Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What is Trump?

A Sermon*

[Shuffling a deck of cards]

What is trump?

When I was growing up in Indiana we played a lot euchre. 
Not just any kind of Euchre, double-deck, bid euchre.
When my mom’s family got together,
we played euchre.
When my dad’s family got together,
we played euchre
One rite of passage to adulthood in our family
was the daunting invitation to play euchre at the adult table

In double-deck, bid euchre, as in regular euchre and bridge,
there is what is called “trump”. 
If you’ve played cards you understand trump. 
Whichever suit of the deck is named trump
becomes the most powerful suit.
Once trump is declared, a nine of trump will beat an ace of anything else
because trump always wins. 

Today’s passage from the Gospel of John has me thinking about trump,
What is trump in my life?
What is trump in your life? 
What motivates us,
animates us in our relationships with others? 
What do we use to measure our own worth? 
What do we rely on for security?
What do I think will make my joy complete?

Maybe clubs are trump.  [Hold up the ace of clubs]
Clubs could stand for force, power, or violence. 
When push comes to shove, do I push? 
Do you shove? 
Do you use force to get people to comply with your wishes? 
Do you use power to get your way?  Coercion? 
Or maybe you like the more subtle kinds of power like manipulation,
manipulating people using such tried and true methods
as guilt to get people to conform to your will, to your desires.
If I can just exercise enough power and influence,
Will my joy be complete?
When we resort to violent solutions or glorify the use of violence,
we are playing clubs as trump.
Clubs –it is one of the more common trumps in human society,
in the human game. 
But, if Jesus is Lord,
clubs is not trump. [Flick ace of clubs onto the floor]

Or perhaps diamonds are trump.  [Hold up the ace of diamonds]
Few of us probably would admit that diamonds is our trump. 
None of us wants to admit that money and possessions
are really what drive us,
what really shape our time and our imagination. 
And yet, in American society, diamonds certainly seem to be trump. 
If you watch television,
if you pay attention
(or even if you don’t pay attention,
because ads and advertising are so pervasive)
you would think that trump in American society
is always diamonds. 
The more you have,
the more important you are;
the more you possess the happier you will be. 
Diamonds is trump when we find ourselves believing,
consciously or unconsciously,
that we just need to buy this one more thing to be really happy,
to complete our joy.
Participating uncritically in a system
in which the opportunities of the “have-nots” are squeezed
while the privileges of the “haves” are protected
is another way of playing the trump of diamonds. 
Diamonds – another popular trump in the human game. 
But, if Jesus is Lord,
diamonds is not trump. [Flick ace of diamonds onto the floor]

Perhaps spades are trump.  [Hold up the ace of spades]
Work, achievement, what you do,
 is another form of trump. 
What have I achieved? 
What have I done? 
How good am I? 
All these questions fall under the category of spades. 
When spades is trump life is all about achieving the things you
(or others)
believe you’re supposed to. 
You have to earn the favor of others
by achievement,
by making a name for yourself,
            proving that you are good enough.
Spades say you have to prove your worth,
you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
And those who don’t or can’t are worth less.
Spades says each person has to make it on his or her own.
When spades is trump our worth is measured by our resumes
It is a popular trump in American society.
But, if Jesus is Lord,
spades is not trump. [Flick ace of spades onto the floor]

Jesus comes along and says,
"This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
Jesus declares that hearts is trump.  [Hold up the ace of hearts]
Love is trump. 
In the end, Jesus says, love trumps all. 
It is not how much you have. 
It is not what you do.
It is not what you can get or make or achieve through power
that matters. 
Love is trump. 

On some level, being good, faithful church folk,
we all know this. 

But, we don’t always play are cards as if it were so.
Each of us is born with a full deck – more or less.
From birth, each of us has in our deck of cards each of these trump.
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit – I must admit –  
that, at various times in our lives,
I have played each of them. 
And probably, if we are honest with ourselves,
on any given day we might be able to point to examples
where we have played the trump of spades when
we were convinced that it is what we do that really matters,
or it is what the other person is not doing that really matters. 
Or, we play the trump of diamonds
and allow the accumulation and protection of money and stuff
to dominate our decisions. 
Or we play the trump of clubs
and find ourselves coercing, forcing, manipulating others
to conform to our will. 

As you read the gospels,
you get the sense that
part of what Jesus is up to is reshuffling the deck again and again. 
He says, “What you thought was trump is not trump in the kingdom of God. 
In the kingdom of God the only trump is hearts;
the only trump is love. 
Not vague and undefined love, but love as I loved.” 
Love as Jesus loved – love that is sacrificial,
love that is open and welcoming,
love that is generous and outpouring of self,
love in which we lay down our lives for others.

Love is trump. It sounds nice.
But of course it turns out to be difficult.
Real love and the sustaining of real relationship is hard.
Real love means loving real people.
Each of us at, one time or another,
finds it hard to love someone –
even when that someone is very dear to us.
And each of us,
at one time or another,
is hard to love.
And even at our best efforts at love we are often pretty clumsy.

My father, who was a master at euchre used to tell us,
when we complained about the hands we were being dealt,
“Learn to play with those and we’ll give you better ones.”
By analogy, the people in your life
are the hand you’ve been dealt.
They are the ones you are supposed to learn to love.
This family. These relatives.
            These neighbors.
                        These opponents. These enemies.
When you join the church – in baptism, confirmation, or by being received –
            You are being dealt into this hand.
These people – you people –
are the hand you’ve been dealt.
The people you know and like,
the people you don’t know so well or like less,
the people with whom you agree,
the people with whom you disagree,
the people push your buttons or rub you wrong –
these people are the hand God has dealt you.
Learn to play with them.
Learn to love one another.
That, as much as anything, is what church is about.

Such a love is only possible
if we are open to receiving the love God pours into us so freely. 
There is our worth measured. 
There is our security.
There is our joy.
As we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit
and allow that Spirit of Christ to be poured into our lives
hearts is trump and love begins to pervade and prevail. 
The really good news is that
Christians don’t just believe that love is trump.
We do not only believe that love is at the heart of it all.
We believe that out of the heart of it all,
the one who is at the heart of it all
has entered into the game to play it for us through us.
Christians believe God has entered into the game in the person of Jesus –
the Jack of Hearts.
And when we were in the hole,
against all odds,
the Jack of Hearts shot the moon.
Now, when we give our hearts to the Jack of Hearts,
we can begin to know the forgiveness and healing of all brokenness.
All broken hearts can be mended.
All relationships can be healed and healing –
relationships with family, friends,
neighbors and strangers.
And even enemies.
Most importantly, our relationship with God – the Love at the heart of it all.
            And that is where our joy is made complete

Brothers and sisters,
What is trump in your life?

*The inspiration for this sermon came from a quote of G. K. Chesterton's I read some years ago.

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