A Journey to the NFL / All Saints Day

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Rev. Donald P. Beaumont

1 John3:1-3

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

If I were to ask you to name someone whose character inspires you to be a better person, who would you name? Did a name pop into your head right away? I hope so. I hope we all know someone, a parent, a teacher, a colleague, a neighbor, or a church member, whose example inspires us to live better lives. Here’s a little trickier question: How many of you thought of a Disney character as an influence on your life?

Last year, a couple in Wales put an advertisement on a childcare website asking for a nanny. They wanted a nanny who would dress as, and assume the character of, various Disney princesses. This couple has five-year-old twin daughters. According to the ad, the girls “can be little terrors at times!” The parents wanted a nanny who could watch after the girls and teach them some moral values.

Part of the ad says, like most 5-year-olds, our girls are obsessed with Disney and we feel this would be the best way to communicate some important values . . . we think it would be a great way to teach our girls about things like determination, compassion, fearlessness and ambition from strong yet relatable female role models

In addition to a $53,000 salary, said the advertisement, the couple will provide a full set of Disney princess costumes.

Sorry, it’s too late for anyone here today to apply.

I am a big supporter of teaching children moral values. I’ve just never thought of Disney princesses as the ultimate examples of character. Maybe I need to binge-watch Disney+ this week and brush up on my values education. Let’s face it, fantasy heroes are a big part of our culture.

I read about a guy who admired the action hero Superman so much that he has undergone 23 plastic surgeries to mold his face and body into the image of this superhero. He has spent thousands of dollars in his attempt to look like the man of steel. That may be a little extreme. And I thought which, superman actor or was it the comic book version?

This morning we celebrate All Saints’ Day in the church. It’s a day we set aside to remember and honor all those believers who have died in the faith. We set aside this day to remember their examples of faith, character, love and service. And this is also the day when we remind ourselves that we are called to be saints too. Surprise! You are a saint too. The word “saint” simply means “set apart for a special use.”

All Saints’ Day is a reminder to us that we are part of the worldwide Church, the family of God that exists in Heaven and on earth. If we really understood that you and I are set apart for special use by God, it would transform our lives. We would realize that we have been called to be superheroes in our own unique way.

But before we can wrap our heads around the idea of being saints, we have to go back to the beginning of our relationship with God. Nobody is born a saint. Our first relationship with God is as God’s beloved children. Our Bible passage for today reads, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1) Today I want to discuss how much God loves us.

God loves us so much, first of all, that He has given us our identity as His children. What does it mean to have a relationship with a Father who loves us? First, think about this: of all the world religions, only Judaism and Christianity reveal a God who wants to have a relationship with human beings. That’s a critical part of our faith. But what kind of relationship? The relationship of a loving Father with his child or a loving mother with her child. That’s the image we see in the Bible. That’s the kind of relationship Jesus had with God. The same kind of access and closeness that Jesus had is available to us. How often do we take that relationship for granted?

The idea of God as a loving Father might not sound like a revelation to us. But this Bible passage we’re studying today was written to a diverse group of believers all throughout the Roman Empire. And many of these believers were raised and taught an entirely different view of God. According to historians, Roman fathers in Jesus’ day were allowed to decide whether their newborn children lived or died. After a Roman baby was born, the father examined the child for signs of health and robustness. And if the father decided that the child was worthwhile, then he would keep it. If not, he could leave the child out in the street to die.

That’s not the kind of relationship that God wants with us. God offers each of us love without limits. But the idea of God as a loving Father who gives us our identity as His children was life-changing to new converts in the early Christian church. I hope it’s just as life-changing for us.

I read a story this week that made me think of what it means to be a child of God. It’s about a dad named Wil Smith. No, not the actor. This Wil was serving in the Navy when he learned that his girlfriend was pregnant. He didn’t want to be away from his child for months or years at a time, so he resigned from the Navy and enrolled in Bowdoin College.

A few months after Wil’s daughter, Olivia, was born, Olivia’s mother decided that she couldn’t take care of her. Wil took over custody of Olivia. She was only a baby, but he brought her to class with him. He brought her to work with him at his night job and hid her in a closet while he cleaned offices. Wil was a member of the Bowdoin College basketball team. His basketball teammates were Olivia’s first babysitters. Taking care of Olivia gave him strength. He was working to create a better life for her.

