Redskins and Respect: A Lifelong Washington Fan on Tradition

Copyright, NFL and Washington Redskins

Copyright, NFL and Washington Redskins

Some of my favorite early memories involve the Washington Redskins. For as long as I remember, I’ve watched games on Sundays. My father is a Washington, D.C. native who has been a fan of the team since they moved to town from Boston in 1937. I’ve watched the ‘Skins play with four generations of my family and, though I now live near a team that regularly makes the playoffs, my loyalty remains with my oft beleaguered Washington football team.

I’m telling you all this to say, in short, that I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. I love them. I love them when they are beating Dallas. I love them when they are winning playoff games. And I even love them when they are getting destroyed by the Broncos at Mile High, like they were this past Sunday. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Washington Redskins loyalist.

And I want them to change their name.

I can’t remember exactly when it struck me that the name “Redskins” had anything to do with race or skin color. I had no idea when I said my favorite team’s name that I was actually repeating what at least some Native Americans consider a racial slur. And the reality is that I think very few people who say the word “Redskins,” as it pertains to football, have conscious racist intent.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not racist. And enough Native Americans have stood up to tell those of us who do not share their heritage that it is, in fact, offensive. And that should be enough for us. Tessa McLean, who is a member of the Ojibwe Nation, recently told NBC News that the word “Redskins” is “a term that was created for proof of Indian kill.” In other words, a “Redskin” is proof that a Native American is dead. Which, when you think about it, is both pretty terrible, and pretty counterintuitive for a team that has appropriated Native American imagery.

To me, this is where the folks in the front office of the Redskins should stop and realize “maybe offending a group of people with a pejorative name based on their skin color is not only a bad business practice but, you know, just plain indecent.” But, as of now, that has not happened.

In fact, Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, has gone so far as to say that, “We’ll never change the name.” He also wrote in a letter addressing the matter that “Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.”

What’s odd to me about that is that the Redskins have made big changes in traditions before. For instance, the Redskins were the last professional football team to integrate, waiting until 1962 to do so. I’d like to think that we’ve come pretty far from that past. The team also changed the words to its fight song, “Hail to the Redskins” from “fight for all Dixie” to “fight for all D.C.,” another positive change.

And then there’s the part where they left Washington, D.C. and a stadium named for a champion of civil rights and moved to Maryland in a stadium named for… a package delivery company. So, clearly change is possible in the Redskins organization, even if it means that traditions and heritage are on the line.

I’m not sure what the real reluctance to change the name is about unless it’s the fact that no one in the Redskins front office cares enough about the offense they are causing to at least a significant portion of Native Americans. It’s not that there is a lack of other acceptable names. The Washington Post has suggested a slew of other names that capture the spirit of Washington, D.C. far better than “Redskins” ever has, for instance. Perhaps in a town filled with military personnel and government employees, a name that honored them would be more appropriate?

Pressure continues to build on the Redskins to change the name, coming from everywhere from Native American organizations, to newspapers and magazines refusing to use the team name in print, to the NFL itself. But the more a name change is called for, the more the team digs in its heals. Which makes me wonder, is anyone in the Redskins’ front office capable of seeing that this isn’t about being forced to change a tradition?

Changing the Redskins’ name is not an example of political correctness run amuck. It’s a testament to the fact that people deserve to be treated with respect. It’s common courtesy. And, for those of us who are people of faith, it’s also a matter of seeing the image of God in the other and refusing to use an offensive slur to name it. For me, this is a theological matter. This is about the basic business of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. And none of us, Mr. Snyder included I’m sure, likes to be characterized by a slur (even if the one saying it means no harm).

For now, though, I’m not holding my breath that the Redskins will be changing their name in the near future. I am, however, also not opening my wallet in order to buy anything with the Redskins name on it. I refuse to display it, whether on a hat or a sweatshirt, because I refuse to knowingly cause offense. I also refuse to contribute to an organization that won’t proactively change. Maybe other lifelong fans like me will choose the same route. And maybe, somehow, together we will send a message to Dan Snyder and the team that it’s time for a change.

When that change comes, I’ll be glad to line up at FedEx Field for tickets. And, more importantly, I’ll be proud to call myself a Washington football fan. And who knows… with this issue of the name resolved, maybe the team could spend a little more time concentrating on making it to the big game? That would be a return to tradition that every Washington fan could get behind.

