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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Get Your Head In the Game

The Rev. Bob Honeychurch
Proper 23 Year A
October 9, 2011


It doesn’t get much better than this. For couch-potato, remote control addicted, sports junkies like myself, this time of year is the “perfect storm” of sorts, as so many activities are flashing on the television screen, where other people are working hard while I’m passively observing it all, that I hardly know where to focus my attention.

College football is at the mid-point of its season already, with USC and UCLA still making an effort to look respectable. Professional football is giving countless people legitimate excuses for missing church and staying home on Sunday mornings to catch the early game. The National Hockey League started its new season this past week (although most folks here in southern California can’t even name the two professional teams in the area). NASCAR devotees will know that their season is in the final stretch, with only 6 more races to go before the end of the year – and there is nothing more fascinating than watching cars drive around in circles for hours on end at 200 miles per hour. Golf enthusiasts are getting to see whether Tiger Woods will perform another meltdown routine at a tournament up in San Jose this weekend. The National Basketball Association, on the other hand, is currently experiencing what labor negotiators like to call a “lock out” while all of the grossly overpaid players argue with the grossly over-rich owners about who is going to get a bigger share of the revenue pie. But the best show in town, at least in my book, is the final countdown of the Major League Baseball season. After a week of thrilling games, we are down to the final four teams still in the hunt for the World Series title.

I was watching a game this past week where a rookie fielder on one team made several blunders in a short span of time. One of the commentators remarked: “He just doesn’t have his head in the game yet.” Apparently, this aspiring young athlete had showed up physically to play, but mentally he was still in the locker room. “He just doesn’t have his head in the game yet.”

Woody Allen, that great American actor, director, and playwright, is purported to have once said that 80 percent of life is showing up. I think that there is a lot of truth in that idea… but I also think that it’s about showing up 100 percent… that is to say, having your head in the game. It’s not about showing up 80% of the way, but being fully present, fully engaged, fully in the moment.

This morning’s gospel lesson recounts what I can only describe as a rather unsettling and, at times, confusing allegory about a king hosting a wedding feast for his son. For many of us, we may have listened to this story today… not quite the way we remember it. You see, we heard Matthew’s version of this story, while Luke’s version is the more popular one. It was, in fact, Luke’s telling of this story that inspired that old church camp song:
I cannot come… I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now.
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.
Pray hold me excused… I cannot come.
That’s the story that many of us know ... the “G-rated” version, appropriate for all audiences. But that’s not the one we heard today.

Today we heard the PG-version… or maybe it ought to have been rated “R”. You see, in this version, the people flat-out refused to come when asked not once, but twice. And the king was so enraged that he sent in his army, killed all the people, and burned down their houses. But wait, now who was going to come to the party? So the king sent his servants back out to gather in everybody who was left… all the folks who didn’t make the original guest list, as Matthew says, “both good and bad.” It’s more important, apparently, for the king to have a full house than to have the “right” kind of people in the room. But then there’s that one last uncomfortable twist to the story. It appears that some poor schmuck showed up without his party clothes on. He didn’t have his head in the game. And how did the king react when he saw him? Well, in the words of Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text: Then the king told his servants, 'Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn't get back in.'

I’m not going to stand up here this morning and try to soften the edges of this harsh story. And I’m not going to second-guess either Matthew or Jesus by saying something like, “You know, what Jesus really meant to say was…” And I most certainly am not going to tell you that I understand exactly what Matthew’s point was in having Jesus relate the story just this way. Maybe there should just be a margin note in the Bible identifying this as a “cautionary tale” – a story meant to caution us against being like any of the characters in the story.

What I can say is – despite all of the violence, and the seemingly capricious actions of the king in the story – that all God wants to do is to throw a party… and all God wants of us is that we show up… 100% show up… with our head in the game, and our party clothes on. God is constantly setting before us new opportunities… new possibilities… new potentials… new prospects… new alternatives – all of which can draw us closer to God and closer to one another… all of which can help us to be more the person – and more the community – that God is calling us to become. And all God asks of us is that we believe that is what God wants… and then act accordingly.

This past week, one of the most influential people of our day died at the far-too-young age of 56. Frankly, for people over the age of 56, the death of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, may have held their interest for a news cycle or two. But especially for people under the age of 56, Steve Jobs changed the world. It wasn’t just the endless array of electronic gizmos and gadgets that rolled off the assembly line – from the Mac computer, to the I-family (you know, the I-Pod, the I-Phone, the I-Pad), to Pixar Film Studios (which revolutionized the movie industry), to I-Tunes (which revolutionized the music industry). All of those things were important, and made investors a whole lot of money along the way. But it was because of Steve Jobs’ vision of new possibilities that no one else could even envision that we, as a culture have re-imagined what it means to be connected to each other. All of those products which came out of Apple were just that – products, products of the underlying vision that life is about showing up… and showing up in ways that people never even imagined 30 years earlier.

For the last 7 years of his life, Steve Jobs battled a particularly virulent form of pancreatic cancer. Not long after his original diagnosis, he offered the 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. In that speech, he offered the graduates – and us – some of the most profound thoughts for living life with one another to the fullest, living life as though it was a banquet. “Remembering,” Jobs told the class that day, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

My friends, we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by embracing the banquet that God has set before us. So seize the moment… grab the brass ring… join the party… and your life will be changed… and God will break in… and you will be a new creation.

Amen.

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