Who's On Your Team?

“Who’s On Your Team?”
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Second Sunday of Easter

1 John 1:1-2:2
Rev. Mark M. Vickers-St. Timothy’s UMC

1 John 1:1-2:2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Word of Life

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete. God Is Light

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Christ Our Advocate
2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. __________________________________________________________

We have just wrapped up one of the biggest sporting events known to humankind. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. A little over 16.5 million people watched basketball games over 4 weeks. To me, that is extraordinary! Now, some of those people were watching because their favorite team was playing, some because their favorite player was on the court, some so they could see the “under dog” topple the #1 Seed, and some were watching for the money! They had wagered big (or even little money) on a chance for more earnings. But no matter why they watched it, a bigger concern was people had a shared interest in a champion! Really, it didn’t matter who that champion would be, but rather a champion that would shine forth.

Sure, many of us “secretly” came out of our Catholic closet and dawned our Sister Jean “mind-set” and prayed fervently for what we hoped would be the dawning of a new day in college basketball. But it didn’t happen. But it also didn’t dispel the constant attention, media coverage, bobble head doll sales that surrounded Sister Jean and the Loyola Ramblers. For many, they still are #1.

If I went around and asked the fervent basketball fans in the room, “how did you feel after Monday night, or even Saturday afternoon?” My guess is (if you are sports fan) your attention turned toward the Azalea’s that are blooming behind a thick white stone fence in Eastern Georgia, in a place known as Augusta and The Masters. My guess is that you launched right into the next big sporting event that would produce a champion. Maybe some of our more patient fanatics hunkered down on Thursday afternoon, or slipped home from the office to watch that first pitch on “Opening Day” of baseball season. Patiently waiting until next Fall for our champion to be crowned. But my guess is, you went looking for another champion of sorts.

In church lingo, this is “Low Sunday.” Not for the reason that many think, that the Sunday after Easter is a low attendance Sunday. Even though that might be true to some extent. The real reason is that in the week of Easter celebration, with Easter being the first Sunday, this is the Sunday that brings up the end or “low” part of the week. Hence putting a closing segment to what was a powerful and majestic week! We still find ourselves gathered here, singing, proclaiming the risen Savior and offering fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ.

One must think, what a traumatic experience the disciples felt from Maundy Thursday through Easter morning and the days that followed! Belief, dis-belief, awe, uncertainty, fear, devastation, and the list could go on and on. But what we have here in letter of 1 John is a stark reminder that through trauma, and the “un-imaginable” there is still a wonderful Word from God. We, as disciples come seeking that Word this week because we have been through a traumatic experience. The disciples gathered because they had witnessed a traumatic experience and needed to be reminded that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all!” Much like those who cheer for a “would be” champion that never makes it to the place they think they should.

My colleague and New Testament T.A., Dr. Clifton Black, sums up the theology of this text like this; “Christ is made present to a generation of Christians who no longer can see or hear him, except by the eyes and ears of faith.” How true is that! That is the reason we need to hear these stories and be reminded that there is a God that is greater than our mistakes, even though we make those mistakes each and everyday and in so many ways; some we realize and some we don’t!

The emphatic notion of being reminded of what people have seen, heard, and touched is central to our existence as Christians and as a human species. Just think, how many of you knew about the Loyola Ramblers before this year and the dawning of Sister Jean? Probably not many of us! But the gift we received, as well as the other 16.2 million people who watched the tournament received, is the gift that we saw this, witnessed it, and can tell another generation about it! This kind of winning streak may never happen again in the lifetimes of many of us, but we can share that with those that come into our lives in the future.

This I believe was the strong point of the writer of John’s letter to those whom he was attempting to reach with the Good News of salvation and what Jesus had done for them! Even though they had not seen the crucifixion, death, and resurrection themselves, they will know about it and they need to know about it! The writer here is intentional to share the whole story of tribulation. The writer reminds us “that we are not without sin.” That sin is the reason that Jesus came into the world. We cannot get to a place of complacency now that Easter is over and we are “slowly” getting back into the routine of our daily Christian lives. Yet, even though we sin, we also receive a forgiveness of a risen Lord, a forgiveness experienced by those who first saw him, heard him, and touched him. From their perspective of darkness they received the “word of life.”

Coming back to the Ramblers of Loyola for a moment. They made it to where they made it because they played as a team. In a way, the message in 1 John is a message about being reminded whose team we are on, what we have to do as a team player, and finally, what makes us champions. You see the history of the Loyola Ramblers is a message steeped within the Gospel. It’s not a typical message of a champions team. But they heard and practiced the Gospel for a long time. For you see, in 1961 George Ireland, coach of the Ramblers ushered in what many call “one of the great movements of race relations.” In 1961 there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no team would play more than 3 black players at a time. In George’s second game, he played 4. In 1962 he played 4 in every game, then in 1963 they became the first Division 1 NCAA school to play an “all black lineup.” Then the show stopper or the epitome of the Gospel was in 1963 when they defeated the all segregated Mississippi State University by a score of 61-51 even after Mississippi State defied a State Court Order for them not to play a school with black players.

I believe the Gospel has been alive in that school for a very long time! For you see, they are a lot like 1 John, they have seen, they have touched, and they have conquered what others said they could not do. Sure, not without sin, not without reproach, but with a quiet, stealth like mode that brought them over time to a championship status that did not need a huge trophy!

My friends, we as 21st Century Christians have a lot to cling onto. We have seen, touched, and heard a lot of things that counter our Gospel way of living. We have to acknowledge we are human, that we sin, that we have been given God’s grace by God not by some “work” we have done. We have a stellar history my friends! Not only here at St. Timothy’s, but in the United Methodist Church in general. We have been gifted to be a part of a larger team in our lives. God has invited us into fellowship. A friend of mine says, “God does not invite just me, or you, but God invites all into community with God and with one another.” We cannot do it alone, for if we try we will walk in darkness, but when we walk together with God the promise that “in God there is no darkness at all” reigns true!

So, on this “Low Sunday” let us bask in the grace of fellowship. Let us remember those who have done this before us and left a legacy of faith in which we can be proud. Let us bask in the presence of Christ and that he is, was and will be present with us forever and ever!