Prayer and Action: Sermon for July 28, 2013

200px-Super_Bowl_XVII_Logo.svgSome of the first prayers I ever remember saying were during football games. My family is full of Redskins fans, and my dad in particular takes games very seriously. I remember being about six years old and watching the Redskins play the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. We were watching them on TV, and I could see everyone was so intent and so anxious. And so, though I didn’t understand much about God or prayer or how to pray, I kept praying that the pass on third and long would connect, or the field goal would make it through the uprights.

The Redskins won that Super Bowl, and I thought I was on to something good. Joe Theismann did okay that game, but I held myself personally responsible for praying the way to that Lombardi trophy. But the next year, the Skins went to the Super Bowl again. And this time they played the Raiders. And, despite my best attempts at prayer, the Skins were absolutely crushed.

It was probably my first experience of religious disillusionment.

I don’t pray about football much these days. Though I still sometimes catch myself saying, “Oh please, God, let him catch it,” and I feel a little embarrassed. I don’t think it’s ever wrong to talk to God, but I still feel self-conscious and like I’m doing something wrong. I still want to know, “Am I praying the right way?”

Maybe you’ve asked that too. If you have, you’re not alone. Even back in Jesus’ day, people were wondering if they were praying the right way. And one day one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, teach us how to pray.”

Jesus responds by teaching them a prayer that we recite here every week, and that Christians around the world have recited daily since: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

It sounds a little different than the words we say now, but there’s no mistaking that it’s the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s as close as we have ever gotten to a perfect prayer. And that makes sense, because it came right from the source.

When you look at the prayer, just in those few lines, there is so much there that is so rich. Jesus calls God “Father”, which means he is inviting us to enter into a conversation which is personal, and loving. We ask that God’s reign would come. We ask for our daily bread, trusting for God to provide what we need. And ask forgiveness, and we ask for help forgiving others. And, finally, we ask God to keep us safe, and out of harm’s way.

Really, everything you need is in that prayer. If there is such a thing as a “right way to pray”, this is it.

So, that being said, why didn’t Jesus just stop talking then? Why is there the rest of this passage? Jesus tells a story about a man who goes to a friend’s house late at night because he needs somethings and he knocks on the door. The friend shouts, “go away, I’m sleeping”. But the man still knocks, and eventually the man gets up and gives his friend what he needs. Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”

He’s talking about prayer. He’s talking about the persistence of prayer. And he’s saying that when we care enough to keep knocking, God will answer. Jesus then tells his disciples, “You wouldn’t give your kids a snake if they asked for a fish, and you wouldn’t give your kids a scorpion when they ask for an egg, right? So why would God, who loves us as a parent, and who is a far better parent than any of us could ever be, withhold what we need from us?”

Now at this point you might be thinking, “that’s all very good and well, but I have prayed before and nothing has changed.” Maybe you prayed for something you really and truly needed, not just a football game, and you didn’t get what you need. Or maybe you prayed for someone you loved dearly who needed healing, and you ended up losing them anyway. Or maybe you have just cried out asking, “God, are you there”, but you haven’t had any response.

I wish I could give you an easy answer at this point, one that explained all that, but the fact is that I can’t, and it would be condescending for me to try. And at this point a lot of people would quote the words of CS Lewis, a well-known Christian writer, who once said, “Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

And, he’s right about one part of that. Prayer does change us. If you’ve ever gotten into a regular routing of praying, you know that. Your attention shifts. Your priorities change. You feel your life change in ways that make it better.

Two of my favorite prayers, the Prayer of St. Francis, and the Serenity Prayer, are two good examples of prayer that changes us. They teach us how to order our lives. They remind us of what matters and what we can do. And if we really mean what we pray, they change us.

And that, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. But if prayer were only a one-sided conversation with ourselves, it wouldn’t be all that much better than something written by a motivational speaker. We would feel good, but where is God in all that?

Prayer is not just about us. It’s about God, and it’s about a conversation that we are having with God. And time and again in Scripture, we are provided with examples of a God who does listen to us, and who does respond. That doesn’t always mean that we get what we want, and that doesn’t always mean that we are answered with a “yes”, but it does mean that, somehow, we get what we need. As Jesus said, God would hand us snakes and scorpions, and God’s door won’t go unanswered.

But, on our side, that means that we have to be a part of that conversation too. And sometimes that means that we have to recognize that prayer is more than just words. It’s not just a wish made to God. Sometimes the best kind of prayer can be our own action.

