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Cyrus, the Messiah, and the Super Bowl

Sermon – “Cyrus, the Messiah, and the Super Bowl”

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Today is the American holiday we call the Super Bowl.

It’s a celebration of athleticism and patriotism and brilliance in advertising.

It’s also a chance for people to get together and eat lots of chips and dip and barbeque.

I’ll admit, I probably won’t watch it this year.

I’m mentioning the Super Bowl, because its’ hard not to on Super Bowl Sunday – it’s a part of the fabric of our culture.

It’s the closest we have to gladiatorial combat. It’s entertaining, and it’s competitive.

Even I, someone who is not super into professional football, find myself getting caught up in it sometimes.

It’s fun.

And it also plays on that part of us that embraces competition.

The part of us that’s taught from a young age that there has to be a winner and a loser.

I started t-ball and soccer and gymnastics when I was 4.
At 4 years old, I was told to have fun and be a good sport, but also to win.

To be the best. To get that championship trophy.

In high school, my basketball coach told us all the time that 2nd place was 1st loser.

And so as much as we strove to develop teamwork and have fun and get fit, we also strove to win.

Winning is certainly better than losing, if the game is set up to have winners and losers.

And in our culture, winning and losing is part of the way we frame our experience.

We don’t even realize how often we use competitive sports language.

But think about it.

We “score a job”, we “win a promotion” over another colleague. Or we lose a friend. Or lose an opportunity.

At least in my generation, when good things happen—let’s say I found a great sale, people will respond by saying things like “Win!” or “Score!”

It’s a part of the way we think.

And we’re not the only ones who operate that way.

Or who have in the past.

Our competitive culture now is not unlike the culture of the developing Roman empire that ruled at the time of Jesus.
And at the time, Jesus was preaching to what we’d consider the losing team.

The people of Israel were facing increasing incursions from Rome, and there were regular revolts against the Roman authorities, most of which were brutally defeated.

Israel was like a sports team that was 1 and 20 at the end of the season. And they were looking to draft a superstar.

They were looking for a savior, someone to bring them the championship and the prestige that comes with being the winning team.

Or at least bring them out of this slump.

And so when Jesus quotes Isaiah 62, people get excited.

He’s come to bring good news to the poor – great.

He’s come to release the captives – yes.

To let the oppressed go free – perfect.

To proclaim the year of God’s favor, which means the year in which everyone’s debts are forgiven – that sounds wonderful.

But then Jesus cuts the scripture short.

In the passage he’s quoting, there’s an extra line that he leaves out.

The original text from Isaiah 61 reads:
The Spirit of God is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”

and the day of vengeance of our God;

It’s almost identical, except for one little line in there.

The day of vengeance of our God.

And it’s not an accident that he leaves it out.

But that’s not what people are looking for.

Because they’ve been told stories about the last savior. The last man who brought their team out of last place into prominence again.

The savior named Cyrus.

At the time of Cyrus, Jerusalem had been burnt to the ground by the Babylonians, and the people with any education or power had been captured and exiled to Babylon.

Those who remained in Jerusalem were enslaved or imprisoned.

This message was for them.

A promise that God would not only free them from their suffering, but also enact vengeance upon their captors.

Which Cyrus did.

So when Jesus quotes this scripture in our Gospel message today, it’s extremely significant that he leaves out the vengeance part.

The people of Israel are again under pressure when he speaks at the synagogue, this time from Rome, the undefeated team with all the money and all the best players.

When Luke writes his Gospel, Rome is either on the verge of destroying Jerusalem again, or depending on the date that Luke’s written, they’ve already destroyed it, again exiling people with power and capturing and imprisoning and enslaving those left behind.

And so when Jesus leaves out the vengeance part – well, what kind of messiah is he?

People are thrilled when he says

God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
to let the oppressed go free,

But no vengeance? Pshh.

And what’s this about Jesus ministering to people outside of Israel?

It would be like Tom Brady, quarterback for the Patriots, who Patriots fans generally think is a game-changing player and a big reason for their success – it would be like him saying – I’ll play for the Patriots in the first quarter, but then in the second, I’m going to help out the Rams, and then in the 3rd, I’ll sell hotdogs. And then in the 4th, I’ll give the cheerleaders a break and cheer on the sidelines.

Yeah – it would never happen.

And if it did, Brady would be fired. For sure.

Because that’s not how the game works.

But that’s what Jesus is suggesting.

So of course, they want to run him off a cliff.

Jesus was not the messiah they were looking for.

He hasn’t just come for the people of Israel.

He’s promising to minister to the Romans as well.

And he’s not a war hero like Cyrus was. And he doesn’t come from an important family. He’s just Joseph’s kid.

And on top of allll that, he’s not interested in vengeance.

It would be like if the Rams and the Patriots, instead of playing this giant televised game, said hey – let’s do a workout together and do some team-building exercises. I bet there’s a problem in the world that we could solve if worked together on it.

No way.

Today’s about sweat and competition and even vengeance for some of the players.

And yeah – its’ just a game, but it’s a reflection of who we are too. And how we think.

Like the people Jesus is preaching to, we too are hurting and want to see some entertainment in which other people win on our behalf.

We want a hero to come save us the way Cyrus saved the people of Israel so long ago.

But that’s not what Jesus is offering.

Jesus is offering to change the game entirely.

To put rivals on the same side.

To change our competitive games into cooperative games.

And to push us to work together instead of at odds with each other.

And that kind of culture shift isn’t an easy one to accomplish.

Now I want to be clear that I’m not against all competition. I think it can hone our skills sometimes and push us to be even better.

But when it comes to what matters, working together, we accomplish a lot more.

And it feels better, ultimately, not to fight everyone, but to find common ground and put our energy into joint ventures.

My challenge –

Consider where we might be able to transform competition to cooperation….

Speaker: Rev. Sarah TevisTownes
February 3, 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

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