Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21 Concerning Almsgiving
1 Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mateo 6:1-6Nueva Versión Internacional (NVI) El dar a los necesitados
6 »Cuídense de no hacer sus obras de justicia delante de la gente para llamar la atención. Si actúan así, su Padre que está en el cielo no les dará ninguna recompensa.
2 »Por eso, cuando des a los necesitados, no lo anuncies al son de trompeta, como lo hacen los hipócritas en las sinagogas y en las calles para que la gente les rinda homenaje. Les aseguro que ellos ya han recibido toda su recompensa. 3 Más bien, cuando des a los necesitados, que no se entere tu mano izquierda de lo que hace la derecha, 4 para que tu limosna sea en secreto. Así tu Padre, que ve lo que se hace en secreto, te recompensará.
5 »Cuando oren, no sean como los hipócritas, porque a ellos les encanta orar de pie en las sinagogas y en las esquinas de las plazas para que la gente los vea. Les aseguro que ya han obtenido toda su recompensa. 6 Pero tú, cuando te pongas a orar, entra en tu cuarto, cierra la puerta y ora a tu Padre, que está en lo secreto. Así tu Padre, que ve lo que se hace en secreto, te recompensará.
Fandom for the Kingdom?
By now, we are all aware: Today is a big day. The build-up has been nothing short of tremendous. Practice and preparation, the uniforms are ready, advertising to get the word out, conversation laden with anticipation and hope that everything will go well. People have gathered in their seats, the sound and recording instruments are calibrated, the anthem will be sung, and the event includes a sacrificial offering. Today is a big day, a big Sunday. Not however, because of the “big game,” later this afternoon, but because this is the day of the week that we are afforded the privilege to gather together to worship God. The choir and pastor have prepared and practiced. Their robes have in some cases been ironed, and in others, patted down to make them look ironed. The worship was advertised on the website, social media, on the sign outside and in the announcements. The worship committee and others worked hard, designing a service to help ensure that worshipers have a space to worship God with their hearts and minds. And I assure you that those in the planning always hope that worship goes well. This Sunday ritual has the power to connect us with each other, and with God, and to feed our souls with important spiritual food—soul nourishment fortifying us for the coming week.
When I begin speaking, I trust that some may have though I was talking about Super Bowl. Well sports and religion may have more in common than most of us would assume. There is a burgeoning academic field that is taking seriously the notion of fandom and religion and academic research yielding the notion that religion and sports may have more in common than many realize. This subject matter seems appropriate for today, not only because it is an important day in sport for our society, but also because people’s devotion to their sports rituals may raise some important questions about commitment to and expression of faith. Perhaps considering aspects of sports devotion will make us more aware of our faith devotion.
Let us pray: Though we at times struggle to admit it, we know O Lord that our actions speak louder than words. With guidance by your Word and Spirit, help us to act faithfully, insightfully, and with devotion that is to you above all else. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The parallels between religion and sport fandom are uncanny. For example, there is the celebrity aspect. We have heard Bible passages of crowds gathering to get close to Jesus and of a woman willing to chase after him and reach out to touch him for a blessing. Jesus undoubtedly maintained a level of celebrity for some. He is our faith hero. The apostle Paul is one too. I remember one of the first sporting events I attended as a teenager. It was an exhibition tennis match between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at McNichol’s arena in Denver. After the match, my friend Aaron McCormick and I hurried down courtside to see if we catch a glimpse or even get an autograph from the players. We negotiated the throngs of people and stood up next to a railing that separated fans from the players. I remember the excitement I felt. And though she only signed a few, I was delighted when Chris took my program and signed her name. After she handed back, I looked up and saw Aaron twenty feet down the railing and held up my program and said, “I got her autograph!” And he help up his program and said, “so did I!” We were thrilled by the power of celebrity.
There are the rituals, and chants, and music. An Atlantic monthly article written just before last year’s more than mildly disappointing Super Bowl, acknowledges of fandom and religion, that “both preserve revered spaces (e.g. Sistine Chapel, Wrigley Field) and [both] observe seasonal rhythms and orderly ceremonial fireworks...[I]t has been claimed that with its religious metaphors, regular invocations of good and evil, and sacred vestments, sports channel a religious impulse.” And a relatively recent Psychology Today article titled “Is Sports a Religion?” suggests that “Psychologists are closing in on the conclusion that sport fandom has many of the same effects on spectators as religion does.” The article includes the words of leading sport psychologist Daniel Wann and his co-authors who write, "The similarities between sport fandom and organized religion are striking. Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration."