In the aftermath of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes, I saw a lot of people on TV and online saying, “pray for Oklahoma”. A few days later, some atheist groups countered with their own saying: “actually do something for Oklahoma”. Now, you all know that I don’t think atheists should be the punching bag for people of faith. They have their belief, and we have ours, but I remember thinking, “I don’t think you understand what prayer means.” Because praying for Oklahoma and actually doing something for Oklahoma are not mutually exclusive.

I do believe that prayer in and of itself is action. It’s asking for God’s involvement. But prayer doesn’t have to stop with words. In fact. prayer cannot just stop with words if it is real. Prayer can take many forms. And actions can be prayers as well.

When you write out a donation to disaster relief, that is a prayer. When you go and help rebuild houses, that’s a prayer. When you give food to those who are hungry, that’s a prayer. When you work for justice and peace, that’s a prayer. And when you get up in the morning, and get out of bed, and commit yourself to loving the people around you as best as you possibly can, that’s a prayer too.

If you are really intent on this Christian life, if you are really committed to prayer, then there is one way to live, and that is to live your life as a prayer. No matter where you are or what you are doing, use this one life you have to pray without ceasing. Make prayer your way of being in the world, and not something that you fall back on only when you need something. If you do that, everything will change. Because you cannot knock on that door for long before, one way or another, God will answer.

I’ll close with this. Many of you know that this weekend was the 50th anniversary of t he West Dover Fire Department. A few of us from our congregation are currently involved in the department, and many more have been for some time. I learned this weekend that members from our congregation were among those responsible for starting that department. People like Frank Smith, Paul Kammerlen, and Eddie Barber. I really think that what they did was a form of prayer. It was a form of communicating their love for God and neighbor into action.

And now 50 years later new generations go out in the middle of the night to pray themselves. West Dover, East Dover, Deerfield Valley Rescue, Ski Patrol, and our Dover Police. They pray by serving their neighbors. And that is a prayer that is always pleasing and acceptable to God. People like that teach us how to pray by what they do, not what they say. By living their life as a prayer.

There’s a capacity for all of us to do that, whether we wear a uniform or not. It starts when we go to God in prayer, but prayer is never complete until we commit to living that prayer. May God bless our prayers, and show us how to live our life as a prayer. And may all of our prayers glorify God. Amen.

Journey Through Advent – Day 22

photo copyright Bleacher Report

photo copyright Bleacher Report

Sunday afternoons are for football in my house. After church I come home, change into jeans and a sweatshirt, and wait for the games. It’s one of the few times in the week where I relax and do nothing other than watch TV.

But, really, I don’t actually relax much. Not this year, at least. You see, I’m a Washington Redskins fan. I have been my whole life. My family has cheered for them since they moved to my father’s hometown in 1937. And while I love them, the past twenty years or so have not been their finest. We haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1992. We haven’t even been in the playoffs since 2007.

But this year is different. We have a quarterback who connects, a team that works together, and momentum. Last week we moved into first place in the NFC East. My dad and I excitedly text and call each other throughout the games, holding out for a win. And then at the end of each Sunday, I can’t wait for the next one. I can’t wait to see if we are going to go all the way this year. Because, goodness knows, we’ve waited long enough.

Being a Washington football fan has taught me about waiting. And that’s good practice for Advent. Because Advent is all about waiting. It’s about waiting for Christmas eve, and the celebration of Christ’s birth. It’s about waiting for the world to be transformed by God’s love. It’s all about holy waiting and watching and preparing.

There’s a difference between football and Advent, though.

Try as I might, I can’t do anything to make my team win from my living room in Vermont. I can’t block. I can’t pass. I can’t sack the opposing team’s quarterback. Even as I hold my breath and wait for a completion, I can’t will the ball into the hands of the guy in the end zone.

But Advent is different. We aren’t watching Advent play out on TV. We aren’t even just sitting in the stadium. In Advent, we’re actually players on the field. We might not be Jesus, but we are preparing our world for Jesus. We are actively involved in transforming the world from a place of violence and hatred and pain to one of hope and joy and love and peace.

We cheer on Sundays for teams to advance a ball down a field in a game that, while fun to watch, doesn’t really change the world. But do we give the same amount of energy and excitement to something that can change the world? Do we do the work of peacemaking and the pursuit of justice the same level of attention and importance? Do we take the Advent message so seriously that, while maybe we aren’t donning jerseys and face paint, everyone who sees us will know who we really worship?

