by Rev. Doug Gray
A Steelers fan, an Eagles fan, a Falcons fan, and a Patriots fan are climbing a mountain and arguing about who loves his team more. The Steelers fan insists he is the most loyal. 'This is for the Redskins! ' he yells, and jumps off the side of the mountain. Not to be outdone, the Eagles fan shouts, 'This is for the Eagles!' and throws himself off the mountain. The Patriots fan is next to profess his love for his team. He yells, 'This is for everyone!' and pushes the Falcons fan off the mountain. Yes, it’s Superbowl Sunday! And the fan spirit is riding high! Anyone have big plans for the game? How many have a a Superbowl party you are either hosting or going to? Any of you wearing your team colors right now? Any of you like to yell at the screen? Excellent! At first blush, our football plans have nothing to do with today’s passage, but as we scratch the surface, we may be surprised. Jesus has a lot teach us about being fans.
First, God is more important than group membership. A while back I went to a Christian men’s conference and I had a wonderful time! There was a lot of singing and worship, some great speaking and praying. But I have to say my favorite part was talking with people. When I would start a conversation, whoever I was talking to would throw in some good churchy words and expressions—grace, anointed, gifted, worship, Praise the Lord!—and maybe mention when they were saved or how. Then they would look at me, to see how I would respond, and almost everyone did this. I finally realized that they were waiting to hear if I used the right words in response, kind of like a sign/counter-sign thing. If I didn’t say the right words, then I wasn’t one of them—I wasn’t a “real” Christian. The Pharisees are doing that kind of test with Jesus in our passage today. As I mentioned, the Pharisees were one of the up-and-coming religious groups in Jesus’ time. They were the ones who took God seriously, poring over God’s Word, trying to make God part of every moment of every day. One of the things they focused on was staying ritually “clean.” Where the Bible says that only the priests have to wash their hands before eating, the Pharisees encouraged everyone to take holiness as seriously as a priest would. Perhaps part of the reason they ask Jesus why His disciples break the tradition of the elders, is because they want Jesus and his team to be part of their club. Do what we do, and you’re in. Wear your Patriots jersey. Put on your Patriots hat. But how do you know you’re a real fan? What else do you have to do? Push people off of mountains? Where does it stop? Jesus says one place it should stop is when being part of a group or having a tradition is more important than what God wants.
Second, what we say matters, because what we say comes from the overflow of our hearts. A while back, one of my children came into the room and did something irritating, and I snapped at them. And they looked at me with a hurt look, and I paused—as I should have done before I said anything—and realized that I was angry about something that wasn’t any of their doing…and I had taken it out on them. Anybody else have something like that happen? Whatever is going on in our hearts—good, bad or indifferent—we are going to express that in what we do and say. If what we do or say doesn’t come out right, we need to ask ourselves if our hearts are right with God. Jesus talks about this when He quotes Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” In his book, Leadership by the Book, Ken Blanchard (the author of One-Minute Manager) writes, “Jesus’ message is not just for the mind. It’s directed at the heart…The underlying message in all his teachings is about character change…rather than asking us just to do [or say] kind things, [Jesus] wants each of us to become a kind person. When that happens, everything we do will be stamped with kindness even when we must disagree with someone…” When I snapped at my family, I knew my heart wasn’t right with God, and I had to apologize. Is God glad when we do or say something kind? Sure…that’s good! But what God really, really wants is for us to become someone who wants what God wants—love that sacrifices, courage in the face pressure, peace when others are coming unglued, joy that cannot be taken away. Rather than all the ugly side of humanity, the overflow of our hearts will be a sweet, refreshing source of grace to everyone! God wants our hearts to be in a right relationship with God…one like Jesus had.
One of the time-honored traditions around sports is a little trash-talking of the other team—like telling jokes about each other’s teams. Since every team does it about the other team, mostly we take it in stride, right? Do we know where it crosses the line, when it moves into the mean or the mean-spirited? We wouldn’t really do some of the things in the joke, like pushing someone off the mountain. Do we know where it goes over the top? I’ve been talking about sports teams, but we should also mention that this applies to politics, especially these days. Does someone have to say the right things in order for us to listen to them or for us to share what we really think? Do we have traditions about party or ideology that we put ahead of what God would want? Do we speak our mind out of anger or fear, lashing out at someone unfairly? Let me be clear: I am not taking a political stand for the Left or the Right, but I am taking a political stand—that we have to be able to listen to one another, and we need to talk about what God would want based on the Word of God, not just what we think. More than anything, God longs for our hearts to beat in time with God’s heart. By most political standards of his day, Jesus was a fool, and He died for it. By loving steadfastly, by refusing to lash out in anger, hostility or revenge, by showing grace even to the ones who crucified Him, Jesus lived out the love of God and God raised Jesus from the dead. The promise to us in this time is: if we belong to God’s team first, love steadfastly, refuse to lash out, and show grace to all (especially those who are different from us), we will find the path to new life. But it all begins with us, and being transformed from the inside.
Ken Blanchard et al., Leadership by the Book: Tools to Transform Your Workplace (NY: William Morrow and Company, 1999), pp. 40–41.