June 15, 2014
You may not know it, but we are in the midst of the world’s largest sporting event. For most of June and July the entire globe will be fixated on the World Cup taking place in Brazil. Now, full disclosure, I am a huge soccer fan. Or as the rest of the world calls it, “football.” Because, you actually do play with your feet. There is loads of excitement around this years team USA, because we have to live up to the hype. See, four years ago, at the last World Cup, the United States’ team was in dire straits. There were mere seconds left on the clock, and we needed one goal in our game against Algeria to advance to the next round. Our players had hit the crossbar, the Algerian goalkeeper had made some incredible saves, and it looked like we just couldn’t make it happen. But lo and behold, in the dying moments of the game, our boys put one in.
Now, I went bananas. Maggie will vouch for me. It was about ten o’clock on a Thursday morning. But I was so overwhelmed that I grabbed our American flag and stood out on the balcony of our apartment and started chanted “USA! USA!” My neighbors were not impressed. But I was pumped.
The USA is in the World Cup again this year. But some waves were made recently about America’s team. The star of the team, the face of American soccer for the last three World Cups, is Landon Donovan. Or perhaps I should say, was the face of American soccer. See, Landon Donovan didn’t make the team for this World Cup. He was cut. If you don’t understand the gravity of the situation, perhaps this will help – Landon Donovan was the guy who scored that goal against Algeria that advanced us into the next round of the World Cup. Landon Donovan was the guy that, for a few weeks in June in 2010, everybody loved. But now, he’s no more. And the fans of USA soccer have new heroes.
Such is life. The things in this world are fleeting. We are here for a breath, and then are no more. Like leaves on a tree that flourish for a season, we then wither and fade. Landon Donovan had his period of glory, but now he’s remembered as the player who was, not is.
In the face of such sobering realities, Jesus makes a promise that truly stands out. “Remember I am with you always, until the end of the age.” These are the last words in the Gospel of Matthew. These are the final words that Jesus has for his disciples. Then that’s it. Period. Done. “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” And the secret is out – this is actually my favorite line in the entire Bible.
Take a moment to consider that promise. Let’s be honest – one day everybody we know will have died. Every soccer player who had his day will be replaced. Governments will come and they will go. Galaxies come to life and then fizzle out. Even styrofoam will one day biodegrade. And yet Jesus makes a startling promise. “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Yes, it’s beautiful, but it means more than some sentimental notion that God will never go away. It means that we can quit trying to win God’s approval. Seriously. Quit it. There is nothing you can or cannot do that will make God love you more or less. But no matter how many times I say that, we still guilt ourselves into thinking that God has abandoned us because of something we did or did not do. If you don’t believe me, try this one out.
You’ve probably heard a priest or a pastor say something like, “If you give money to the Church, God will love you.” And yes, it’s true. If you give money to the Church, God will love you. But listen to the other half of that truth: If you don’t give money to the Church, God will love you. This is not some sort of exchange system. It’s not like when you’re buying something. You’re not giving money to God so that you get something in return. God has created you, Jesus died for you, and the Spirit lives within you. There’s really nothing else that we could ask for. And if you do want a religion in which you try to please the gods, then there are plenty of options. Paganism might be for you. If you make enough sacrifices, then you please the gods, and in return they’ll watch out for you. But that’s not why you’re here. Jesus promises that he will be with us until the end of the age. Period.
So it’s time that we stop acting like pagans, and start talking like Christians. What we have done as a Church is put something at the end of that promise, like the pagans would do. “I will be with you until the end of the age if you give enough money to the Church; if you pray seven times a day; if you are a completely perfect father; if you weigh less than one hundred and twenty pounds; if you vote the way I tell you to vote; if you don’t do sex, drugs, and rock & roll; if, if, if, if, if.”
It’s the same with our culture that tells us that we always need more. The big screen television you have isn’t big enough. So Samsung now sells a one hundred and ten inch television. That hamburger you’re eating isn’t big enough. So Burger King sells a quadruple stack burger. The world tells you that you don’t make enough money, that you don’t get enough sleep, that you’re kids aren’t learning fast enough, that your new diet isn’t healthy enough. So, I have to ask, when is enough?
I tell you that enough has already been taken care of. God has created you, Jesus died for you, and the Spirit lives within you. That’s enough already.
So we give money to the Church, to God, because Jesus is with us until the end of the age. We are saying, “thank you God, for being with us through good times and bad times.” That’s why we give money – not to earn our way in, but because we are thankful for everything that has been given to us. We pray without ceasing, because we are grateful that God loves us. We want to be good parents, we want to have healthy bodies – not so that we can please God – but because God is already pleased with us.
Now, back to the World Cup. I do hope you watch our boys play tomorrow. And you’ll probably hear lots of talk about Landon Donovan. And if the United States does not do well, everybody will say it’s because he wasn’t on the team. The sportswriters will all be saying, “…if only…” But we know where the ifs get us.
So here’s the good news. God will never cut you from the team. No ifs about it. No matter how important the game. No matter how young you are, or how great you were in the past, God is on your side. You might have only been playing this game we call Christianity for a few years, or maybe you’ve been playing your whole life. That’s immaterial. God is on your side. And there’s no point in trying to earn your way onto God’s team. You can’t do that, because has already picked you for the team. And remember, Jesus is with you until the end of the age.