Sunday, January 12, 2020 “The Greatest Endorsement”

Sunday, January 12, 2020 "The Greatest Endorsement”

The message for Sunday, January 12, 2020 The Greatest Endorsement” by Pastor Erik Goehner, heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 Worship service. 

The Greatest Endorsement               Matthew  3:13-17               January 12, 2020

One of my favorite sports is basketball and one of my favorite players to watch over the last six years has been Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.  (Slide)  He is an amazing ball handler with the ability to out maneuver almost any opponent with his dribbling skills.  His ability to make shots anywhere on the court and way beyond the three point line have revolutionized the game and changed the way many teams play.

(Next slide)  But when Stephen Curry first left college, many people had their doubts about whether or not he could play in the NBA with other professional basketball players.  At only 6’3 and only 180 pounds, it was thought he was too short and not big enough for the league.  Nevertheless, Curry did eventually get drafted and began playing for the Golden State Warriors.

(Next slide)  Like other players, he wore Nike basketball shoes and after four years in the league Nike offered him a sponsorship deal for $2.5 million. This sounds like a lot of money but for a shoe deal it is relatively small.

(Next slide)  A rival brand named “Under Armor” who was trying to expand their shoe sales offered Curry $4 million dollars.  Nike could have matched this offer and locked Curry’s endorsement into their brand, but at the time they had their doubts about Curry becoming a break out player.   (Next slide)  He still seemed small for the league and had been plagued with ankle injuries.  So Nike decided to just drop him and let him go.

(Next slide)  It turned out to be a big mistake.  In the next few years Curry would go on to win the Most Valuable Player award twice.  His team would win several national championships and he would break records for making the most three point shots.  The sale of Under Armor shoes skyrocketed. (Next slide)  In one quarter, sales went up 40%.  In another three month period the company sold a record number of $153 million worth of shoes.   Since he signed with Under Armor, some analysts have projected that Curry’s endorsement has literally had an impact worth billions of dollars for the company. (Next slide)

We know about how the power of endorsements work in the world of sports and athletics.  They work because we like to identify or be associated with those athletes that we admire for their ability, their discipline, their work ethic, or success on the court or on the field.  We feel as if we wear the same shoes, they wear or drink the same sports drink they drink, maybe we can be like them or somehow experience some of the same things they do.

I was thinking about this concept of an endorsement as I thought about the Gospel story from Matthew this morning where we hear about the baptism of Jesus. You might say that Jesus received a key endorsement on the way to beginning his ministry when he hears a voice from heaven as he was baptized. (Next slide)    In Matthew we hear something we don’t hear in the other Gospels which happens as Jesus has come up out of the water.  In Mark and Luke’s Gospel, the voice from heaven seems to be only addressing Jesus as it says, “You are my beloved son.”  But in Matthew, the voice declares, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Here it sounds like God is talking to all those who are gathered around the river as Jesus is baptized.  It sounds like God is addressing the crowd who may be there–trying to get their attention to let them know that this Jesus is special.  It sounds like God is endorsing Jesus and letting everyone know it.

Doesn’t it seem like having God make such a proclamation would be the greatest endorsement ever?  Imagine John the Baptist standing next to Jesus in the water hearing this voice declaring public support for Jesus.  Imagine the people gathered around, hearing these words from the sky connected to this person who had just been baptized.  Do you think they might have been interested in finding out more about who this Jesus was?  Do you think their interest would have been stirred up to consider following him and listening to his teaching?

When a person is connected to a voice that we respect or look up to, we are much more likely to listen.  This is why politicians often look for support from other voices to help advance their cause.  This year coming up is an election year and as candidates seek to stay in the race, they will also be seeking out more endorsements.  They will be looking for support from other key political figures, popular celebrities or leaders of important organizations who also bring along with them a sizable constituency of voters.  When candidates receive these endorsements they hope to receive votes as well as get name recognition or popularity by being associated with other famous people or folks who represent different groups.  A key endorsement from the right person at the right time can play a crucial role on the road to possibly being elected. Candidates also know that they need to receive continual endorsements to have an effective campaign.  It can’t just be a onetime thing.

Jesus knew this as well, which is why he invited a few of his closest followers to climb up a mountain with him to have an amazing spiritual experience.  When they get to the top of the mountain, a cloud comes over Jesus and he is transfigured before the eyes of his disciples.  Moses and Elijah appear to be standing next to Jesus.  Then a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved son.  Listen to him!”  Again a mysterious voice that seems to be connected with God declares Jesus to have a special status.  It endorses him as the son of God and grabs the attention of the disciples who have now seen Jesus revealed for who he truly is.  With the support of that heavenly voice, the belief of the disciples in Jesus grows.  They are inspired to become more deeply involved in the movement Jesus has begun and more deeply committed to his mission.

Jesus knows, however, that with the endorsement he has received from the heavenly voice of God, also comes a great responsibility.  Receiving an endorsement means striving to live up to the expectations of the one who has endorsed you.  After Jesus gets identified as being intimately associated with  God, he launches into his ministry of healing and teaching people. He begins to spread the word about God’s forgiveness and he brings God’s gift of grace into the lives of the people he encounters.  Jesus respects the voice who has authorized his ministry and he wants to do what he can to live into the calling he has received.

When I was in seminary, we had to receive approval as we made each step in the process to become a pastor.  Part of this approval came from the seminary itself.  Teachers who had you in class and had gotten to know you would give their recommendation.  In addition to this, however, there was a group called the endorsement committee. This was a group of pastors and lay people who interviewed pastoral candidates at the beginning of the process, halfway through the process and finally at the end of the process during our senior year.

Before I went into my final approval interview I found out that one of the pastors who would be there was Pastor George who I had grown up with.  I had known him for about seven years when I was a kid and he was the pastor who confirmed me when I was in 8th grade.  When I found out that Pastor George would be there I felt both comforted and a little more nervous.  I felt more comfort knowing there would be a friendly and encouraging presence in the interview, but I also felt more nervous because I really respected Pastor George.  He was an example of a Christian leader whom I admired.  He was one of the reasons I had felt called to be a pastor, so I wanted to do well to show the respect I had for him.  You can understand then how much it meant to me when later on after the interview I received the news that the committee had endorsed me.  To know one of my mentors had approved me strengthened my sense of call and encouraged me to want to work hard the rest of my senior year.

Part of the good news of the Christian faith is that when we are baptized we are identified with Jesus.  We are connected with him in the promise of new life and through our baptism, we too receive the endorsement that Jesus received.  We too hear a voice declaring that we are a beloved child of God.  This doesn’t mean that God endorses all our behavior, but it does mean that we have an unconditional love and support from God that will stand with us even when we mess up.  It means that we can be forgiven and strengthened in our sense of call as Christians to work hard to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

When Stephen Curry signed on with Under Armor to endorse their shoes and sports apparel there was something he wanted to make sure was written into the contract.  You see Curry is a Christian and he wanted to put something of a witness into his endorsement. (Next slide)  So he got the brand to agree to allow him to put a symbol of his favorite Bible verse on some of his shoes.  This means that on some of the shoes carrying the Curry name you can see the numbers 4:13.  (Next slide)  This is a reference to Philippians 4:13 which is a verse that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Curry wanted to share where he feels the source of his strength comes from so that others might find their strength there as well.

When Jesus is baptized, he hears the greatest endorsement anyone could probably receive.  He hears the voice of God declaring him a beloved child.  Today we hear this same word of support as God looks out at us and declares to the world, “These are my beloved children!”  We receive this endorsement in order to encourage and strengthen us so that we might let others know that they also can receive this same support from God.

-Pastor Erik Goehner