The Rev. Rob Merola
This being the first Sunday of Lent, it’s a good time to reflect on your loved ones and maybe your no-so-loved ones.
So, for instance, my eternal mortal enemy since last Sunday, Grey Maggiano.
You see, out of the goodness of our hearts this fall Anne and I asked Grey to join us here at St. Matt’s and share in the great privilege of preaching.
You remember that first Sunday, when Grey stood up and said how great Anne and I are. That Sunday Grey and I became best friends forever.
Then, he preached his first sermon. Remember his first sermon? Neither do I. It was OK, but not that good really. And I knew it was a match made in heaven.
But then… then last Sunday Grey broke my heart. He preached that sermon about leaving Yuma.
Afterwards, I heard people everywhere saying how much they liked it. Even Anne was heard to say,
[video clip] “I think that was the best sermon I ever heard. It was even better than Rob Merola’s!”
So then Grey and I became eternal mortal enemies for 6 months, or at least until more people say they like my sermons better than his.
Grey, a better preacher than I? Who’s buying it?
So I urge you, talk about how good this sermon is today. I hope everyone of you who is on Facebook will go home today and make your status, “Best sermon ever—better even better than Grey’s last week.”
And then when Grey get’s back next week, tell him how good this sermon was that he missed.
I want to beat Grey like a rented mule—mules, by the way, being far more interesting than a sermon about going to Gila Bend.
To think this guy was ever my best friend for six months…
Oh Grey, how long must we fight this senseless war, pitting brother against brother, preacher against preacher, sermon against sermon?
This madness has to end. What do you think folks, do you think I should reach out to Grey? Do you think I should send him an Early Easter card?
Ok, let’s do it. Good people!
Let’s see…. I have my box of cards here… Get well cards, get worse cards, to a special uncle upon his parole…
Ah, here we go.
To my dearest Greyiest, I know we are supposed to be eternal enemies until people like me better, but without you I feel like a sermon about living in Yuma—terrible.
Sometimes, I think I’d like to hear a portion of that sermon again, but then I always fall asleep thinking about it.
So I hope you’ll accept this token of our friendship and let’s be best buds again. Please read this next sentence in a whisper: I miss us.
Signed The Very Right Reverend Dr. Rector Emeritus, Sir Carl R. Merola, PDF, JPEG.
Dictated, not read
Now I’ll go ahead and send this using our highly advanced wireless internal memo system.
“Maggiano, not MacNabb!”
Perhaps some of you recognize that as a takeoff on a Stephen Colbert skit playing on a rivalry between Colbert and Jimmy Fallon over the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors that bear their name. It’s meant to introduce our current sermon series: Keeping Score.
One of the fundamental ways we keep score is, consciously or unconsciously, trying to one-up one another. From the very start we are taught that winning is good, losing is bad, and that we need to be the very best. We take that very seriously, and on a subconscious level it becomes part of the program that drives everything we do.
Of course to win (or at least to make sure that nobody else does at our expense), to be the best, and perhaps above all to make sure we don’t lose, we somehow have to keep track of where we are in relation to everybody else. So we make lists, don’t we?
Most of the time this comes so naturally to us that we are not even aware we are doing it. But we are. Whether it is with a roommate or a spouse, a team member at the office or someone we’re working on a project with at school, we make a list of everything we do, and everything they do. If our list is longer, watch out! We feel like we are losing this battle, and being taken advantage of. So we go on the attack, with the aim of making them carry their fair share.
Or we make a list of how much free time we have and how much free time they have. And again—if there is a difference, watch out!
We keep track of how many times we had to say “sorry” first, or how many times we were the ones that had to give in to make up. We keep a running tally of our hurts, embarrassments, and disappointments. We tend to log promises broken, times we were lied to, when people didn’t keep their word. We credit ourselves for the nice things we do, and Lord knows (and He does!) that we expect others to appreciate it and reciprocate accordingly.
The point is—and this is a basic relational law—whenever somebody wins at somebody else’s expense, the relationship always loses. If I win an argument, get my way, and put my kid in his place, you can bet our relationship is going to suffer. If I manage to somehow get my wife to comply with the idea that my job is more stressful than hers and that I therefore need more downtime than she does, you can bet our relationship is going to suffer. If I conduct a friendship is such a way that I always expect my “friend” to take the initiative, you can bet our relationship is going to suffer. In a relationship, when somebody wins at somebody else’s expense, the relationship always loses.
So what’s the alternative? We’ll, were going to be talking about that in the weeks to come. And frankly, friends, I think you’re are going to be hard put to find anything more helpful than the stuff we’re going to be talking about for the next four weeks. So please—for the sake of your friends and family, the sake of the people you care about the most, plan on being here, OK?
But before we close, let me give you one simple principle that I personally have found very helpful in moving away from keeping score. It’s the idea that there are basement voices and balcony voices, that we need to recognize them for what they are, and then wisely and intentionally choose between them.
Basement voices are like the voice of the devil in the wilderness in today’s Gospel. These are the voices that call us to keep score, to reward or punish people accordingly, and that we need to win at any cost. Sometimes these voices even echo actual voices of people in our past – the parent who drilled in us that we had to be the best, the voice of a coach raging “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY THING!”, the friends who teased us when they thought somebody else was taking advantage us. These are the voices that tell us we need to always come out ahead, or that if that isn’t possible, then at least no one should come out ahead of us. And when we listen to these voices, they always exact a terrible price.
But then there are also balcony voices –voices like the voice of God in today’s Gospel, speaking to Jesus after his baptism, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Balcony voices remind us that there is indeed something far more important than winning, and it is love. Balcony voice call us to something higher than keeping running tallies on each other, and it is grace.
Our world, our country, and we ourselves, driven by those basement voices, too often run roughshod over grace. We are the poorer for it
My dear and beloved friends, though it is the basement voices that are most numerous and which speak the loudest in the world today, I pray that this season of Lent and beyond that we would learn to listen to the voice from the balcony. I pray that we would learn to listen to the voice of God. And I pray that in so doing, we be delivered from the temptation to keep score, and choose the way of love and grace instead. Amen.