Advent is about perspective. It’s about looking at our lives and seeing what matters most. This afternoon I’ll watch the game. But tomorrow I hope that I cheer just as hard for something I can actually a part of. And then, I hope I suit up, and get out on that field. At its best, Advent can be a time when we make a choice to join the team, and to change the world. We don’t have to wait on the sidelines anymore.

John the Baptist, Penn State, the Harder Right, and the Easier Wrong

For the past eight months, like many of you, I’ve been keeping an eye on the story coming out of Penn State. There were the accusations, the arrest, more witnesses and survivors coming forward, a trial, and finally, the verdicts. By the time the jury said “guilty”, few of us were surprised.

But more than the man who committed these heinous crimes, I’ve been interested in the whole system that was involved, all of Penn State. The coaches, the university staff, the alumni board, the rioting students, some of the fans. Most of us, thankfully, would never hurt a child. Not the way that Jerry Sandusky did, anyway. But even if they never did the things that he did, so many seemingly good people seem to have done just that. Either by their actions, or by their lack of actions, they hurt kids.

This week a report on what happened at Penn State came out. It’s well researched, unbiased, and thorough. It’s also pretty damning. It turns out that time and again those in positions of power looked the other way when they could have stepped up. I don’t know who exactly knew what when, but clearly what was happening was not a secret. And time and again the most powerful people on campus didn’t call the police. They didn’t notify child welfare. They didn’t do anything that would cause a scandal. And, most importantly, they didn’t ever seem to think about the children.

The Bible text we read today isn’t set in the shadow of a winning football team. It doesn’t involve a beloved head coach with a spotless reputation. There aren’t any children in the story. And yet, even two millennia apart, the two stories speak to one another.

We’ve read stories about John the Baptist many times here. We remember that he was the guy down by the river who ate locusts and wore camel hair. We might remember that we called on those around him to repent and make straight the way of the Lord. More than anyone else, John pointed to Jesus and told people to get ready.

Herod had heard John preach. Herod was the king, and yet he liked listening to John. And John had told him some hard things, some things he didn’t want to hear. Some things concerning his wife. But Herod still protected him, and believed he was a good man.

His wife, Herodias, didn’t feel the same way. She had a grudge against John, but she couldn’t do anything about it because Herod liked him so much. Until one night. When Herod had a birthday party. And his daughter danced for him and for his guests. Herod was so pleased that he told her “whatever you want, I’ll give it to you…anything.”

The girl asked her mother what to ask for, and Herodias saw her chance: ask him for the head of John the baptizer.

When Herod was asked, he didn’t want to do it. He was conflicted and grieved, and yet he knew if he didn’t do what he said he would, he would lose face in front of all the important people gathered there. So he gave the order. And had John killed. And brought his head on a platter.

It’s a gritty story. Not one we really like to talk about. I had thought about preaching on the Old Testament text this week just because it’s just plain less gruesome. But then that Penn State report came out. And I felt like I was reading the same story twice.

Scripture tells us that Herod may very well have been a good man. He listened to John, protected him, was open to what he had to stay. What he ended up doing caused him personal pain. He wasn’t without conscience. He knew it wasn’t right.

I believe that most of the people who looked the other way at Penn State were probably good men too. They probably loved their families. Protected their own children. Tried to be honest. If you asked them if they were good people who did the right thing, my guess is they would say yes.

And most days they probably did. Just like you and I and the vast majority of people in the world. But on the days in question, they rejected the hard right, and chose the easier wrong.

What if Herod had said “no”? What if he said, I am not killing John? He would have lost face. He would have lost the respect of his family and his officers and everyone at that banquet. He would have paid a price. But John would have lived.

What if the ones in those meetings at Penn State had chosen the harder right? What if the grad assistant who saw something so horrendous had stepped in right then and there? What if the coach had called police the minute he heard? What if the administration and trustees had said, “We will have no part in a cover up, no matter what price we pay?”

What if they had done the right thing even if it meant their football program’s name might be tarnished and it would never be the same?

My guess is a lot of children would have been saved a lot of torment.

The sad irony is that because no one stood up for those children, that football program’s name is tarnished perhaps beyond repair. Similarly, when we think about Herod, we think of a man who may have been good, but who time and again didn’t choose the right thing. First with John, and then with Jesus. History rarely remembers the person who chooses the easier wrong well.

But these stories, this sermon, is about more than a small handful of people. It’s not just about a king two thousand years ago and a handful of modern day coaches and university administrators. It’s about me, and you, and all of us.

