The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 29, 2017

Matthew 22:34-46

Over the past few weeks, my bedtime has been getting later and later as I have been glued, absolutely glued to the Astros. Oh buddy it’s been fun. We had that epic game on Wednesday. Last night’s gut-wrenching loss. As baseball fans, we’ve had it all. Lights out pitching. Home runs galore. And, so many commercials. As I’ve been climbing into bed near midnight, I’ve been asking myself – how could a baseball game last over four hours?

So I did a little research. In the average baseball game that lasts three hours, there are only eighteen minutes of actual baseball action. That’s right – eighteen minutes out of three hours. And forty-two minutes of commercials. That’s why you’re so tired of that, “Dilly! Dilly!” Bud Light commercial. It’s not just baseball. During the average NFL game, there are only eleven minutes of actual football played but one hundred separate commercials.

Think of all those messages we are getting. Whether we watch baseball or not. They’re on our TVs, the radio, your Facebook feed. See, the point of commercials is to convince you that your life, as it is now, isn’t complete. That you’re missing something, you’re missing out on something. There is a hole in your life. All those hundreds of commercials we watch, they’re not trying to sell cars, or Bud Light, or a retirement plan, or whatever. No, they’re trying to sell you an idea – the idea that you’re not good enough as you are. That you’re missing something. That you’re missing out on something. From there, if they convince you of that idea, then the advertiser has won. Then it’s just a matter of finding a way to get that thing into your hands at the right price. That Bud Light commercial set in the castle, it’s not trying to sell you beer. That Bud Light commercial is trying to convince you that the only way you can have a good time with friends, is by drinking Bud Light. Ford is not trying to sell you a truck. No, they’re trying to convince you that your truck now is a piece of junk. But that their truck, that new F-150, will make everybody else think you have your life together. The commercials with the couple in their mid 60s trying to figure out their retirement plan. They’re not selling a retirement. They’re trying to convince you of the idea that you’re not happy now, and the only way to be happy is to cash in with their plan.

This is the soul crushing reality of it. The primary message we hear on a daily basis is that we’re not good enough, that we’re missing out. And let me be as clear as I can – that message is a lie. Don’t believe it. Because once you do believe it, you are one a long, hard, downward spiral. You try to to make yourself feel better by buying that F-150, by drinking that Bud Light. But it doesn’t help. So you try again. This time I’ll get the leather seats and the extended cab F-150. This time I’ll buy a whole case of Bud Light. And before you know it, you are numb to it all. And you just keep buying and spending not even knowing why you are buying and spending. And then you have a house full of stuff that the youth sold yesterday at the garage sale. By the way, thank you for that. But what we have really bought is the lie that we’re not loved as we are.

The truth of the gospel, the truth that we profess, is that God loves us no matter what. That’s it. God made us, God knows us, God loves us. Whether we drive a Cadillac or a Kia or we can’t afford a car, it doesn’t matter. We are loved by God.

Jesus takes this one step further by quoting from the Old Testament. Not only does God love you infinitely and completely, but you can love yourself infinitely and completely. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve always thought that the hardest part to this commandment is that we have to love ourselves. We can only love others insofar as we already love ourselves. And if the message we hear every single day is that we are not lovable as we are, then how in the world are supposed to love our neighbors?

This is also why we have such a problem with bullies in our society. In my experience, people who are bullies usually don’t love themselves. Bullies, in my experience, are insecure about themselves. They don’t feel loved. Bullies put other people down, so that even if the bully doesn’t feel loved, the bully feels like they’re better than the person they’re picking on. I suppose that if someone can love their neighbor as themselves, they can also hate their neighbor as they already hate themselves.

This is where the Church steps. We have a monumental task in front of us. To show the world that it is possible to love your neighbor as yourself. It is possible to love each other as God already loves us.

In other words, the church has some selling it needs to do. And, when you think about it, we are are in the sales business. Whenever somebody asks me to pray for good weather, I remind them that I’m in sales, not management. But here’s the difference in what we’re selling, in what the Church is selling. We are selling the idea, the radical idea, that you, yes you, even you, are loved by God as you are. And that because you are loved, because God loves you, then you can love your neighbor also.

Perhaps this is actually why it seems that fewer people go to church now in our society. Because we’ve believed the lie that we are not loved. The world has done a fantastic job of getting us to think that we are not lovable. And they have better marketing departments than the Church does. The Church is counter-cultural insofar as it says that God loves us while the rest of the world says that we’re not lovable. The Church is counter-cultural because we don’t believe that you can buy anything to fill that God-shaped hole in your heart. The Church says that you can’t buy anything to make you happy.

Perhaps this is why there are so many ideas out there about why we give money to the church. Because usually when we pay for something, it’s because we want that thing to fill a hole in our heart. It’s a transaction. We hope it gives us happiness. But we don’t do transactions in the Church. God is not into transactions. Jesus doesn’t work that way. God’s love for us is a gift. God fills the hole in our heart. And our money back to the God is a gift. It’s not like the offering plate is the cash register for spiritual growth. No. It’s all gift. That is how we do things in the church.

Or, think of our people who visit the elderly in all these surrounding nursing homes. They don’t take time out of their busy schedules, they don’t sacrifice their weekends because they hope to get something out of it. It’s not a transaction, it’s a gift. Just as God loves them they pour out their love to a neighbor. We don’t do transactions in the Church. We make gifts. Unearned, undeserved, simple gifts out of love. Because we know God loves us, we can love ourselves, and we can love our neighbors.

As we ask you to think about your own financial pledge for next year, remember, it’s all gift. This is not a transaction. Our money to the church will not fill the hole in our heart. God has already done that. And the Church asks you to give, not because we think you should feel bad about yourself. Instead, we ask you to give because we have heard this incredible message that God already loves us.

And tonight, when you’re at home watching the Astros play in this all important game 5, don’t believe the lies they will be selling you. You can be happy and have deep, abiding friendships without Bud Light. You are already good enough, even without that new F-150. You can be happy without that retirement package. Yes, it would be a great victory tonight if the Astros win. But the greatest victory would be if you and I believed, truly believed, that God already loves us. And that God’s love is enough.

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