A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Gracious in Defeat

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

Some seek to kill people with kindness.
As for me, I like to win them with words.

I live among those people.
You know whom I mean…..
those people who have not evolved enough
to know that my team is the best team.

Living with those people is not easy.
There are those unsightly, garish colors that they wear,
the trash talk that flows from their mouths,
and the look, that says, “we don’t like you.”

So when given the opportunity to go to a home game
versus those people’s team,
I leaped at the opportunity.

I jumped in a car with those of kindred spirit,
and headed towards the beautiful place,
a place where all agree that our team is the best team,
and that those people are mean people
and really need a mother to love them.

There’s nothing like being with likeminded people.
Granted, we might not agree about climate change,
to spank or not to spank, or how much to tip a waiter,
but we all agree that our team is the best thing since sliced bread.

It wasn’t turning out to be a great day for our loaf of bread…..

By the third quarter,
it was obvious that the evil empire was controlling the game.
Though the game was still close,
the crowd of kindred folk could sense
that the Grinch was about to steal Christmas,
and all the hopes for the season.

High fives were replaced with fists of desperation,
pre-game smiles became nervous glances,
and loud cheers morphed into quiet, desperate prayers.

On a beautiful winter day,
death was about to pay a visit, evil was about to overcome good, 
and the sun would refuse to shine.

Then there was that ever-so-slight glimmer of hope.
A change in fortune, a turnover,
a score by the heroic home team to take the momentum.

Fathers hugged their sons,
friend fist bumped friend,
and the deaf were able to hear again.

And then team evil scored again.

As the clock continued to tick towards its painful execution,
I did what any politician does when an election defeat is imminent…..

I conceded.

I Facebooked five difficult words……

Congratulations to my ______________ friends.
                          (name of team)

My friends sitting next to me were appalled.
“You can’t do that” they cried.

“Oh but I can, and I must” I retorted.
“This has nothing to do with good sportsmanship,
this is about survival.”

“Tomorrow we must return to the land of those people.
And it will be much easier to pay the piper now rather than later.”

Within seconds, I received such responses from those people.

“You are such a classy fan.
People should aspire to be like you.”

“Your grace astounds me.”

“You are a much better fan than me.”

and my favorite……

“Your graciousness in defeat
gives me hope for the future of humanity.”

I would return home to those people as a virtuous, noble brother.
My friends in their righteous indignation would return to be heckled mercilessly.

5 words
5 words that changed my life from impossible to manageable.

O, there were a few moments when I returned to the land of those people.

Quite a game there, huh Dave?”
My response: “Congratulations, the better team won.”
My inner thought: “Yeah, too bad our all-star running back couldn’t play.”

“Hey Dave, I heard you were at the game. Long ride home?”
My response: “Congratulations, I know you must be thrilled.”
My inner thought: “Pardon me while I pull this knife out of my neck.”

Wow, Dave, our team went to your team’s house and really put it to them!”
My response:  “Congratulations, it was a heck of a game.”
My inner thought: “Excuse me while I go firebomb your house.”

Now, I am not advocating being dishonest in conversation.
But there are times, that we are to respond in ways that go against our human nature.

Paul put it this way,
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.
Respect what is right  in the sight of all men.
If possible, so far as it depends upon you,
be at peace with all men.

Never take your own revenge, beloved,
but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written,
‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.
But if your enemy is hungry feed him,
and if he is thirsty, give him a drink,
for in doing so, you will heap burning coals upon his head.
Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good.   Romans 12:17-21

I realize that heckling over sports victories 
is not the same as experiencing a moral injustice,
but there are parallels.

Is Paul saying that the goal of returning unkindness with kindness
is so the other person feels badly 
or that it draws a more favorable outcome for the speaker? 
That is one understandable and possible conclusion.

Paul is quoting two Old Testament Scriptures, Deut 32: 35 and Proverbs 25:21-22.
Those passages ascribe revenge and justice as God’s domain, not ours.
Heaping burning coals is simply  a metaphor,
a metaphor that reminds us if we speak and act out of the kindness of Christ,
the result can be a powerful and wise outcome otherwise not reached.

We all have those people in our lives
whether they be sports fans, political parties, religious groups, ethnic groups…..
name your group.

So how do you get to the beautiful place,
the place where people live in harmony?
Well the fullness of it certainly won’t be in this life.
But the reality of it begins within each of our spirits,
when we admit that those people are mostly people just like us.

So congratulations, those people.
And while you are at it,
could you help get this knife out of my neck?

I feel closer to you already.

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