So taking these parallels seriously, what might that tell us about faith? Can sporting fanaticism tell us something about religious fervor? Are sports simply entertainment and religion real life? Or do the profane and sacred have some overlap as the parallels seem to indicate? I certainly believe that the tribal sensibilities that both sports and religion appeal to are one in the same. However, how those sensibilities are channeled seems to be what is most important. You may remember Dr. Jeff Scholes, a friend who visited last year and taught a Sunday morning Adult Education class in the Pepto Bismol room on the issue of poverty. I called him this week to ask about today’s subject as Jeff and another professor colleague recently published a book called, Religion and Sports in American Culture. His book notes some of the similarities between the two with chapter titles like, “belief, sacrifice, relics, pilgrimage, competition, work and redemption.” The book’s introduction cites 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25, a passage that sheds light on how me may begin to distinguish differences between sports and our faith: 24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self- control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one.
Jeff asked me to consider what it means it be a fan of something. To me, a fan of something means to like something, to think it’s cool, to want to be associated with it. We are fans of teams, players, popular figures, music bands, and many other people and things that our consumer society promotes. It can be something we want to wear on our sleeve—literally if we buy team jerseys or a Beatles shirt. But at a time when being a fan is an en vogue way to relate, being a fan is also limiting. It requires no steadfastness, there is no personal relationship with what you are a fan of. Jeff believes that fandom is going overboard in our society. He believes that many young people’s friendships are often becoming like fandom. Whether or not you like something think it’s cool and want to be associated with it is mediating personal relationships. And, he adds, being a fan doesn’t require anything of the fan. But faith, faith requires a level of responsibility. Faith involves true trust and devotion. Faith involves a relationship with which full commitment is asked for.
Fandom is about entertainment and faith is about deeper reality. Many professional athletes will be quick to say that the importance of their competition is dwarfed by more important things in life like life family, faith and even social issues. After the NFC championship game a couple of weeks ago that featured a highly improbable ending, Green Back Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on a radio show, “I don't think God cares a whole lot about the outcome," of the game. "He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan." But the marketing and exaggerated hype can make it seem like it is something more. The massive money and attention give it a sense of something bigger. But in the end, it is still just a game. And even the truest of fans, would (to use a tired sports cliché) at the end of the day, acknowledge that reality. In spite of their similarities, when it comes to faith, we are not fans, we are followers. Though I would gladly don a Bronco jersey on a Sunday for entertainment, I become weary, when folks speak of faith with fanaticism. And I trust that Jesus would too.
So we have heard from academics, a psychologist and even a football player, but what might Jesus have to say about sports and religion? What would he say about fandom or even fanaticism for the kingdom? Though he never addressed the subject directly, the scripture passage that Martha and I read, and one that is frequently read on Ash Wednesday, addresses that place that fandom or even fanaticism have with regards to faith. The text includes snippets from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus addresses three fundamental rituals of faith: almsgiving, prayer, fasting.
Almsgiving was a cardinal virtue in the early church. There is an old rabbinic saying, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.” But as high as rabbis held almsgiving as a practice, they agreed with Jesus about the modesty and privacy of the practice. In the words of rabbinic teaching, “He who gives alms in secret, is greater than Moses,” (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew vol. 1, Pg. 187).
Prayer was a cardinal practice of the early church. About it, the early rabbis believed that prayer was, “greater than all good works.” And that, “He who prays within his house surrounds it with a wall that is stronger than iron.”
And fasting—also a cardinal practice of the early church—and the one we participate in the least. Fasting was a way to draw attention to God and recognizing our need upon God for our daily bread. And just to be clear, Jesus was not a cardinal fan, but was a fan of cardinal practices.
In all three of these essential manners of honoring God, Jesus says do these things, but not in order, “to be seen by others.” Our deepest faith expressions are not to be worn on our sleeve, are not to be carried out with trumpet and fanfare, and not to be done to that we might be exalted. But whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3: 17).
And then Jesus says something about the bottom line. ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We are called to set our hearts on things of spiritual worth. Sport at its most basic level, competition and delight in the art of a game, is dwarfed by the business it has became. Our faith business as about what is in here. What we are dedicating this to, is a matter not of fandom, but faithfulness.
We close with a highlight game summary of the sermon:
1) There are some similarities between fandom and religion
2) We are called to be faithful, not fanatics.
3) And we express our faith, not by what’s out here, out even in here. But rather, what’s in here.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Palabra de Vida
You will find sermons preached by Rev. Robert Woodruff and guests preachers.