1/31/99, E4A

“Turning a Loss Into a Win”
Matthew 5: 1-12

y little Me Maw attended her first football game at age 80. My brother Eddie was the star fullback for the Lexington (NC) High School team and I was a ten year old second string assistant water boy. My mother, a longtime fan who will be glued to our Falcon’s win in today’s Super Bowl, sat with her mother in the stands. Me Maw was uncharacteristically quiet during the first quarter as Dad tried to explain the game; then she asked my Mother, “Why do they keep circling up and praying after every play?” For any hockey or soccer fans visiting, let me explain that the offensive players huddle in a circle to call plays before each down, and this looks like a prayer circle.

Me Maw may have been a prophetess since actual prayer huddles have indeed become a part of football in recent years. Many peewee, high school, college, and professional teams have developed prayer circles. Atlantans saw a wonderful picture of a prayer huddle on the cover of the “Faith & Values” section of our newspaper yesterday. Team Chaplain Charles Collins, a former player, and many Falcons, along with Miami Dolphins players, were huddled in a circle on their knees in prayer after Atlanta’s recent victory.

Chaplain Collins learned long ago that a professional football career, and the big bags full of money that go with it, will not bring instant happiness. Indeed, in the midst of success as a player, he found his life empty and sought something more.

Football, baseball, basketball; and yes, hockey and soccer too, are microcosms of real life: Getting knocked down, winning and losing, mountaintop emotions, and the pain of injuries, all mirror what happens to a person as he or she continues to live beyond the games. Hopefully, we have all learned that there has to be a life beyond games, and that a fulfilled and happy life is what really brings contentment.

How remarkably appropriate is our lectionary gospel reading for Super Bowl Sunday. We hear Jesus addressing the deeper issues that undergird life and all of the games people play. I can almost hear Jesus saying that winning is wonderful, but there are inevitable times of losing too, and that we must learn to live through the agony of defeat as well as the thrill of victory.

These Beatitudes, or statements that preface Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, reveal a kind of inside picture of life as it really is. Jesus himself was praised after turning the water into wine, but later he was humiliated and crucified on a cross to died a slow and painful public death as the Lamb of sacrifice. All humanity has shared in similar pain. For two-thousand years repentant hearts have identified with the cross. However, we who know the whole story, also know the glory of the empty tomb and the victory of eternal life.

On a superficial level folks tend to think that we have won when we make a killing in the stock market, or step over our competitors to become CEO, or go all the way to the World Series Trophy, or the Super Bowl. But Jesus is saying that the many who don’t win can be winners too, through the power of knowing, that through it all, we can rely upon the bedrock of our inner peace as children of the Heavenly King of Glory. Just playing the game can be victory: Going to a good job, doing your best in school, sharing a wonderful family life, being a part of a faithful faith community in Christ; all can bring a deep inner contentment even though problems beset on every hand. Blessed are those who are meek, and merciful and who mourn--- those peacemakers who are persecuted, but who are pure in heart. In those situations, common to all of us, we can “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great...” (v.12).

One of the great Christian apologists of all time, C.S. Lewis, was fond of sharing how an indefinable sense of joy had haunted him throughout his life. In the low times of his youth: the death of his mother, evil schoolmasters, early failures in friendships, he later realized that there was a hidden awareness that the divine had something better for him. Thus, he persevered on into adulthood as an Oxford Don, when he came to finally know that this prevenient power was actually the grace of God. Finally, intellectually and spiritually, he surrendered to the higher power. He continued to have more problems than most. The academicians at Oxford refused him a full professorship, and late in life he had to go to the more religiously open Cambridge University to receive a professorship. Most of you have seen the motion picture Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis, that depicted his late in life marriage to the American, Joy Davidman, who soon thereafter died a painful death. In his little book, A Grief Observed, Lewis seemed to have lost his faith in the midst of such grave sorrow, but after a time of bereavement the joy of the Lord won the battle and he climbed to the spiritual mountaintop again, only to be faced with his own imminent and painful death. But he died in victory, knowing a foretaste of life beyond temporary defeat.

In our spiritual and financial poverty, amid our grieving and beyond our losses, there is ultimate winning in Him, the Great God of Glory, who has walked along side us every step of the way as a joyful companion.

Win or lose in the battles and games of life, we will always be accompanied by the joy of knowing that finally there will be a crown of glory, someday. Our victories and trials are tamed, untarnished but tempered, in the experience of knowing that ever present joy.

We live through it all as God’s children of the great reward who turn loses into wins.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

1/31/99, E4A