Probably all of us have had moments where we’ve wished we could bring ourselves to choose a harder right over an easier wrong. Maybe we’ve wanted a little more courage to step in and say something when we’ve seen someone being mistreated but we also haven’t wanted to become the target ourselves. Or maybe we’ve wanted to stand up and stop it when our company makes a choice that we also know is ethically wrong, but we also know will raise profits. Or maybe we’ve been in a parking lot and seen one member of a couple hit or threaten the other, but we haven’t wanted to get involved because we wanted to “mind our own business”.

We know what the right thing to do is. We know it as surely as Herod did and as much as I hope every one of those people at Penn State did. But we’ve also known that doing the right thing could cost us something. Our jobs. Our status. Maybe even more.

At least initially.

But the good news is this. No matter what worldly things we lose, what we gain is worth even more. Our self-respect. Our dignity. Our ability to look in the mirror and know that we are following the Christ who told us to love our neighbor as ourself.

It won’t always be easy, and we won’t always get it right. But we can keep trying, along with all the others whom Christ called his brothers and sisters. And the first step is admitting that sometimes we have, and we will, get it wrong.

There’s a big mural in State College, Pennsylvania. It’s in the center of town and many well-known people associated with Penn State are painted on it. Joe Paterno is painted there. And after he died earlier this year, the artist went and painted a halo over his head. He became Saint Joe.

Yesterday, in the wake of the report that came out this week, the artist went back. And he painted over the halo. Joe Paterno was no longer Saint Joe. He was just Joe. I felt sort of bad for Joe Paterno. Maybe for the first time since this whole thing broke. It felt like an unnecessary dig after the fact.

But the more I thought about it, I realized the artist, a friend of the Paterno’s it turns out, was right. He was not a saint. He was not a saint anymore than you or I or the people we know are saints. He was just a child of God who like a lot of children of God made some big mistakes in an otherwise good life. Mistakes that cannot be glossed over with a halo, but that must be acknowledged. For the children’s sake. And for his sake.

I hope that at the end of my life, those who knew me will say that more often than not I chose the harder right over the easier wrong. But even if they do, I know no one will be rushing to paint a halo over my head. And that’s a good thing. Because we need that reminder that all of us remain staggeringly, shockingly imperfect, even on our best days.

We all, like Herod, have our banquet guests to please. We all have our own equivalent of a crowning jewel football programs to protect. And we all have a life to live that will continue to confront us with hard rights and easier wrongs. We might never earn that halo here on earth, but perhaps we can learn from the example of the one whom John died proclaiming, the one who taught us that in the the harder right can be the thing that brings the world a little more grace, and that that grace may save us all.

May Christ be with us in the places we need him the most, and may God’s grace give us courage when we face our hardest choices, whatever they may be, and whenever they may come. Amen.

Eagle’s Wings and Football Scores: Sermon for 5 February 2012

As you may have heard, there’s a little football game happening later today.

This afternoon I know many of you are going to be tuning in to see who wins the Super Bowl. You Giants and Patriots fans especially have been waiting for this moment to see who wins. It’s the biggest game of the year. So big, that not even the church is immune. That’s why some of us will even be here at the church watching the game down in the basement.

Now, our little Super Bowl party is not the first time this season that faith and football have collided. Sports and religion have often intersected. Like Cassius Clay converting to Islam and changing his name, or Hank Greenberg refusing to play baseball on Yom Kippur. But this year we heard quite a lot about Tim Tebow, and his very public prayers in the end zone during football games.

Now, I’ve heard different theories. Some say religion has no place in sports. Others say it’s a refreshing change. Some say that a football player should do as Jesus suggests, and pray in private. Others say, how is this not okay when extravagant touchdown dances are?

All valid points, perhaps. But they are also all secondary to the real point here. Which is, does God even care about football?

There was a picture going around the internet that showed Tebow praying in his classic Tebow pose after a touchdown. It was placed right next to a picture of a child in Africa who was severely emaciated. The implication was clear. How can God care about a football game when there is real grief and suffering in the world?

Today’s reading from the lectionary may seem very fitting for a day focused on sports. It’s a verse that is often read by athletes as a source of inspiration: “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I’ve heard athletes and teams read that before a game as a sort of promise that God will give them physical strength. God will help them run that last mile, or push past that last hurdle. And, maybe that’s true. But winning the football game is nowhere near as glorious, and incredible as what the author of the passage was talking about.

