Sunday, August 24, 2014

God's Team

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
August 24, 2014

Year A: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

God’s Team

            I know that you’ll find this hard to believe, but when I was a kid I wasn’t very athletic.
            Actually, I’m not very athletic today either, but that’s not important right now.
            When I was a kid, I really liked school, for the most part. But there were a couple of things I wasn’t too crazy about.
            I think I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t like math. I wasn’t good at it. And aside from basic arithmetic, I never really understood what the point of it was. Since math is one of the major subjects, I had to face my dislike and fear and frustration day after day. After a while, I got used to it and only got really worked up when there was a big test.
            The other part of school I didn’t like very much was gym.
            This we only had once a week, I think, so there was plenty of time to work up some real dread of what this week’s gym class would bring.
            It was frustrating not to be particularly coordinated – not to be among the fastest or the strongest.
            But, the worst part of gym class was when the class would be divided into teams to play games that usually seemed to involve hurling large rubber balls at kids on the other team.
            Just like math, what was the point of that, anyway?
            I’m guessing that gym class – if today’s kids have Phys. Ed. at all - is different these days. But, back in the ‘70’s, you know how it went…
            The gym teacher would select two of the kids – in my memory it was always two of the most athletic and strongest kids – to choose who would be on their team.
            Oh, man, how I dreaded this.
            We’d all be lined up and one by one we’d be chosen.
            As each name was called – each time a captain pointed a finger – my stomach would drop just a little lower until finally one of the captains chose me.
            I may be blocking the memory but I don’t think I was usually the last one chosen – there were kids worse than me, believe it or not - but I wasn’t among the first or even in the middle either.
            And then we’d go crazy hurling the big rubber ball at each other.
            And then, never soon enough, the ordeal of gym class would be over for another week.
            Of course, I can’t blame those long-ago team captains for the choices they made. Like anybody else in their position, they wanted to win so they selected the players who seemed most likely to help them enjoy the thrill of victory.
            And, it’s not so different when we grow up, is it?
            Most of us have been on job interviews when we hope that the captain – the boss – will think that we are just what the team – what the company – what the church - needs to achieve success.
            Employers look at our skills and our experience – our track record – and then select the person they think will be best. Sometimes the finger is pointed at us – and sometimes it’s not.
            That’s the way the world works.
            But, that’s not how God works.
            God, who knows us better than anybody – far better than we even know ourselves – always seems to choose the least likely people to do God’s work in the world.
            God’s way is a lot different than the world’s way.
            Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, over and over we’re told that God picks the least likely people to important jobs on God’s “team”.
            In today’s reading from the Book of Exodus we heard the story of the birth of Moses in Egypt.
            We know that a few years down the line God will choose Moses for the incredibly difficult challenge of leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and to freedom in the Promised Land.
            Moses really doesn’t want the job, doesn’t think he’s the one who should be chosen. He argues with God that he has a speech impediment – maybe he was a stutterer – surely there’s someone better?
            But, God chooses the unlikely Moses for this most important task.
            And in today’s gospel lesson we heard another story of a very unlikely person chosen for a very important job.
            Peter is one of the most beloved of all the characters in the gospel. We love him so much because most of us can see something of ourselves in him. He’s a worker – a fisherman – who wants to do the right thing but often falls short, makes mistakes, is not as good and faithful as he had wanted to be.
            Sound familiar?
            Just a couple of weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus walking on the water.
            Remember how when Peter realized that it was Jesus, he told Jesus to command him to also walk on the water? Jesus gives the command and Peter comes boldly out of the boat able to take a few steps on the water. But then the wind kicked up and Peter got scared and he began to sink into the depths until Jesus pulled him to safety.
            Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
            If Jesus did things the world’s way, he might have had a competition to see who had the most faith, who could walk on water the longest.
            But, that’s not God’s way.
            And we know that later, during Jesus’ time of greatest need and despair, Peter will cowardly deny that he’s a disciple, will deny even knowing Jesus, not once or twice but three times.
            Peter does much better in today’s gospel passage, confessing that Jesus is “…the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
            But, let’s not give Peter too much credit.
            Jesus says that Peter hasn’t figured this out on his own but has received a revelation from God. But, despite all of his many character flaws, Jesus chooses this most unlikely person, this uneducated, sometimes cowardly, often confused, but mostly well-meaning person, to be the rock, to be the leader, of his team.
            Once again, God didn’t choose the strongest or the smartest person. Instead, God chose a very unlikely, seemingly unqualified person to do God’s work in the world.
            God’s way is not the world’s way.
            So, the good news is that this isn’t gym class. God is not selective. God points at all of us – the athletic and not so athletic, the eloquent and the stutterers - God chooses every single one of us – to be on God’s team.
            God knows us better than we know ourselves – God knows all of our weaknesses, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the stupid things we’ve said and done – and God knows all of our gifts and strengths.
           So, calls us just like God called Moses and Peter to do the important work of loving God and one another, of giving away our lives serving God and our brothers and sisters.
            We’ve all been picked to be on God’s team.
            Thanks be to God.