lord.  The Gospel text for today was Matthew 3, that famous story where Jesus begins his ministry by entering into the waters of the Jordan River.  John the Baptist didn’t know quite what to do with Jesus in the water and I don’t either.  Baptism is for sinners.  Jesus had not sinned.  The waters are for the spiritually dead.  Jesus was more spiritually alive than anybody has ever been.  The sacrament is for humans.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Yet here is Jesus, wading into the waters of death, sin and chaos and beginning his ministry right where we are at.

In a way the Baptism of Jesus reenacts the incarnation.  This might be why Mark and John leave out the manger, in favor of the water.  In the baptism waters Jesus is taking on flesh again, taking on the unique position of being a human after Adam, a human represented by all humanity’s shortcomings.  This is a God entering into sin and death as one of us.  Like the manger, this is Immanuel, a God with us, a God among us, a God meeting us in our human liturgies of award shows, violent competition and financial reporting.  Here is God in the flesh, come to redeem us from the life taking, death dealing liturgies of the world and light up the better way which is the only way, the liturgy of the cross and the resurrection.

So my hope this Epiphany season is that God will enter into our awards shows, our sporting matches and our business meetings and bring new Epiphany so that our feet can stay on the path of life!

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An Ode For October’s End

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October is such a regal month, its golden leaves the color of kings, its early snow crowning the mountain tops with glory.

His sports are festivities for royal olympiads, the days beginning with chilly morning country races, giving way to sun warmed football fights and finishing with a cold evening’s sacred baseball.

His dark, declining days lend themselves to the strategizing of kings who take the candle lit evenings to debate with friends and foes about the items of diplomacy and economy.

October’s apples, too, are fruit fit for throne rooms, jonagolds the jesters, honeycrisps the princes and pink ladies for princesses, of course.  They are surrounded by Braeburns, Jonathans, Ambrosia ‘s and Idared’s, willing and suitable servants and advisers.

Pumpkins too are for royals feasts along with all the other squash kinds.  They are the produce of the domain, a splendor even before consumed, their yield bountiful enough to feed armies.

But October the King’s crown jewel, his reigning attribute, his most prized accomplishment is November, his queen.

There she sits by him, teasing the Pink Lady and smiling at her Honeycrisp as she enjoys the splendor of festivities, rolling her eyes at the advice and aid of His Majesty’s Royal braeburns while feasting on the prized squash.

The air about her is more delicate and deliberative.  Her darker days increase her stature and her more constant chill lends herself to those in aid.  She exudes more grace and gratitude as her train gives way to holy-days.

The King is dead, long live the Queen!

Rethinking my Re-thoughts on God and Football

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Praise Football from whom all blessings flow! Praise touchdowns for his highness below! Okay I will stop.

I am not going to lie.  I wholeheartedly believe that Christianity’s idolization of American Football has become.  .  .well, idolatrous.  Also, I am not going to lie.  I like football.  It is a really fun game to both play and watch.  I will even go further to argue that we owe our professional entertainers (from actors to musicians to sports players) a livable wage, maybe not a wage that exceeds that of most countries, but a wage nonetheless.

Putting all that aside, I get really nervous when people start talking about God helping football players win, especially the ones who make great public spectacles of religiosity like praying after every touchdown and talking about God during press conferences.  That just seems to go against the grain of Matthew 6 a bit much.

Also, I have read other parts of Scripture, passages like, Psalm 146:7, “God upholds the cause of the oppressed” and others like it that seem to suggest that God is more concerned with things like looking out for the poor and the oppressed than with helping independently wealthy athletes score more touchdowns to get more money to cause more concussive brain injuries.  It makes me even more nervous when these athletes go home and beat up their spouses and children. (source although to be fair, countersource)

The things God seems to be engaged in doing.

I am quite passionate about this, as you can probably tell, so much so that I have blogged about it before.

However, something happened over the last couple weeks that has caused me to rethink my thoughts about God and football.  Simply put, I read Luke 6 again.

Verse 35 has always stood out to me, especially the last phrase which states quite clearly, “[God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

This is what God is supposed to do to wicked people!

The God I grew up worshiping was not kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  In fact, being ungrateful was a great way to get God mad at you.  Being all out wicked (a word we reserve for the worst of the worse) was the best way to get God to pummel you into a fiery eternity.  As for entire nations of wicked people.  .  .well God would certainly disband them quite soon, even though it took God about a 1,000 years to disband Rome after the very wicked Pax Romana. But who has time for the study of history when you are trying to convince your compatriots to not be evil nor get destroyed?

Someone stop Jesus from talking on mountains. He starts to say some pretty bizarre things when he does!

And yet right there, coming from the mouth of Jesus no less, we find out that God is not actively decimating the wicked.  Instead God is showing kindness to them.  I love that Jesus used the word “kind” here instead of something more generic like, “love.”  If it were “love” we could hide behind sentimentality, saying such ridiculous things like, “God loves them but still will destroy them, but you know, out of love.”

That is not what kindness means.  Kindness means God is actively doing gracious and kind things to wicked people.  This isn’t a lone verse.  There are echoes of this in other parts of the Bible.  You can look at Mathew 5:45 watered down version where Jesus says that God sends both the sun and the rain on good and wicked people alike.  You can also look to particular narratives like God’s deaalings with Jacob in Genesis.

Concerning football this might mean that once in awhile God takes a break from upholding the cause of the oppressed to help a wicked person score a touchdown.  It might also mean no matter of prayer and religious grandstanding is going to help you win that football game.  In the end God might just offer a miraculous hail-mary catch to the “wicked” team because God decided to have some fun with our silly sports that day.

Of course, one can surmise that this would have something to do with prevenient grace.  Prevenient grace is this idea (on which I base my blog) that God’s gracious provision goes before us and meets us in our wicked states to invite us into a relationship with God.

This might mean there is no problem in telling that wicked, concussed, wife abuser of a football player that God did help him win.  Now in order to respond graciously to God’s grace, he should leave his violent sport and lifestyle, give all his money to the poor, seek forgiveness from those he has harmed and offer himself as a living sacrifice to God’s mission of helping oppressed people.

Oooooh, concussive brain injuries, yum!

Or maybe this has nothing to do with prevenient grace and God just enjoys blessing the wicked because that is who God is by nature.

Or maybe I was right at the very beginning of all this, that God really doesn’t want anything to do with American Football, no matter how many football players offer shallow prayers after touchdown drives and “give the God the glory” during press conferences.

If that last scenario is the case, then I guess I will conclude with The Hunger Games’ popular mantra, “May the odds [of your favorite team] be ever in [their] favor” because God probably isn’t.