This section of the book of Isaiah was written near the end of the Babylonian captivity. It was written right around the time that the people had lost all hope, and needed that strength of God. They needed that renewal, that ability to rise up and not be defeated. It wasn’t 4th and goal. It was 4th and life.

It wasn’t the Broncos vs. Patriots. It was the child who didn’t know what it was to be full.

But does that mean that things like football don’t matter? Does that mean that God doesn’t give us strength and perseverance in our daily lives, even when we are not in crisis?

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Now, as much as I like to tease the Giants fans in our congregation, I honestly don’t think God is going to be nudging the football through the uprights for one team or another tonight. I think in the big scheme of things that Giants vs. Patriots is a battle of good and evil. (That’s Red Sox vs. Yankees.)

But what happens tonight doesn’t have to be irrelevant to the life of faith.

Many of you have seen the movie “Chariots of Fire”. It’s actually a true story, and one of the central characters is a runner named Eric Liddell who happens to be a devout Christian. He makes the 1924 Olympic Team only to discover that his best race is being run on Sunday, the sabbath. He makes a principled, and unpopular, decision not to run. And instead he goes to a church and preaches on this passage. Years later, as a missionary, he died in an internment camp in China. He had declined an opportunity to be released, and had decided to stay and serve the people around him.

Eric Liddell’s life was not made great by the fact that he was a great runner. It was made great because he was a principled man who made hard, sometimes unpopular, choices because he believed his relationship with God demanded it. But his gift for running was not irrelevant.

He talked about how when he ran he could “feel God’s pleasure”. And he used the recognition he received as a runner in order to turn focus away from himself, and to God. When he made the hard decision not to run, it was all the more notable because had he run that day he probably would have won. But for him, honoring his understanding of who God was meant so much more.

We all have gifts. Some are runners. Some are quarterbacks. Some are musicians. Some writers. Some preachers. Some artists. The list goes on. And sometimes we judge our gifts by what they get us. Do they get us money? Prestige? Super Bowl rings? Or do they get us something more. Namely, do they get us that much closer to God’s will for us?

The mark of how valuable our gifts truly are is in how we are able to use them to serve God and others.

That’s one reason we are having this Super Bowl food drive. We have a gift in this church that maybe we wouldn’t generally describe that way. We are a church divided on football lines. We have our die-hard Giants. And our die-hard Patriots. (And we also have a lot of other good people with really good hearts and a sense of humor.) And you might be saying, how is that a gift?

Well, the truth is, if we do nothing with it, it isn’t. But if we see it as an opportunity, if we see it as a way that we can glorify God and help our neighbor, it becomes one. Anything can be a gift if we look at it in the right way, and decide to use it in a way that matters.

And so now, you have brought what you had in your cabinets. Or, what you bought on your last grocery trip. And because of you, a few more people are going to get a good meal here in the Deerfield Valley. You might have brought your food items here because you wanted one team or the other to win. You may have finally remembered that can of Cream of Tomato soup you’ve been meaning to throw in the box today because you are the world’s biggest Giants fan. Or you might have heard the Giants were in the lead and so you grabbed some more pasta because you are a diehard Pats lover. But I sincerely doubt any of you only did it for that reason. I’m guessing you did it because you love your neighbor, and because you love God. The football stuff…that’s just a fun way to use this gift of a good-natured football rivalry to create gifts for others.

Things like that happen more often than we know.

This afternoon, between this service and the Super Bowl tonight, the Wilmington church will be having their last closing service. It’s a sad day in so many ways. And yet it is also one in which I know God has lifted the people up on eagle’s wings, and is getting ready to give them more strength. I know that, because they have found their gifts, and they are, even in their last acts together, using them to help their neighbor and glorify God.

I’ve told you all before that the people of Wilmington could have waited to close their church. They could have decided to keep all they had. But instead, they saw they had a gift, and they gave it to you. Those are the kinds of people that made up Wilmington. They are people of faith, and goodness, and giftedness. And now, they are going to be joining us here in our church as well. We are blessed by that.

And maybe no one is going to be kneeling in the endzone here, Tebowing, and thanking God for them. But we should be. There may be no trophies, or rings, or ticker-tape parades, but there can be warm welcomes, and open hearts, and gratitude. I know that we are welcoming, open, grateful people. It’s one of our gifts. And it’s one we can give to give to people who need to know those eagle’s wings are real right now. Amen.