The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 23, 2015
Fair Weather Fans
All of us, as Houstonians, need to stop for a moment, and check in with ourselves. Because something very strange is happening in our city. The Astros are winning. I know, it’s weird. But they’re in first place. And Fiers threw a no-hitter on Friday. Whoa. It’s almost disconcerting. I have supported the Astros through thick and thin. Many of you have pulled for the Astros years longer than I have even been alive. Well, when we are doing well, it’s great. Everybody seems to be an Astros fan. And what’s gets me, is all the fans jumping on the Astros bandwagon now. When we’re winning. Seriously – where were you when we were losing? Baseball fans, football fans, basketball fans – the one type of fan that nobody likes is the fair weather fan.
The phenomenon of the fair weather fan is not just about sports. It’s in spirituality and religion as well. Many of you will remember how packed churches were after September 11, 2001. And then as the months went by, and as things got back to “normal,” the crowds dwindled. Or, you know how some people just come on Christmas and Easter. I call them the “CEO’s.” “Christmas and Easter Only.” I’m not knocking on them, I used to be a CEO myself. My family were the ones who stole your pew on Easter morning. So there must be something in us that makes us into fair weather fans, and fair weather followers.
Let’s start with our gospel passage. Because here we get the New Testament description of fair weather fans. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus has miraculously fed a crowd of five thousand. And the people were pumped. The crowd says, “This is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.” Then Jesus has to slip away quietly because he thinks that the crowd is going to try to make him king. That’s how much they love Jesus. Everybody is a fan when the team is winning.
But then something changes. Jesus starts to talk to them about bread and body, about blood and life. And the crowd can’t take it. They start complaining. They start murmuring. The crowd says, “Jesus, this is teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Just yesterday they were so thrilled with Jesus that they wanted to make him king. And now they’re saying, “this guy is crazy.” They are the fair weather followers, when things get difficult, they back away. It’s the same with sports fan, when the team starts losing, they stop caring.
And actually, it gets much worse. If you skip ahead, just a few verses after this passage is over, it says that Jesus has to avoid Judea because “the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him.” One of them, Judas Iscariot, even goes as far as to sell out Jesus to make a quick buck. Classic fair weather fan syndrome. They start by wanting to make Jesus king, and they end by wanting Jesus dead.
But notice, not everybody leaves Jesus in this passage. Jesus turns to Peter and the twelve and he says, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter is a die-hard Jesus fan. He says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He’s the kind of guy that sees his team through thick and thin. I’m sure that Peter found Jesus’ words difficult, but he stuck to it.
The difference between the fair weather and the die-hard fan, is commitment. Commitment to stick to it, through thick and thin. Commitment to pull for the Astros even when they’re losing one hundred and eleven games in a season. When a challenge comes up, the fair weather fan slips away. When Jesus challenges the crowd with difficult teaching, some of the disciples turn back and stop following him. But some of the disciples don’t have anywhere else to go. They’ve made their commitments. The difference between the fair weather fan and the die-hard fan is commitment in the face of a challenge.
And you, you know what challenge is. All of you have faced challenges in your life. You have filed for bankruptcy, you have gone through a gut-wrenching divorce, you have lost a loved one. You know what challenge is. When you reflect back on those tough moments, you can see how stepping up to the challenge was really the only option. And that stepping up, was a good thing. And for all our students and teachers and parents here today – you know that the school year is a challenge. It’s a long haul from here to June. You’ll have difficult teachers, difficult parents, projects and papers that seem impossible.
In the face of a challenge, rise to the occasion. When you just don’t want to face that difficult person in your life, take a deep breath and meet the challenge. When it doesn’t seem that you can possibly grade all of those papers, remember that you have done it before and can do it again. This year, 2015 our Year of Commitment, we at Holy Comforter have been committing ourselves to God. Worship, more than we don’t. Serve, at least once a month. Give, more than we think we should. And pray always. Anyway one of those by itself would be a challenge. But we are committing ourselves to each. I know, this teaching seems difficult. Because when you start thinking about all the other things you have to do, your spiritual life gets pushed aside. I do it too. So, I have to go back to what Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You are the one with the words of eternal life.” I am asking each of us to commit ourselves, to be die-hard followers of Jesus, not just fair weather fans.
Now, I know what happens next in our brains. Because I do it too. You start thinking to yourself, “well, I’m a die-hard. So I deserve something special.” Or, “I’m a die-hard follower of Jesus; if only all those bums would commit themselves then things would be better.” We start classifying ourselves, and we start treating others based on how we perceive them. But that’s not how Jesus treats us.
Jesus treats everybody equally. Everybody gets free bread. The disciples. Those who turn away. Even Judas Iscariot who betrays him, gets free bread from Jesus. Whether they stick around or they leave. Whether they question Jesus or follow him, it doesn’t matter. Everybody is treated equally. Jesus doesn’t ridicule those who walk away. Jesus does not coerce them into coming back.
As much as we talk about commitment to God and the Church, do not read that as manipulation. Manipulation is making you feel ashamed so that I get you to do something I want you to do. Jesus doesn’t play that game. Jesus is not a bully. Jesus challenges us, he sets a high standard, but he loves everybody equally. Everybody gets free bread. For the die-hards out there, this can incredibly frustrating. Because we think we earned it. And now there are a bunch of free-loaders getting exactly what we’re getting. But that’s how the Kingdom of God. Everybody gets free bread.
The Vestry and I have been thinking about this image. An image of a Church that looks like what Jesus did – where everybody is treated equally, regardless of who they are or what they’re here for. So we have crafted a new mission statement for Holy Comforter. Here it is – “Sharing Christ’s message of hope, peace, and grace with all.” Sharing Christ’s message of hope, peace, and grace with all. Sharing is an action verb, just as Jesus shares his bread with everybody around. Hope, peace, and grace are the hallmarks of what it means to be a Christian. And finally, we share that with all. All. Some people will come through our doors and all they want is free bread. Some show up because they truly want to commit their lives to Christ. Our job is not to judge the two, but to love them equally. Everybody receives hope, peace, and grace. Just as every saint, sinner, and skeptic on that hillside two thousand years ago received bread.
Honestly, I do not know why you are here this morning. I do not know if you are a die-hard or if you a fair weather follower. And that’s really none of my business. My business is to let you know that Jesus has given you everything. Hope, peace, and grace beyond comprehension. And my business is to challenge you to respond and to stick with Jesus and to stick with the Church. My business is to say that being a die-hard fan, even though it costs us everything – it costs us money, it costs us time, it costs us energy – it is totally worth it. The measure you give to Jesus, is the measure you get back.
Let me put it this way – when you suffered with the Astros for season after season after season after season, it feels really good right now to be winning. And I don’t think you would understand that as a fair weather fan. Do not wait to become a Jesus fan until the bandwagon has already started. You can start now and be a die-hard fan. Because, really, what are your other options? Jesus is the one with the words of eternal life.