By the time Wil graduated from Bowdoin College, most of the students and faculty had witnessed the love of this father for his daughter. So, it was no surprise when Wil carried Olivia in his arms to cross the stage at graduation, or when the dean announced, “Wil and Olivia Smith” as graduating from the College. But it was a surprise when the whole student body rose to give him a standing ovation.

Olivia has never had to question her father’s love for her. He built his life around raising her and providing for her. She refers to him as her “rock.” And when he was diagnosed with colon cancer, Olivia did not hesitate to come home from college to care for him. Sadly, Wil died in 2015, but he left behind a legacy of love that will shape his daughter’s identity for the rest of her life.

Knowing that we are loved, and that God wants us to have a relationship of trust and caring with us, is more than enough to give our life meaning and purpose. God loves us so much He has given us our identity as His children. But this passage promises a second gift that God has in store for us.

God loves us so much He has also given us our destiny. Our Bible passage says that God is shaping us to be like Jesus. We can’t know for sure what the future holds. And we can’t know for certain what eternal life will be like. But we know that God’s plan is to use every moment of our lives to create in us the character and spirit and mind of Jesus.

There’s nothing random or purposeless about our lives. God is at work in the big and small moments of our lives, opening our eyes to new truths and new opportunities for love and service and insight and wisdom. No experience in our lives will be wasted. Every experience, every moment is a new opportunity to grow our character to reflect more of Jesus.

The Bible promises us that on the day when we see Jesus, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And Jesus’ union with God is our destiny too. We don’t know for sure what eternal life will be like, but we know that its source is found in God’s presence and power.

I enjoy hearing the story of the great scientist Sir Michael Faraday, whose work contributed to the world’s understanding of electromagnetism. When he was dying, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life after death. 

“Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties. ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and because He lives, I shall live also.’”

God loves us so much He has given us our identity as His children as well as our destiny, to be like Jesus. But there’s a third gift promised in this passage. God loves us so much that He has given us a sure hope to empower us every day.

How sad is a person without hope? It’s difficult to seek to do anything worthwhile in life if you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Trent Shelton was a star wide receiver at Baylor. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t secure a permanent spot in the NFL. He got picked up and then cut from the Indianapolis Colts, the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Football Team. No matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t seem to get the right position at the right time. After giving up on the NFL, he tried out for Arena Football and the United Football League. Football was his life. It’s where he found his identity and purpose. What kind of future did he have without football?

When he finally did give up on football, he turned to drinking and partying to fill the emptiness in his life. And then his college roommate, who had also failed to achieve an NFL career, took his own life. And Trent woke up to the direction his life was taking. And so, Trent began to pray. God, who am I now without football? Why did you give me this dream just to take it away?

He decided to take a more positive approach to his life. He created a new rule for himself that he would begin each day with prayers of thanksgiving to God. Regardless of what life was sending his way, he resolved to begin his day by thanking God.

This one act gave him a whole new perspective on his life. His despair changed to hope as he saw God working in his daily life. He began reading his. And he began posting short videos online sharing his spiritual and physical journey out of hopelessness and failure to a closer relationship with Christ. He got an opportunity to speak at a major youth gathering. And Trent discovered that God was using his failures and heartbreak to help others.

Not long afterwards, he came across an old Bible his mother had given him in high school. The front of the Bible had the letters NFL printed on the front. Trent had always assumed this was a sports-themed Bible. But when he opened it up, he saw the real title: New Found Life. NFL: New Found Life. God hadn’t really taken away his greatest dream. Instead, God had a better dream in store for his life. Today, Trent Shelton is a husband and father, and a successful author and speaker.

If you were a random collection of cells in a meaningless universe, then you could ignore this Bible passage. In fact, you could ignore everything I’ve said. You could create your identity and meaning out of your achievements or your image or your family connections or your possessions. But what if you were made by a loving God who wants a relationship of love and trust with you? What if you are actually a saint, set apart for the special purpose of knowing God and sharing God’s truth and love with others?

And what if a loving Father has plans to give you a destiny of joy and purpose far beyond anything you can imagine? Wouldn’t that give you hope to face any circumstance in life? That’s exactly what God wants for you. You can have a new found life with a new identity, a new destiny and a new hope. It all begins with trusting in God as your loving Father. Hey, that’s a sure path to the NFL; a New Found Life! And that new life continues with our newly crowned friends---------

Bethel Lutheran Church

32410 Willowick Drive
Willowick, OH 44095

P: (440) 943-5000

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