Football is surprisingly complicated. It’s far more than a group of people, who have a ball, trying to move it down a field and playing against a group of people, who don’t have the ball, and who are trying to stop them from doing so. And how many times has it happened that the professional team that plays just a few miles down the road from here, despite all their success through the years, drafts an outstanding and highly acclaimed college player who ultimately never succeeds here because he couldn’t adapt to the complex playbook that the Patriots run? Football. It’s complicated.
Something else that’s complicated is running a business. I work in health care and even before the pandemic, it was complicated. Lots of regulations, different payment rules for every insurance company… and no offense to anyone who works for a toothbrush manufacturer, but this isn’t just making toothbrushes. It’s people. And it’s life and death. Running a business. It’s complicated.
Another thing that’s complicated? Race relations. We have certainly seen that over the past several months as recent events and the reaction to them has demonstrated just how deep and lasting these wounds are. If you say “Black Lives Matter” then clearly you must hate our police. If you say “Back the Blue”, then obviously you must be a racist. That’s the way many of us think… we are that divided. Race relations. It’s complicated.
One more thing that’s complicated? Faith. You’ve seen the research results about what we believe. Or no longer believe. And we are divided: Christians against Christians… each side laying claim to possessing the singular truth about God. Sadly, it seems that we too are divided: Catholics against Catholics. Faith. It’s complicated.
So if it’s this complicated… what are we to do about it?
Football. In Super Bowl 53, the one with the long stalemate between the Rams and the Patriots, the Patriots decided to simplify the playbook. They found just a few plays that seemed to be working and stuck to those. And they won the game.
In business, when companies are in trouble, they simplify. They realize that they are trying to do too many things for too many people. Organizational turnarounds and transformations always start by focusing on the few small things that can make the biggest difference.
Racism. I was at a forum on this topic a few months ago and the leader suggested that the way forward is to reframe the discussion to one about eliminating hatred, regardless of political positions and affiliations, skin color or whatever you bring to the discussion. Simplify. Create a society that does not act with malice… toward everyone.
Sure, simplifying might work for football, business and racism… but what about faith? Our faith is complicated. Theologians, authors, philosophers, saints and preachers have been making it so for the past 20+ centuries. And if you filled this entire church building from floor to ceiling with all of the writings about Christianity, it would be just a tiny fraction of all that has been stated on the topic. How can we possibly simplify our faith?
Well, that is precisely what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel. When asked the question: “Which commandment is the greatest?”, he states that we need to love God and love each other. I’m going to simplify that even more. Love. We need to love.
I like to say that we should “lead with love”. I have post-it notes that say “lead with love” all around me in my life and in many of the places I go. I can over-complicate with the best of them and this brief saying reminds me to simplify.
When I am replying to a message from someone who has aggravated me, do I lead with love?
When I have to make a difficult decision, do I lead with love?
When I have some bad news to give someone, do I lead with love?
When I am making purchasing decisions, do I lead with love?
When I am deciding how to spend my time, do I lead with love?
When I am reacting to news or something I read on-line, do I lead with love?
When I am called to suffer, do I lead with love?
Faith is designed to do one thing. It has just one job. To return us into the welcoming arms of the one who created us. It’s about eternity. And if we are blessed enough to care about people in this life, then our job is to try to help them towards eternity also.
That’s why we are here.
I wish I didn’t need all the post-its all around me to remind me of this. I wish this always just came more naturally to me and that it was more ingrained in everything that I do. But I’m a work in process… and you should know that any preacher worth their salt tends to proclaim the things they themselves most need to hear.
So, I’m going to simplify. Get back to basics. Focus on those few things that make the biggest difference.
We live in a world and during a time when it increasingly feels as though darkness is closing in all around us. It’s like that time when a very small group of people just witnessed their friend and teacher suffer greatly for his beliefs. They crowded inside, cowering in fear and uncertainty. But then… they stepped out into the light. They led with love. So too can we.
Faith. Because after all is said and done, it’s actually not that complicated.