Standing Tall

The Rev. Scott Trotter
Proper 28A
Judges 4:1-7
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

It must be fall it almost got cold the other night; football is in the air High School play-offs have begun. But it’s more than this, football is literally in the air. My wife is not a big sports fan, yes, she now knows the difference between dawgs and hogs; although the difference between red and red still confuses her – but then again who isn’t. The point is she has heard of the great disturbance in the world of college football. She heard of Joe Paterno’s termination before I did and she realized its importance, beyond the surface calamity.

I find it tragically ironic that not long ago I told someone I hope Joe Paterno retires before he experiences a Woody Hayes event. During a 1978 a bowl game Hayes struck a player on the side lines, thus ending his career. Then early last week we heard rumors of a former assistant coach molesting young boys. Following that was news of Jerry Sandusky’s arrest. Later the news of indictments against Tim Curley, Athletic Director and Gary Schultz, a university VP, broke. Fear began to emerge; Joe couldn’t be involved – could he? It didn’t take long before we learn he was told, by a graduate assistant, of a rape in the Penn State showers. Paterno reported the incident to the Athletic Director and Vice President; but he never asked Sandusky about the allegations, he never called the police, he never followed up. Then came the news that Joe Paterno winner of more college football games than any coach in history, whose family has given $4 million to fund scholarships, faculty positions and a library, who has never had an NCAA violation filed against his team, whose athletes graduate, who seems to do it all correctly, was fired. An ignoble end, far worse than any Woody Hayes incident.

A thematic thread in today’s scripture lessons is judgment. From Judges, we hear the Israel has done what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

Something they have done time after time since crossing into the promised land. Joshua explicitly asks them if they are choosing to follow God and they verbosely declare “Yes!” ~ it is not so. So – the Lord sends King Jabin, with his 900 chariots, against them, for some 20 years. In 1st Thessalonians we hear Paul speak of the eschaton, the end of time, the last things, coming like a thief in the night. And from Matthew we all know the tales of talents, in which two servants are good stewards of God’s possessions, and one, who is fearful, is not, and ends up in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Judgment is part of the Biblical story line.

I want to be very clear. In citing the tragic story at Penn State, I am not making any comment about judgment on any individual. It is important to remember no legal verdicts have been reached. I want to believe coach Paterno acted with more righteousness than the story to date reveals. I do not want Paterno’s reputation tarnished. But what I want, what everyone wants ~ is not the point; irrespective of our wants this story is tragically informative.

No matter what we are given, a boat load of talents, or two copper coins, like the woman in the temple, (Mark 42) be it monetarily or figuratively, it is God’s and our 1st responsibility is to be good stewards of all God’s creations. It is easy to get distracted. The lust for success, the allure for money, the charm of power draw us from God’s will. It is easy to think that our success is all our doings. Again and again we hear people say: I did this, or I did that, or I did the other, never once mentioning God. The book of Judges reveals this pattern again and again. Whether we are blessed with little or much, there is lots that draws us from God. News organizations thrive on this truth. However, there are also positive examples in the world.

In Friday’s NYT, I read Angels Rushing In Where Others Fear to Tread. Juarez is Mexico’s most violent boarder city. Recently, at busy intersections, crime scenes, police stations and court houses angles have been showing up. Standing ten feet tall, as feathered wings flutter, they stand silently, their message hovering high above their heads.

Teens from a local church, frustrated by the relentless violence, decided to do something hard to miss. They convinced local officials to donate old curtains, which they made into angelic robes. They raised money to purchase make up, collected feathers for wings, and crafted signs

“… to prick the consciences of the people who have caused this city so much pain,” hoping – “Maybe the sicarios” — Mexican slang for assassins — “will see this and think God is coming for them…”

Their idea of messenger Angels is catching on. These divinely inspired teens have recently traveled to 2 other cities (Matamoros, Torreón) where they join with other young Christians dressing as angels and delivering their own confrontational messages.

The difference in the actions of the Juarez teens and Paterno, the AD and Vice President is motivation.A half century of in power, he, they believe they are in control. Paterno’s exit strategy, no matter how subtlety nuanced, was an exercise of power. The teens, with nothing except their sense of righteousness, their trust in God, are silently standing against corruption and violence. And I should mention the Penn. State’s Board of Trustees who took decisive action against a powerful instructional Icon. Which was not, and is not, risk free; there have been threats made against them and the graduate assistant, who is now on paid leave, in part, for his protection.

I should also mention the several thousand students who gathered for a candlelight vigil to show support for the victims.

Thus we come to another thematic thread in this morning’s scripture readings. In Judges we read how God hears Israel’s call for help, and through Deborah, yes a female leader, calls forth a military leader through whom Israel gains freedom. Paul writes:

“… we are not in darkness – let’s not fall asleep – not lose our ethical / moral foundations – lets encourage one another and build each other up … God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Matthew we read:

“His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

All three readings reveal a thread of hope. God does not want us fail, does not seek trivial reasons to delve out punishment. God wants to be in faithful relationship with us, and came to us incarnate fully human, fully divine to GIVE us hope, GIVE us salvation.

So: Children and families, who ARE the victims, all victims and families of abuse, know there are messenger angles surrounding you; stand up in righteousness, and in quiet dignified rage demand justice. Students rioting in the streets, and others crestfallen folks, whose Icon has fallen, acknowledge the truth, neither your Icon, nor you are victims here; glean the lesson born of tragedy and become stewards of the divine possessions given to you, all the time. College sports, all institutions of power, know that there ARE limits to success; and the oppression, the abuse of ANYONE, and children in particular, is unacceptable; you will not see it coming, but there will be judgment.

Finally, you and I should be good stewards of what God has given into our care. Five talents, two coppers, it does not matter; hold fast to the hope of everlasting life, revealed in holy Scripture, wear the breast-plate of faith and love, put on the helmet of salvation hope, and then in the foolishness of Christ be an angel messenger, standing ten feet tall in feathered wings, or quietly standing with one of the least of these, believing / knowing that you can make a difference in this world, and do what others claim cannot be done.