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Rooting for the Home Team By Pastor Thomas Engel

Going back four years ago, when I first started preaching here at St Philip, the Cubs were making a run for the World Series.

So, since this is the north side, I assumed everyone at St Philip were Cubs fans, and I used the hope of the Cubs bringing home the Commissioner’s Trophy for sermon illustrations.

I always thought that life as a Cubs fan was an analogy for the Christian life. Like a Christian, who is to persevere through the hard times, a Cubs fan is long suffering, for it can be decades between championships, is happy and sad at the same time, for it’s great to be at Wrigley Field eating hot dogs and peanuts, even if we are let down as we see them lose a game, and is constantly hoping, for we are always saying, as it seems that we are again not going to the playoffs, “Wait until next year.”

But, when I was getting to know everyone here at St Philip, I found that we also have many Sox fans.

Oops! I made all the Soxs fans listen to my Cubs analogies.

But, having a friendly rivalry is a good thing. It keeps things interesting.

At the school, when we have our pennies war with the two big jars-one labeled the Cubs and the other the Soxs, we have fun as we compete by dropping our money in our team’s jar but knowing the big winner is the charity.

Rooting for a home team-whether it’s for a small town basketball team or for a big university football team-makes for healthy competition.

Recently, I came upon a book, Rooting for the Home Team. It’s a collection of essays that examines how various American communities create and maintain a sense of collective identity through sports. Looking at large cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Los Angeles as well as small rural towns, suburbs, and college towns, the contributors consider the idea that rooting for local athletes and home teams often symbolizes a community's preferred understanding of itself, and that doing so is an expression of connectedness, public pride and pleasure, and personal identity.

I believe healthy competition can contribute to having a growth mindset. When we see others doing well at what we want to do, we can at first imitate them, copy what they are doing to be successful, and, then, we find our own ways of doing it, so that in the end, we have achieved our goals like no other.

Of course, we remember that at some point someone younger and stronger will surpass us, but that is what competition is all about.

Like the saying goes, “records are made to be broken.” Even if it’s the record that we worked so hard to make, we can reflect and think about we have contributed to progress in that field.

Today is the Fourth of July, and we celebrate our country and the freedom that we have.

Or in keeping with the theme for today, we are rooting for our home team, the United States of America.

This weekend we are going to picnics, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, watching parades, and oohing and aweing at fireworks.

We will pray to God and thank Him for the privileges that we have in this country.

From our freedom to all that we have-jobs, homes, and families, we are all about privilege, for all that we have are gifts of God.

By definition, receiving a gift requires no payment or work. That’s obvious, but how we accept and use the gift shows how we value the giver of the gift and the gift itself, for we can either toss the gift aside with no gratitude or use it with the purpose and meaning that the giver intended.

If there is any work with to be done with the gifts that we receive from God, which is everything that we have, our work is that we don’t take our privileges that we get from these gifts for granted.

To get our work right of not taking all that we have for granted, we have to understand the grace of God.

God’s grace is His love for us because we are His creation. God has made us, so He takes care of us in every way.

God’s grace is abundant, and God is always wanting to give us all that He has for us to have purposeful and meaningful lives.

So, if God is a God of grace, we are left with some questions staring at us in the face.

For instance, why are there so many people in want and need of the basic things like food and shelter?

Why are we seeing conflict that causes such division that agreement seems out of reach?

Why is there so much hatred and violence?

And we can go on with our questions about this country, for it seems that as much as we have that is good that there is bad.

Sadly, throughout the history of the world and this nation, humans have treated each other badly.

To be sure we have acted to right the wrongs, we have ammended the constitution dozens of times, have had several Civil Rights Acts, changed policies, made reforms, adjusted budgets-more money is needed here so shift the money from there, or raise taxes here and throw it over there.

But, in our country, we still are seeing so many social and economical issues that it may seem that solutions are far off.

As we can list our reasons for the bad, so to find solutions to problems, we need to find what or who is at fault. Right?

Sounds good at first, but we tend to point fingers to blame.

A lot of blame to go around.

In our blaming, we create lots of tension that makes it difficult to get along.

As someone points a finger to blame, we become defensive.

The problem is that we are are trying to work out problems by our egos-it’s a my way or the highway type of approach.

