Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! –2 Cor 13:5
“We’re On to Cincinnati.” In the cult which is New England sports, this phrase from Patriots coach Bill Belichick has become legendary among fans. He said it at the beginning of the Patriots Super-bowl winning season of 2015, but as the season opened, everyone thought the Patriots winning days had come to an end. In the 4th week they got blown out 41-14 by the Kansas City chiefs, and that’s when Belichick responded to reporter’s questions “we’re on to Cincinnati.” Not once, not twice, but five times. Great sports teams, great people, and today I will argue great Christians, don’t get stuck on failures, they learn from their mistakes and move on to the next challenge. But it’s not just losses we need to discipline ourselves to handle. One of the secrets of the ‘Patriot’s Way,’ (as it’s known in the cult) is that coach Belichick’s practices are harder than games; and the hardest practices come not after losses, but wins. Most of us know that to be a good athlete, person, Christian, we have to learn to handle our losses, most of us don’t think much about learning to handle our wins; but this is at least as important and we will look at both today.
St. Paul will fittingly be our spiritual coach today. Paul regularly compares the Christian life with athletes preparing for a race, and in today’s reading he reminds us that to reach our highest spiritual potential, as with anything else, we need practice and discipline. “Test yourselves” Paul says “to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need first hand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it (TM).”
The first discipline St. Paul wants to instill in us, is to not be afraid of failure; but rather learn from it, and then turn the page. Our Christian faith reminds us that, right off the bat, the moment you and I came into this world, we are destined for greatness, but deeply prone to fall, to failure. This doesn’t mean of course, that we don’t try for greatness, to be the best man or woman God calls you to be. It means that you should try hard, but don’t take it hard when you fail. In fact, if we don’t fail often in our Christian walk, we might not be trying hard enough. Quarterback Phil Simms tells a story of another great coach Bill Parcels, who used to tell him, “if you aren’t throwing two interceptions per game, you aren’t trying hard enough.” All of the heroes of the Bible, from Moses, to David, from Peter to Paul-culminating in Jesus-all suffered great failures, but all learned the lesson that where we end God begins. His mercy and grace only become apparent and needed to us when we try, fall and fail. “Don’t drift along taking everything for granted,” coach Paul says, “Test yourself. If you fail the test, do something about it.”
Learn how to deal with failure, is step one, but the second discipline coach Paul shows us is how to properly deal with success. We’ve had so much success here at St. Hagop, look at our beautiful sanctuary and hall. We’ve had much success as Armenians in America and as individuals. We have every temptation to tell ourselves, my life is pretty good, no major crises, I’m cruising along fine. Well it is always cruising along fine, until it isn’t, and as your pastor I am often privileged to be called into these situations. My sadness, though, is when a person’s faith resources are not enough to meet the spiritual test they are given: a sickness, a problem child, marital problems, a death. If we take our faith for granted, we coast along during good times and therefore come up short when we most need it.
It’s too easy to take things for granted. Sure, you’re baptized in the Armenian Church, maybe you even come to church, heck, let’s say you’re the pastor of the church. But just because you’re baptized, you’re present, or we’re ordained, doesn’t automatically make a good disciplined Christian, no more than being born in American, makes you a good American citizen. It takes discipline, and daily examination, Paul says, to make sure that we aren’t complacent in our success, aren’t just going through the motions in our comfortable life and comfortable church, instead of realizing that the great tests of following Jesus, taking up our cross, giving all we can to the needy and forgiving our enemies; these are life-long challenges, that we are daily trying, never perfecting, but always maturing.
Now up until this point, there has been much overlap between coach Belichick and coach Paul; we need discipline, constant self-examination in all aspects of our life-be they sport, business, or faith-to to be the best we can be. But when you get to the heart of the matter-the drive to be your best self-it is here that our faith differs from any other endeavor in our lives. For where in sports or business we are normally driven to become greater than others, in faith we are driven to become our greatest self. That’s why Paul ends his motivational speech, and I end my words today with a question; “Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” For the challenge of your spiritual life is not to become someone better than you are, it is to become more fully who you are, because the God who made you dwells within. So yes “We’re On to Cincinnati!”-but then of course-are made for much greater places than these. Now and always…amen.