The last two weeks I have shared some things about myself with you including admitting I am not perfect, as well as my love for rocks and my hobby of lapidary work. So what’s on the docket for today? What else can I share with you about who I am and about my faith, while tying it into some verses from Scripture? Well this week – it’s all about sports and teamwork.
Now I know as someone from Illinois we may have some differences of opinion on some things. Tigers versus White Sox. Lions versus Bears. Pistons versus Bulls. And of course, Red Wings versus Blackhawks. Notice I did not mention the Cubs, because, let’s be honest – there hasn’t been much of an argument there for over a hundred years.
Now I would like to remind everyone about my sermon topic two weeks ago on forgiveness. Let’s not forget that one okay? Especially once the NHL seasons starts. As you may have noticed AJ is sporting his Blackhawks onesie, but don’t worry, he has a few Red Wings ones as well. So don’t worry, he will be raised as a fan of the game. And as long as the Wings and Hawks are not playing against each other, he will be cheering for the Wings all the way.
But what do sports and teamwork have to do with the Bible? I mean I know there are a LOT of extra prayers said on Sunday mornings during the NFL season and other sports’ playoff races and series…but what other connection is there? Does God really care if the Patriots win the Super Bowl? Was Jesus really helping Tim Tebow when he played for the Broncos?
My guess is probably not, but I also do not assume to know all of God’s plans and work in the world. But I would like to think that he is more concerned with how we treat one another, how we show our love to one another, and how we are modeling our own lives after the life and teachings of Jesus.
In our reading today from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, we hear about the value of a friend. Two are better than one because they will accomplish more in the same amount of time by working together. Two are better than one because if one falls, the other can help them up. Two are better than one because they can bring each other companionship. Two are better than one because they can help protect each other. Friends can be all of these things, or do all of these things for each another. But do they always?
In April of 1972, American singer-songwriter Bill Withers released his one and only number one single “Lean on Me”. The song has gone on to be used in countless charity events and covered by just as many musical artists and groups during the last forty years.
The refrain reads, “Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on for it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? I’m not saying Mr. Withers found inspiration in Scripture, but I find it enlightening to hear the same message I find in Scripture in popular music. And Mr. Withers is not the only musician to share this message of friendship or teamwork or companionship. In 2013, Swedish DJ and producer Avicii debuted the song, “Hey Brother” with a very similar message.
In this song, the refrain reads “Ah, what if I’m far from home? Oh, brother, I will hear you call. What if I lose it all? Oh, sister, I will help you out! Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you, there’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.” Again, we find a message about helping and supporting one another like a friend or loved one might do.
Both Withers and Avicii echo the ideas in Ecclesiastes about helping one another back up after a fall and helping provide protection to the other. And I am sure if you took the time, you would find several other references or similar messages in other songs, movies, books, poems, and more. So if our popular culture seems to honor these ideas and raise them up in words and lyrics, it must then also attempt to embody those same ideas right? I mean, people must be rushing out into the streets to lend a helping hand to everyone they encounter right?
Well at the very least, as children of God and following the teachings of Jesus, Christians must be going out in droves to help people? I have to stop here and make it clear that I do not ask these questions to shame anyone or upset anyone. I ask them because they are in fact very serious questions. If we think about the Church, and I do not mean just this building or this group of people sitting here this morning, but rather the larger Church around the world of all believers in the saving acts of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If the Church were a sports team, would it make the playoffs? When we look at the winning teams of the major sports in this country, whether baseball, football, basketball, or hockey, the vast majority of those who went on to win their respective season championships were those who truly embodied a culture of teamwork. What if the Church did the same thing?
What if as Christians, we all made it a goal to every single day lend a helping hand to another person? And it does not even have to be something over-the-top or costing a great deal of money. Things as simple as holding a door open for someone, allowing someone to change lanes during a busy traffic time, going and visiting someone who has been ill, there are literally countless things that one could do. Can you picture it?
Can you imagine a world where people’s first reaction would be to help someone in need? And it is not that we are so far away from this ideal. Not at all. A lot of people do a great many things both locally and across the world. When natural disasters have struck both here and abroad, there has been an outpouring of assistance including financial and medical help. After the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, aid was sent from all over the world. And when hurricane Katrina crashed into the shores of New Orleans in 2005, or hurricane Sandy that destroyed so much of the east coast, again – aid came flooding in.
As a group humanity does have a track record of working together and helping one another. But I wonder how much more we could do, especially working together. For example, let us look at the efforts of the Imagine No Malaria campaign of our own United Methodist Church denomination. We are not just working towards, but within a reasonable distance of completely wiping out a disease that takes the lives of over 700,000 people every year. 700,000. According to the data of a 2010 census, that would be four times times the population of Saginaw County. Every year.
So we can see already where there are some amazing examples of what we can accomplish when we work together, like teammates or companions, both at a small and large scale. We can see how two, or in the case of the United Methodist Church some seven million, we can help and protect and care about each other.
But think about how much we might be able to do with more than just our one denomination! What if all Christians got together around the world. Could we wipe out the spread of AIDS? Homelessness? Hunger? Maybe. Maybe not. But we will never know either if we do not at least try, right?
Our denomination was built on the teachings and theology of John Wesley and the people called Methodists. And it was these people who were involved in social justice movements including prison reform, human rights, labor justice, healthcare, and slavery. They were the driving force behind Prohibition in the country and worked tirelessly for the welfare of laborers. As United Methodists we have this history and continue it today.
So again, I do not raise the questions of how much good work is being done to shame or upset anyone. Rather I raise them as a challenge to not only continue the work, but also to grow it and strengthen it. Two are better than one because they will accomplish more in the same amount of time by working together. Two are better than one because if one falls, the other can help them up. Two are better than one because they can bring each other companionship. Two are better than one because they can help protect each other.
These actions to me sound like actions of love. And not necessarily just the love between a married couple or between two friends. No, to me I am reading about actions of love that Jesus did for others and has taught us to do as well. A love for another human being as a human being. It does not have to be a romantic love or a family-bound love. Rather the most powerful love that Jesus taught us, the love for one another as brothers and sisters in him and in God.
So once again, I close my message with a challenge to each and every one of you. When you leave here today, and every day going forward, remember the words of Mr. Withers and Avicii, and most importantly of Ecclesiastes. And do not just remember them, but live them. See everyone you meet as a child of God and love and support each other. Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments. First, to love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And second, to love your neighbor as yourself. So go out, love your neighbors, and maybe, just maybe the Church will not only make the playoffs this year, but maybe it will win the whole thing.