Or to say, in keeping with the theme of rooting for the home team, we are not remembering that we are all on the same team.

We are acting more out of our selfish egos than to make a place where each person can live out his or her purpose with meaning.

This country is not the first country to have a lot of good going for it, but to also have some bad in it.

We can go back thousands of years to the Nation of Israel.

For a minute more, let’s keep in mind what we were talking about privilege. The Israelites were God’s chosen people, all that God wanted to do was to give them everything.

But, in our Old Testament reading for today, God comes to Ezekiel and says this about the Nation of Israel, they are “an uncontrolled nation,” “are hard and stiff hearted,” and “they have gone against me.”

The Nation of Israel did not try to appreciate God and His grace.

So, God had them suffer, for He wanted them to see their rejection of His grace.

God is trying to catch our attention, too.

In this past week in the collapse of the building in Florida, we can see a illustration that is just perhaps too clear about how God is trying to get our attention.

In Jesus’ time, The Tower of Siloam collapsed and killed eighteen people. People asked Jesus why this had happened.

Even back then, the blame game was going on.

Was it because of the sins of those individuals that they lost their lives in that way?

Jesus answer was that it was not because of those people’s individual sins. Although the collapse of the tower of Jesus’ day and the building in Florida could have been prevented. We are seeing that enough blame is there, and we should see what exactly went wrong to prevent further collapses.

But, not to sound in any way aloof, it’s a matter of fact that bad things just happen.

The most important message that comes from out of all the tragedies, horrific acts, and deep conflicts over the many issues that are causing division among us is that when asked about why these things happen, Jesus did not call for people to make committees, form investigations, create movements, make budget proposals, or oust the present government and find new political candidates.

What Jesus called for people to do will not be heard at any news conference or in any speech. Only here in church do we hear about what the answer is that drives everything for us.

Every Sunday, from His Word, we hear God calling us to repentance.

What the root problem is that we are falling out of grace.

Scripture is very clear about our help, “Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord.”

Our problem is that we do not seek God in everything that we do.

To be clear, God does work through human ingenuity in government, science, the arts, psychology, and education as tools to make a better world, emphasizing God works through humans but not by humans.

In all that we do, we are always first to seek God’s grace, for everything is done by the grace of God, and God will accomplish by His grace His good desires for the world, our nation, and our lives.

In keeping with the theme for one more time today, in our day with all its problems, we are to root for the home team.

I have to admit that I never gave much thought of it like this before, but our home team is The New Israel.

The old Israel like we talked about in Ezekiel’s days didn’t do so well living by their rejection of God’s grace, we can learn from their mistakes and repent of our sins that take God’s grace for granted and turn by faith to God and keep finding His grace that fulfills us in every way.

Our playing field is God’s church like here at St Philip where God gives us His Word and Sacraments, so we can know of all of God’s gifts by His grace.

Whenever we come here to St Philip by participating in Word and Sacrament ministry, we are rooting for the home team, The New Israel, all of God’s people through out the world.

It’s here that we find God’s grace. By this grace, we find forgiveness of every sin, strength for a new day, and hope that God will see us through every day until He brings us home to heaven.

So, hey, home team, let’s get it right! We can be the New Israel that lives only by the grace of God.

By the grace of God, we can have the confidence like the song says, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today, I can be centerfield.”

This afternoon, I will be with family to celebrate the Fourth of July. I can smell the hamburgers and brats cooking in the grill already.

My cousin, Lauren, from Milwaukee, will be there. Lauren is a big time Brewers fan, and I am planning on giving her a hard time about her Brewers beating up on my poor little Cubbies.

I know her answer already, “Tom, that’s too bad. Get use to it.”

I am all for a friendly rivalry, even with a die hard Brewers fan like my cousin, Lauren.

But, we have some serious rivals, sin Satan, and worldly ways.

Jesus has beaten them all by his death on the cross and resurrection, but those rivals are sore losers that are trying to create messes in our lives, nation, and world.

So, what we do is to root for our home team, The New Israel, all of God’s people here at St Philip and throughout the world, whom God gives His grace.

By faith, we receive this grace, and, then, we go out and live by that grace in all that we do.

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