Sermon: The Underdogs

This is the text of a sermon I gave at All Saints Episcopal Church, Sacramento on June 24, 2012. It is based on the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 7, year B. Please see my standard sermon disclaimer.

Let me take you to the movies for a moment. This morning’s feature is “The Bad News Bears” or maybe “Angles in the Outfield” or “Down Pariscope” or “Braveheart” or “Seabiscuit” maybe it is “To Kill a Mocking Bird” or “Gandi” “Lord of the Rings” or “Karati Kid” Ok, so I’m not sure which movie it is, But here we are in Act I.

Our main character is up against some type of opponent (is it the other team, a corrupt government, a disembodied eye? I can never tell) well whoever it is our guy has lost — badly, I mean it is clear that our side is completely inept.

But thats ok, because now we’re in Act II And rather then being defeated totally our heroes have been given a second chance Its a long shot, But something has given them hope we are off on a quest, — or is that an Ice Rink? — to find something that will help us win.

Alright now we’re starting act III and it looks like we might have what it takes to win, But they’ve got a ringer, a fleet of destroyers, the whole English army, a racest jury and a cave troll. Just as we start the last push an victory seems within our reach Our best player goes down, that noble betrays us, and the other kid dislocated our knee. Now in desperation we put everything we’ve got on the line and watch in wonder as in super-slow-motion as That scrawny kid closes his eyes, swings the bat and hits the magic ring into the flaming volcano where the torpedoes explode in a perfect kick to the head to win the Triple Crown!

All it took was a little Faith.

That was a great movie. People have been cheering for the underdog for a long time. At least sense 1000 BC when we get the story of David and Goliath David was in our movie somewhere, so were Paul and Moses and Isaiah Christ was in there too, and I’m not just talking about Mel Gibson’s version. We instinctively recognize the themes of an underdog script. But now we’ve left the theater, and back in the real world life doesn’t always follow the script.

Recently, I was riding my bike down the levy out here by Sutterville Road. I picked up a piece of glass in my back tire and ended up with a flat tire. That’s ok, because I carry a spare tube and the tools to change a flat with me. So I bull off into a shady spont by the trail and start changing the tube.

Next to me on the trail was a gentleman, obviously homeless, collecting recyclables out of the trash can. He looked at me and asked if I was a Christian.

Now, I have on a shirt with a great big green cross on it. I look down at my shirt for a moment, and decide that I probably ought to admit that, yes, I am indeed a Christian.

“I used to be a Chirstian,” he replied. “But, God never did anything for me. I’ve asked God to give me just one good day and I never get one. Not even one”

He proceded to tell me about his life. How he had spent a couple years in jail for driving a firends car, which it turned out had been stolen. About his son committing suiside at the age of 11. About how hard it was to sleep next to the river, and how much effor it took to collect 200 cans so he could by lunch at McDonalds.

We talked for a time, while I continued to get my bake back in good order and he continued to sort through out bottles and cans from the garbage. Both of us trying to understand what it meant to have faith in the face of continuing adversity.

I have spent this last week trying to understand what it means to have faith In a world where faith and 200 recycled bottles will get you a meal at McDonalds I wrestled with how to talk to you about the power of faith in a way that would make sense to my unlikely companion.

I have reached the conclusion that there are to tragic errors that we promulgate to people. The first is believing that faith in God means God will just fix all the problems. If you just believe in Jesus hard enough you win the boat, the car, the good job, and the big house. If you don’t have these things its because you didn’t really believe or you did something that “made God unhappy.” This is a poisonous idea that drives a lot of people who most need the a community of faith away from the truth

The other idea is the duel of the first: That somehow we by our own actions have gotten everything we deserve. We’re no longer the underdogs. Instead, we’ve become the antagonist who deserves to win because we’re bigger, faster, stronger, smarter What we have is a gift from God, and we forget that at our peril

Faith is not about what you've got or what you lack. Faith is about what you do with what you have.

The lesson of these stories is that faith is not about what you’ve got or what you lack. Faith is about what you do with what you have.

Faith is not about waiting for God to give you enough to do what you need to do. Faith is about doing enough with what God gives you.

If you are someone who has a lot, and after my conversation last week, I hope you’ll forgive me if I say that most of us fall into that category at least from the perspective of people living on the river collecting recyclablest to buy food. If you have a lot, then faith is about making sure that you are doing enough of what God wants you to do with it. As your Stewardship Chair, I can’t help but mention giving to the church. But I could just as easily ask if you are supporting our secular community; Or I could talk about charity and outreach to the poor; I could mention obligations to family to or to colleges at work.

We are a community that believes in God as reviled in Christ. We are told that we are each given gifts by God to serve Christ in each other.
If this is what we believe, if this is the God in whom we have faith, then we need to be asking ourselves and each other how we embody that faith in our actions.

Ok, but lets be honest with each other. I spend a lot more of my time feeling like Daniel then Mr. Miyagy It’s easy to talk about faith when you feel like you have everything you need. It is a lot harder when your looking at the whole English army and all you’ve got are a couple of guys in skirts.

Interestingly, while it is so much harder to have faith when we don’t feel we have what we need The message of faith — what it means to be faithful — is still the same: It is not about waiting for God to give you enough; It is about doing enough with what your given. And believing that because it is God’s gift to you that it will be enough.

I say this to you knowing that if it were me in the place of the man I met on the levy that I too would doubt it truth. I don’t know if I could believe if I had been through all that he had.

I think it is one of the most important thing faithful people do when we gather together. We come together to remember that God gave us enough and to encourage each other to do enough with what we have.

The reason we tell underdog stories, the reason they resonate with us, the reason they sell so many tickets at the box office is because they fill us with hope.

They resonate with the Christlike Spirit that burns in each of us. That Spirit that stands up and cheers to see someone finely find a way to make their gift work.

So I leave you with this thought: In your underdog movie script, what is it that you are going to find in yourself was there all along and how are you going to use that gift to make the audience of Saints both in heaven and on earth stand up and cheer?

Behind the Scenes

When I began composing this sermon, I tried very hard to just pick a single movie or book for the opening, but I kept worrying that the work I had chosen was too obscure, or that the themes would not all be clear enough. In the end I wrote a brief outline of what I would need to say about each part of what everwork I settled on and moved on to write the rest of the sermon.

When I got to the finished with the rest of the sermon, I went to google to look for the perfect movie and came up with a long, long, **long** list of possibilities. It finally struck me that I could actually make my point better by not sticking to any one story, and instead connect them all. I must admit I had a lot of fun late Saturday evening blending all the beats from my list of top movies into the opening of this sermon.