Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, February 2, 2014

Blessed are the Underdogs
[Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12; I Corinthians 1:18-31]

            What a perfect Sunday for these Scriptures!  What an ironic Sunday as well!  Super Bowl Sunday, the final game of a long NFL Football Season, 2013-2014! Tonight the winner will receive the trophy and reap the rewards.  People will cheer for either the Seattle Seahawks or the Denver Broncos and millions of dollars will be spent to support, attend, host and celebrate this event.  Even KLOVE Christian radio station has been offering people trips to the Super Bowl as a prize, if they agree to listen only to Christian radio for 30 days. It’s called the 30-day challenge.
The irony is that one Super Bowl commercial costs more than our church’s annual budget.  A 30-second spot costs $4 million. The world’s priorities are not God’s priorities. What excites people is competition and “winning”!  We feel like winners, when our team wins. And yet the truth is: all the hungry people in the world could probably be fed in a day, if the money invested in the Super Bowl was re-directed.
The Presbyterian Church and other churches have joined together in recent years to support a “Souper Bowl of Caring,” which urges youth groups to collect canned soups and other food items for their local food pantries on this day. In our former church, the youth initiated and supported that program.
            For Jesus says, “Blessed are the Losers, the Wimps and the Weaklings of the world, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven!”  What??? Did we hear him correctly?  Is he kidding?  We love winners, not losers. We love strength, not weakness.  Don’t most of us love this WORLD, more than we truly value the Kingdom of Heaven, because it’s more familiar.
            We love everything Satan offered Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. After 40 days of Jesus’ fasting, the devil offered Jesus bread. Most of us would have jumped for it, rationalizing how we had fasted for 40 days to honor God and now it was time for a miracle to reward us for our sacrifice.  Satan had no doubt about Jesus’ identity or power, for he begins his temptation with the words: “Since you are the Son of God”…. He simply wanted Jesus to flaunt and display his godly power by turning stones into bread. Jesus didn’t fall for it. He didn’t let Satan sidetrack him from God’s will and purpose. Instead he refused, quoting the Scripture, “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  He trusted God to provide the food and support he needed and avoided the trap Satan set for him.   Turning stones into bread would make a GREAT Super Bowl commercial.
Every one of us can quote Scripture in ways that RATIONALIZE our less than Godly behavior, just as Satan did.  However, a Christian walking in the footsteps of Jesus has to be WISE enough to know the difference between using the Word of God as a rationalization for our own selfish desires and using the Word in a way that fulfills the will and purpose of God to bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth.
            The second temptation for Jesus was his need for safety and security. Satan took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple and challenged him, saying “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus’ answer, another Scriptural quotation, is clear:  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  It is not Satan’s role to tell the Son of God what to do. Jesus did not seek a “heavenly thrill” at Satan’s request, but stood firm in his own identity as the Son of God and as the Lord of all, including Satan.  Jesus’ throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple and being rescued by angels would make a great Super Bowl commercial also, but Jesus resisted the temptation.
            The final temptation reflects Satan’s serpent-like desire to turn the tables on Jesus altogether. Satan went for the jugular.  He threw his Hail Mary pass, but it fell short.  Satan takes Jesus to a mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and says:  “All of these can be yours if you simply fall down and worship me.” This is the most obvious and desperate attempt by Satan to rob Jesus’ of his power.  Jesus knew that whatever power Satan has in the short-term over God’s creation is temporary.  Jesus responds with the most important Scripture in the Old and New Testaments:  “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  The devil then left Jesus, for the test was over and Satan failed to hijack God’s Son from his appointed purpose.  In fact Satan didn’t score one single point against Jesus.
            For the truth is God’s values are NOT our values and God’s ways are NOT our ways. After his temptations Jesus began his ministry with the words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That was last week’s message. Just as God called the first four disciples in Galilee, God is calling us to FOLLOW and leave the world behind us.
            Crowds began to follow Jesus because wherever he went people were healed of diseases and delivered of demons.  Jesus’ fame spread like wildfire. Jesus cured people afflicted with diseases & pains, demoniacs, epileptics, & paralytics.
