Sermon | Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.
Updated: Jul 24
Something that I know about myself is that I am not really all that hardy of a person – I keep my AC set on 69 and if it squeaks up to 72 I wilt. If I go more than an hour in my office without a little bubble water or a treat, my morale deteriorates rapidly. If I forget my water bottle on a walk, even a short walk, I panic! I was away for a few weeks last month serving as summer camp chaplain at Shrine Mont and though I love canoeing, I skipped the afternoon canoeing one day because i didn’t want to get any pond water on me.
I know this about myself, and still it makes me laugh and laugh to think that I can be watching my latest TV obsession Survivor,, to see what they are going through in the wilderness, and think well I could that~
I’m a sucker for all of those reality TV competition shows – America’s Next Top Model, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and yes even Survivor. I didn’t get to watch them when they were originally airing in the mid/late 2000s and I’ve been having a grand time binging them on Netflix and Hulu. Survivor is the latest one for me, and it’s unique in the genre because rather than being judged by distinguished celebrities every week, the contestants eliminate each other. They live together – hot and sweaty and exhausted and hungry – in the middle of nowhere, Vanuatu or Nicaragua or Kenya or Fiji, and they compete in challenges for immunity from being voted out by their fellow tribemates and competitors at the Tribal Councils. It’s even better than that though because the Tribal Council is their airing of grievances and it can get quite heated and saucy.
Still it makes me laugh to think that I could watch this all go down from my air conditioned living room, and think “no I would kill it though”,,, or to see the absolute cutthroat social dynamics and think “well, I would simply be really genuine and kind and make friends with everyone and never get voted off, like?????”. If you’ve ever watched the show you know that that is not how it works, the tribe will vote off the strong just like the weak, the kind as well as the mean, the genuine just like the fake, best friends will stab each other in the back, promises made on day 3 crumble by day 13 or 30. It’s a mess. But we kind of live for a mess, especially when it makes good TV.
Some truly devastated plays get made, alliances crumble and a blindside will get made and it’ll cut to confessional where the executor of the play blurts out “it’s a game, it’s a game, i hated to do it but I was playing the game, thats the game!” and the person who got blindsided admits “dang, yeah they really played the game, the game got me, I shouldve played the game smarter.” Again, we live for the drama of it all, but every once in a while, you can see that somebody who really trusted someone and got stabbed in the back by them,,, really actually got hurt by the play. A friendship that they thought transcended the game was instead steamrolled by it.
Binging 6, 7, 8 seasons in rapid succession kind of took the sting out of the game for me, you start to see the cracks in the facade.
Some of the contestants have spoken out about how hard and weird it was to re-enter their lives after they played the game. We know that what you practice you become, and spending 10, 26, 39 days second guessing all of your relationships, constantly looking over your shoulder and tiptoeing around people and making plays in a game that you would never make in your real life,,, its understandable to think that it would hard to shake the paranoia that you spent hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing.
In our Gospel reading this morning from Luke, Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray and he encourages them to pray for what’s on their hearts, and for what they need. He asks them to imagine banging on the door of a house in the middle of the night and asking for bread,,, and how even if the one who answers the door is put out by the request, won’t they fulfill it simply for the sake of the sheer audacity, and persistence. If even we, in our imperfection, would relent to the requests of the hungry, won’t God even be all the more generous with us?
I’ve got to admit, I find this passage to be hard to wrap my brain around because it assumes that we are a people,, a society,, that,, even in our imperfection will care for one another. It assumes that if the hungry, the poor, the lonely, the homeless, come to us, that even if we are put out by the request, will ultimately give in for respect of the persistence. Jesus poses the rhetorical question “Is there any among you who if a child asked for an egg, would give them a scorpion? Asked for a fish, give a snake instead?” The answer is Yes! There are plenty among us who would do that– maybe not me or you, or maybe not to a child, or maybe not a scorpion but the rhetorical presumption that we would relent feels wrong because we are an unrelenting society.
If a child asks for an egg, we might give it to him,,, but we might also tell him to go ask his mommy or daddy for one, or say, well I gave you one yesterday, so here’s a scorpion today, we might say that there’s a non-profit down the street that gives eggs away, why don’t you try them,,, or what if it’s not a child, what if it’s more than eggs? The language of deservedness, and of individual responsibility suffuses the way that we respond to people’s needs –
When someone is broke, homeless, lonely, in debt, the logic of our culture has us saying things like
“well why don’t you just get a job”
“why don’t you just work a little harder”
“I don’t owe you any of mine, sorry, get your own”
“That is just the way the cookie crumbles,” “that’s just the way the economy works,” that’s politics” “that’s showbiz babyy,” that’s just the game, and maybe you should’ve played it better”
We perpetuate this culture where we are supposed to be fine if one tribe wins and another tribe loses, we perpetuate a culture, where nineteen people out of twenty can get steamrolled if it means that one of us has a chance at a million dollars, we perpetuate a culture where it is okay to let somebody else down so long as it says somewhere in the rulebook, or the law, or in some out of context corner of scripture that it is allowed,,, “I’m sorry, I’m just playing the game.”
Well, I don’t like the game that we’re all playing, and I don’t think that Jesus liked it very much either. Part of what he does during his life among us is to point out the rules we are taking for granted and playing by, telling us that it does not have to be that way, and challenging us to live by new and different rules. He comes here to tell us that we do not have to live and die by the logic of deservedness, we do not have to live and die by the logic of competition or exclusion, we do not have to set up our lives and our communities on a game board where 50% of people lose every time, or where there have to be losers just so that some can be winners. What if we decided that we were allowed to play by a different set of rules, what if we were allowed to play a different game where everybody gets to win?
Part of what it means to be a Christian in this society is to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, generosity and greed, between game and Gospel. And for my taste, we have lately been living a little too much in the uncanny valley between reality TV and reality. I love reality TV, and Survivor is a damn good game,, but it is not one that I would audition for. And our work as Christians, is always to more and more attentive to rules that live by and take for granted, to be braver in naming them and challenging them, and to be more discerning of how we want to live differently. And for starters, I would like it if we could all go home as winners,,,