This past week may go down in history as “Richard Sherman Week.” For any of you who may not be football fans or who don’t read the news, Richard Sherman is a Seattle Seahawk. He plays on defense and this past week, off the field, he was very defensive. Last Sunday, near the end of the win against the San Francisco 49ers Sherman taunted receiver Michael Crabtree. Sherman felt that last year he’d been insulted by Crabtree. To make matters worse, he launched into a verbal attack against this player in a post-game interview.
Seattle Times sports writer Larry Stone wrote this: If Sherman’s goal was to become the center of attention heading into the Super Bowl, he succeeded.
But God bless Richard Sherman! In the days following his outburst he took responsibility. After conversation with his coach he realized what he’d done and said, I apologize for…taking the attention away from the fantastic game of my teammates.
In today’s reading Matthew writes that at the beginning of his ministry Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In the days following the game, Richard Sherman practiced repentance.
So God bless Richard Sherman, because…he is one of us! We, too, find countless ways to draw attention to ourselves, often without even being aware of it. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Even when we think we’re being “team players,” cheering for “our team” can be just another way of drawing attention to ourselves. I belong to…–you can fill in the blank with your own club, race, congregation, sexual orientation or gender identity, nation, political party. Notice that Paul doesn’t even put up with Christians saying “I belong to Christ.” Imagine what a source of grace it might be if Christians stopped thinking of ourselves as “special” or “better than”! Hasn’t the world heard enough of that? What impact might we have on our relations with Jews…or Muslims–or even non-believers—if by our choices, our priorities, our attitudes, we proved that our purpose is giving glory to God and not ourselves?
Repent, Jesus said, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Richard Sherman got it right. When we recognize and confess the ways we draw attention to ourselves, and distract from the “team,” we practice repentance. When Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven has come near” it was his way of saying to each of us that our clubs and countries and congregations are a problem when they become the team, rather than God’s kingdom, which— unlike the teams we’re so proud of–is all-inclusive.
The word for repentance in the original Greek language literally means “to turn around” or to “move in a new direction.” This is what Jesus did when he heard that John had been arrested. First he went home to Nazareth; then he left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum. To turn around is what Peter, Andrew, James and John did. It’s not the Richard Sherman kind of repentance, where they were sorry for something they did.
No, this is two sets of brothers, all fishermen, who drop everything. Their lives take a new direction. Follow me, and I will make you fish for people, says Jesus. And they do!
Now, these guys have a job, a family, a routine. Why would they give that all up? I believe somehow they were ready. I believe the Holy Spirit had been working on these guys for months—maybe for years–and they recognized the opportunity to change direction when it appeared. If they had been too busy calling attention to themselves they would not have been ready.
Those of you who gathered during coffee hour last week heard intern Melody Kroeger share a bit of her story. Mel has great gifts in finance and accounting. She had a comfortable job with the Seattle Times before she decided to enter seminary. But one day as she was going to work she passed a homeless man, as she often did. This time the man looked her in the eye and his head slumped over. Later that day she heard that a homeless man had died and she realized it was the man who had looked at her and slumped over. She realized that she had seen him die. It was a recognition that changed her thinking. She had no reason to leave her comfortable job but following that experience she did because she believed that God was calling her to work with homeless people and mental health issues.
Like the fishermen on that beach Mel dropped everything to follow Jesus. She could see and respond because she was not busy calling attention to herself and her own needs. She didn’t find her identity in “rooting for the home team.” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Mel’s kind of repentance is not about feeling guilty or ashamed; it’s about changing direction in response to the movement of the Holy Spirit, which leads us to where God’s love is known and shown—the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The summer after my first year in seminary I worked in a psychiatric hospital back East. One of the nurses on staff had learned to sail and so one day she took me in her catamaran out on Chesapeake Bay. She taught me that sailing into the wind can’t be done in a straight line. It requires “tacking.” Tacking, or coming about, is moving back and forth in response to the movement of the wind. Too often in our lives we are tempted to set a course, regardless of the movement of the Spirit. Not all of us are called to drop a career or leave a family. But all of us are invited to drop our resistance to the Holy Spirit who through the power of love and forgiveness seeks to draw us and all people together.
Today’s readings invite each of us to ponder where in our lives the wind of the Holy Spirit is calling us to repentance. Maybe it’s the Richard Sherman kind of repentance. Is there some area of our lives where we’ve been calling attention to ourselves and our own needs rather than calling attention to the team–some habits of thought, word or deed that distract us from the work of God? Jesus said, “Repent—for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven is God’s team. An all-inclusive team. A place where all are welcome!
Or, maybe the wind of the Holy Spirit is calling you to the Mel Kroeger kind of repentance, the kind that Jesus practiced, and Andrew and Peter, and James and John. Even when these people seemed to have no reason to change direction they responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and set a new course. That new course led them to an understanding that the kingdom of heaven is so much bigger than the little teams we need in order to call attention to ourselves.
In this morning’s paper sports writer Jerry Brewer writes this: The Seahawks are much more than Richard Sherman. He’s right, of course. No individual is more important than the team. Most importantly, the human teams that we attach ourselves to are a poor imitation of the welcoming, all- inclusive kingdom of heaven on earth.
Brothers and sisters, we are the Body of Christ, called to be examples of Christ’s welcome and Christ’s love. Let us be for the world a taste of God’s kingdom on earth!