1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If you’re not a New England Patriots fan, I’m a little sorry. There is good news in this for you, too, but this sermon right here is what you might call Patriots-heavy.
Because beloved, we have reached this, a holy day.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. I came here to preach the Gospel, take the Eucharist, and pray for the church, the world, and Tom Brady’s arm. Anybody with me?
If you’ve been watching any of the Super Bowl coverage this week, you’ve probably seen that there have been several really fun, really good stories about the Patriots. There was the girl quarterback from New Hampshire who wears #11 in honor of receiver Julian Edelman. She’d been bullied in school for playing pee wee football, and when Julian got wind of it, he wanted to meet her. He got her tickets to the Super Bowl, too.
Another one is this — during a press conference this week, they let kids ask questions, and one young Pats fan had a question for Tom Brady. The little boy asked the GOAT: “How do you concentrate when people say mean stuff about you?”
Brady smiled at the boy. “You mean the haters?” He said, laughing as the Pats-friendly crowd jeered the haters. “What do we do about the haters?” The quarterback paused and took in the crowd’s reaction, then he turned back to the young fan.
“We love ‘em. We love the haters, okay — ‘cause we don’t hate back. That’s not who we are.”
I was recounting this story to a friend this week, who despite all his good traits, is an Eagles fan, and he said, “I mean, I know sometimes Patriots fans mix up the two, but you know Jesus said that first, right?”
Yeah, yeah, I know. The original GOAT, as we will call Jesus on this holy day, had his own set of haters, and you’ll find some of them in the Gospel text this week. I know that it’s easy to let your mind drift off during the Gospel reading — I know, because I used to do that before I had to read it myself — but did you miss Jesus almost getting thrown off a cliff by his haters?
What did Jesus say to make them so mad? Well, in a nutshell, he says that he doesn’t have to prove to them that he is who he says he is, and that God is ever active in the lives not of the powerful, or even those you would expect, but that God is most interested in the lives of outsiders — this one particular starving widow, and a Syrian — and a Gentile — named Namaan. You know, the usual good Gospel stuff that earns Jesus more haters.
Then Luke tells us that they were “filled with rage” and drove him right out of their synagogue, right out of their town, right to the brow of the hill that their town was built on, then they tried to throw him off. This is like if someone said from this pulpit that they were rooting for the Rams in the Super Bowl and it wasn’t enough to throw that person out of the building, but y’all ran them all the way to the bridge to Holyoke and tried to throw them off.
Again, for the record: go Pats.
So they try to throw the Son of God off a cliff. That’s generally a bad idea, I think. A Son of God, I imagine, has got to have some wicked cool superhero judo tricks up his sleeve.
But what does Jesus do to his haters? He walks away. Jesus chooses love instead of hating back.
Luke just says he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Two thousand years before New England’s GOAT would express the same sentiment to a kid at a press conference, the original GOAT, Jesus, will go on to preach, two chapters after this story in Luke and tell everyone what to do about the haters: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Instead of choosing to hate back, Jesus says to choose love.
I have to say what everyone here already knows: that is not easy.
The theme for today, kids, is love. The Gospel in a word is love. And it’s easy to love here, at Our Savior’s, surrounded by people who love you too. It’s easy to love your family when they give you what you want and generally treat you nicely. It’s easy to love strangers when they are kind to us. It’s easy to love your children and/or your significant other when they always pick up their socks and behave well. It’s easy to love the fans of other NFL teams when they don’t talk trash about your team. But New England fans know that that’s not always the case.
Paul wrote some of the most famous words in Christianity, and we read them today. Most people, even if they haven’t been to church in years or ever, can recite them: “Love is patient; love is kind.” And if everyone in the whole world could be patient and kind, love would always be easy.
But the truth is that everyone isn’t patient or kind. I’m not always patient or kind, and neither are you. I know that not because I think you’re bad people, but because I know you’re human just like me. And when I’m not being patient or kind, what I really need down in my soul is for somebody to love me in that moment — to see through the bitterness and anger and see the hurting person underneath, even when I make it nearly impossible. I heard a story on the radio recently about a woman who had had the worst day imaginable: everything in her world was falling apart. Then she went to the pharmacy to pick up her prescriptions and the employee was needlessly rude to her. Then another customer was rude to her. And something in this woman snapped. She flew into a blind rage, even pepper-spraying a fellow customer.
She wasn’t a bad person. It’s just that everything boiled over all at once, and she couldn’t handle it anymore. What finally stopped her rage, she said, was a kind man who came towards her when everyone else had backed away.
“What did he say?” The interviewer asked.
The woman replied simply, “He just asked me what was bothering me.”
That, my friends, is love. Fearless love. The kind that silences rage.
Love is a choice. It’s a choice to see angry people as just people, and to choose to treat them better than they treat you.
(A brief aside: this doesn’t mean that you have to be quiet about abuse. You’re not required to be quiet about someone who constantly acts destructively towards you. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to speak up against abuse.)
But for the everyday haters, we can choose love. We can choose love because we’re all human. We’re all haters sometimes. And we deal with angry people all the time. But the haters are people, just like us. And people need love.
So before you get on social media tonight after we win the Super Bowl and start to fight with that random Patriots hater, and before Monday when you’re in traffic and someone cuts you off and then flips you off, and before Tuesday when a family member or friend or significant other pushes your buttons just right — before anyone else acts like a hater to you, just remember what Tom Brady and Jesus Christ told you.
What do we do about the haters? “We love ‘em.” Because even haters are humans, and humans need love. And so do we. So choose love.
And go Patriots. Amen.