            Early on in this ministry, Jesus went up the mountain and sat down to teach his disciples and the crowds who followed him.  Matthew 5 begins with the “Beatitudes” – an interesting parallel to Moses going up the mountain in Exodus to receive the tablets of the law.  Jesus delivered from the mountain a new “standard” – not inconsistent with the 10 commandments written on stone, but even more profound and life-transforming, because they are written on hearts and lived out in our lives. Jesus brings a “New Covenant” which shows what it looks like to walk in his footsteps & what it means to exhibit the values of the living God.   The Son of David is NOT a warrior as King David was, but came as a peacemaker and a bridge builder.
            We begin to hear the Word of God in a new key:  “Blessed are the Underdogs!”  Blessed are those who finish last. Blessed are the poor, the grieving, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessed are those who are victimized, slandered, and talked against falsely because of their commitment to God. Blessed are the losers. Their rewards shall be great.
            This is the great “undoing” of all human pride, human accomplishments and our egos.  Blessed is the salesman who does NOT win the cruise, the executive who gave away more to his customers than he gained profits for his company.  Blessed is the LOSER of the Super Bowl!  That makes absolutely no EARTHLY SENSE, but the values of heaven are upside down and inside out.  God’s values are counter-cultural in every sense of the world.   
            I taught a Bible Study about the Beatitudes when David and I were co-pastors at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Moore County. During that study my eyes were opened. The study asked probing questions about where we had seen God working the most.  As I wrote my answer in my work book, I realized that every person I looked up to spiritually was someone who lived and worked in countries where there was great need and poverty.  The living saints in my experience were people whose lives had been 100% committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ sacrificially with those who were physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually deprived in some way.
            Ms. Zeb Zaman, a single Christian woman, principal of a government school in Lahore, Pakistan, gave her entire life to the education of girls.  She lived in a man’s world and had a backbone of steel. After retiring from a career as a government school principal, she helped to establish a private Christian school for girls by raising money from overseas churches to support her work. Even after the school was established, the government took over the school with all of its furnishings that churches around the world had purchased, and Zeb had to slip out secretly with nothing. 
The Presbyterian Church (USA) owned property directly across the street from the school the government impounded. The PCUSA allowed Zeb to re-open Kinnaird School for girls across the street.  The teachers kept teaching, the students kept coming, churches continue to support the school and it stands proudly on that new site to this day.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Zeb was persecuted for righteousness sake, but she never gave up and the school continues long after her retirement.  Zeb is only one of many living saints I have encountered in my life to whom I cannot hold a candle.  I am humbled and awed by their lives of faithful service and sacrifice.  I hunger and thirst to follow in the footsteps of the Lord they follow every day.
Persons like Zeb know deeply the wisdom of Christ crucified.  When I left Pakistan, I grieved that I had to leave Zeb.  My life was taking a different term and my greatest regret was that I could not walk beside her through that tunnel of darkness, which threatened her life’s dream but did not destroy it. Zeb visited my home in Pittsburgh that summer to speak in churches and raise money for Kinnaird Academy. We both wore Pakistani outfits and told the story of the need for girls to be educated in Pakistan.
The wisdom of God is hidden in the lives of underdogs, people who are out-numbered, out-financed, out-maneuvered and even out-smarted in a worldly sense.  For God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the strong. God chooses what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
 If we really believe Paul and Jesus, we’d make different choices & investments.   We’d bet on the person least likely to succeed.  God’s path is narrow & humbling; the terrain is treacherous & ego-deflating. Many turn away for an easier road.  On God’s field no one wins or loses.  Everyone plays. Comfort cascades like a waterfall. Mercy and justice join hands and dance. Peace breathes again.  If we drop all pretenses & follow, we reach God’s summit, a grace-filled land of forgiven sinners praising God & loving one another. 
Let us pray. God of mercy, in our times of greatest weakness, you are faithful. You freely fill the voids in our lives with your caring presence. You open the doors of heaven and welcome us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen