St. Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30
I have a confession to make . . . I’ve got World Cup Fever. And for those of you who don’t know what the World Cup is – it’s an every-four years event that brings together the best national futbol teams from throughout the world – and by futbol, I mean soccer. Yes, I’ve got World Cup Fever and I’ve got it bad! I have my official program and score-sheet, my official World Cup soccer ball, and my jerseys. I’ve got the the US National Team’s home jersey – a team that looked good this year – especially Timmy Howard – and will look even better in four more years. Alongside of the US National Team my other favorite is Argentina – and I’ve got the generic home jersey, and the jersey of the team’s best player, Leo Messi.
Yes, watching the World Cup has been my passion these last two weeks – and the way those Argentine footballers play! there’s three of them who especially shine – and on whom I have a big, old man-crush – Leo Messi, Ezequiel Levazzi, and Ángel di María. I would love to play like and with any one of these muchachos. But of course that’s absolutely ridiculous, absurd, crazy. At this point in my life, no matter how hard I might try, I would find I can’t even begin to play soccer even as well as a kid in Kindergarten. Oh, and the very things I might try to do with a soccer ball – well they would be exactly the things I don’t want to do, absolute klutz that I am. My wanting, my will is bound in these things and nothing I want to do can ever change things. Oh, I think, if I had only started playing soccer in kindergarten then, perhaps, maybe. But most likely not. As a kid, my knees were always skun up and my shins always bruised because I couldn’t even walk without tripping over tree roots, cracks in the sidewalks, and somedays even my own shoes. I can spend all sorts of time willing, wanting, wishing that things were different back then – but that doesn’t change what I am today. All that wishing, all that wanting, all that willing – where does it get me? It’s just a huge, old waste of time and energy.
Oh, now and then I’ve wondered if there might not be a gay soccer league in town – and maybe a team that accepts total newcomers to playing the sport. I know myself though – I would make some sort of self-justifying project out of it. Getting into it whole hog I would try super-hard to be a perfect player – but no matter how hard I might try, no matter how much I practiced – I know that being anything less than excellent to perfect would leave me frustrated – not to mention how crazy it would all drive my spouse, Mike. And this drive to be excellent, to be perfect at soccer – instead of having fun and just enjoying being outside and kicking a ball around – this compulsion of mine to be perfect – it would become like a weight upon my shoulders – like the heavy yoke an ox or horse would wear to pull a plow through the fields. And eventually, this heavy yoke would become such a burden that I would abandon yet another potentially enjoyable pursuit because no matter how hard I would will, want, or try – I would never be even close to good.
And to each one of you God the Father says: “I see you to be like Christ Jesus – speaking and living words of mercy, peace, grace, love.”
And then I think – wouldn’t be great if somehow, someone could just say to me – “Now you are already like Leo Messi” – who even at age four exhibited the beginnings of greatness – a total genius with the ball. And this mythical, life-changing Being would declare it wouldn’t even take practice – according to this Being, I would already like Messi – and then someday, by some mysterious force of the universe the day would come when I would be there on the soccer pitch playing perfectly alongside Leo, Angel, and Ezequiel.
But you know, this sermon isn’t about me or even about futbol, about soccer. It’s a bit of an allegory on what St. Paul the Apostle has to say to us today, on what Jesus has to say to us today. First Paul. Oh Paul you always tell it like it is – no matter how hard you willed, wished, wanted to do the good, you found yourself unable. And everything that you found yourself doing – those were exactly the things you did not want to do. Oh, you knew well what a heavy weight it is to wear the law around your neck. Oh yes, the law is good – in its first use it protects the neighbor from us and it’s the job of the state and those in authority to keep us in line – but in terms of how God regards us – God, who in Jesus became intimate with our nature and our lot, God knows that if our relationship with God were dependent upon what we will but don’t do, with what we do but don’t will – if God’s unfailing love were dependent upon our wills and our behaviors – well, we’d be crushed beneath a ten-ton yoke. But now, thanks be to God in Jesus Christ who says to us: “Come listen to me – my yoke is easy, my burden is light – my words to you are not about being perfect – or even good – my words to you are in a whole different realm than anything you’re used to. My words – my words in living, in dying, and in rising – they are mercy, peace, grace, love. Eternal, outside of time mercy, peace, grace, love.” And those words – they are given and said to each and every one of you. And to each one of you God the Father says: “I see you to be like Christ Jesus – speaking and living words of mercy, peace, grace, love. Oh, now only in part – because you just don’t have it in you to do those things well – you’ll try to make of everything a self-justifying project, but all you’ll get is skun knees and bruised shins – yours and those of others. But the day will come – and already is in eternity – when you shall live in peace, grace, love – no need any longer for mercy because you shall be completely as Christ – even as you are already that in my Eternal Keeping. So, now that you don’t have to be perfect – now that you know you can’t even begin to truly will or do the good – now that you know you don’t have to – what are you going to do?”
Ha!! It’s a little like me and soccer. Giving up my dreams of perfection – or even ability – you know, I just might get me an ordinary soccer ball and just for the goodness of it – without any illusions or compulsions I might just try kicking that ball around – without caring how silly I look – without needing to make of it yet another project. I’ll be like a little kid and just do it because it’s there to do – and too in a spare moment I will dream of a heaven where I will play alongside Leo Messi – who along with everybody else there will be playing as little kids play: just for the sheer goodness of it all.