Team Edward, or Team Jacob. Team Peeta, or Team Gale.
Peyton Manning or Tim Tebow.
Mit Romney, Rick Santorum, or President Obama.
American Idol, X Factor, or The Voice.
St. Louis or Fort Wayne. The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Whether in politics, sports, music, or books and movies; whether with so-called “reality” shows, or “celebrities” whose only claim to fame is fame itself — there are the heros and their rivals. These are the “rulers” and the “great men” of the “gentiles” in our day and age.
And everyone’s a fan-boy (or a fan-girl), seeking fame and glory by association with the team.
So there is the merchandising that goes along with every team, establishing a culture and a genre of this or that. Name brand identity, catch-phrase slogans, and logo recognition. All of it feeding an overarching culture of competition, in which you also get caught up, lording it over others, vaunting yourself, exercising prerogative and using power to serve yourself, to promote yourself.
And then there is “Team Jesus.”
That’s where James and John are ready to cast their lot (even if they don't know what they're asking); and it is good and right so to do.
But what will that mean? What’s the game plan? The strategy? The tactic?
What is the culture, the genre, the glory of “Team Jesus”? Where’s the merchandise?
If you’re going to be “Team Jesus,” how are you going to play? What is victory going to look like? What does it comprise? What does it take, and what does it mean, to be #1 in His League?
In particular, what will your relationships be like: With your teammates? With other “teams”?
Competition and criticism?
Or cooperation? Compassion and Charity?
You know the answers to these questions, as you know the Lord Himself — you know His greatness and His glory, His genre and His culture — by His forgiveness of all your sins.
You know Him personally and intimately, truly and fully — the Lord Jesus, and His God and Father — you know Him through His Gospel: His Word and Sacrament, His Baptism and His Cup.
That’s far more than “merchandise,” and it isn’t for sale at any price. It’s the heart and soul of “Team Jesus,” because it is the heart, mind and Spirit of the one true God: for you, and for all.
The Lord establishes this New Covenant in His own Body on the Cross; and now He writes it, signs and seals it, with His own flesh and blood — upon your heart: in your mind, body, and soul — by the preaching and catechesis of His Word; in Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Communion.
This Gospel of love and forgiveness, this Testament of life and salvation, is freely given to you by God, by His grace, and it is freely received by faith alone, apart from any works of the Law.
But the very faith which so lives by this gracious Gospel, also proceeds on the Way according to “the Law of Christ,” which is “the Law of love.” Which means that you gladly forgive and give life to your neighbor in the Name of Christ. That, too, is the significance of His Baptism, with which you are baptized; the significance of His Cup, which He pours out for you to drink.
For these gifts of God that you receive,
have implications for the way you live.
The New Covenant of Christ, having been established for you and for all in His own Body and Blood, is now being written for your neighbor with your flesh and blood, with the stylus of the Cross, in the particular place to which you are appointed by your God and Father in Christ.
That place, where God has put you, is the arena where you live and work, and love and serve, and “play the game,” as a member of “Team Jesus.”
It's not kill or be killed, nor live and let live, but to lay down your life in love for your neighbor; for your friends and foes alike; for your teammates — and, beloved, you have no rivals.
Look, then, to your great Captain, the Author and Perfecter of faith:
Christ Jesus did not glorify Himself by choosing for Himself and taking it upon Himself to become your great and merciful High Priest, but His God and Father called and appointed Him to be such a Priest — for you and for all, forever. And so He has become in perfect faith and love.
It is by His Cross and Passion that He has entered upon that eternal Priesthood and established it forever and always: by His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death.
In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying to the One who was able to save Him out of death — to the One who could take the Cup from Him, if it were His Will, but who would yet be able to raise Him up from death when He had fully drained that Cup.
He prayed to His Father, and He was heard because of His piety and reverence. So it is that your prayers, too, are heard and answered for His sake, because of His piety and reverence. For God the Father, who handed over His Son Jesus to be crucified for the sins of the world, has also raised Him from the dead for the reconciliation of the world, and for the justification of the unrighteous.
Although He was already a beloved Son, He learned obedience — experientially — from the things He suffered in your place, in order to become your compassionate and faithful High Priest.
And so, having been made perfect on behalf of all people by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He has become the fountain and source of eternal salvation to all those who believe and are baptized into Him.
He does not simply “lead His Team to victory,” but He Himself has achieved it by His Cross.
It’s not about strength in numbers. It’s not about how many fans or how many friends He’s got.
It is the greatness of His faith in God and the glory of His self-sacrificing love. So has He given Himself as a Ransom for you (and for all), and so does He now serve you with His forgiveness.
His greatness and His glory — His faith and love — His Cross, and His Resurrection from death to the life everlasting — all of these things of Christ Jesus truly become yours; not so much by His good example and your emulation, but by His means of grace, as gifts freely given to you.
On the road going up to Jerusalem, Jesus goes ahead of you. He is the Trailblazer, who leads and opens the way. And, yes, He does set the example for you, that you should follow in His steps. Following after the Teacher is what a disciple does.
So He sets you the example of sacrifice and service.
But He does so by actually sacrificing Himself for you, and by continuing to serve you with His Gospel: As He has washed you with water and His Word in Holy Baptism (deriving its power from His own Baptism, even unto His death upon the Cross), so does He cleanse you daily with His Absolution — getting down upon His hands and knees to wash your dirty feet.
And as He has received the Cup of His Passion from the hand of His Father, and drained it to the dregs for you and your salvation, so does He pour out the Cup, which is the New Covenant in His Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins. And so are you seated here with Him, at His Table, in the glory of His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.