Here in Philly, we are crossing our fingers and toes that our hometown football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, are headed to the Super Bowl. When we won the Super Bowl in 2018, the City of Brotherly Love rallied around the team’s identity as an underdog. Throughout the playoffs, we were not supposed to be contenders with our supposedly washed up, back up quarterback and injury plagued team. And then we got to the Super Bowl…and went up against Tom Brady’s Patriots. Not a chance, everyone outside the city said. Philadelphians, ever naively optimistic about our sports teams, donned rubber dog masks and embraced our underdog status. Let the haters hate—we had a Super Bowl to win. And then we did!
While reflecting on Timothy and Titus, commemorated by the Church today, I had to imagine them both pulling out their rubber dog masks. Scripture tells us that Timothy and Titus were very young companions of Paul, formed by the early Church and likely frequently overlooked because of their ages. Yet Timothy and Titus assure us that a young faith does not mean a simple faith. Both studied with Paul and, we assume, wrestled with theological questions while growing into their beliefs.
Besides age, both also might have been considered “other” because of their family background. Titus was a Gentile and Timothy was born to a Jewish mother and Gentile father. In the early days of the Church still grappling with its identity and relationship with newcomers, both men would have been met with suspicion and doubt by the faith communities they served. In short, Timothy and Titus were not fresh out of central casting for their roles. They were unlikely leaders. They were underdogs.
Yet God called Timothy and Titus to be important leaders in the early Church. Timothy served as the first Bishop of Ephesus, while Titus was ordained the Bishop of Crete. In the epistles, we hear Paul’s frustration with communities in places like Corinth and his belief in these two young leaders. Far from falling into posh and easy gigs at large program churches, Timothy and Titus were sent to deeply conflicted communities to preach the gospel and heal divisions. Strengthened by Paul’s belief in their ministries and God’s abiding presence, they were empowered to build up the early Church.
In our church youth programs, what underdogs are we overlooking? What potential changemakers have we dismissed because of their youth, family background, or other factor unrelated to their status as a beloved child of God? How are we using the tools of the faith to form church leaders and challenge them to continue deepening their relationship with God? Like any sports team headed for a championship, our communities need frequent practice. How can we encourage our churches to “do the work” of discipleship—praying, worshiping, and loving our underdog neighbors through service?
The Eagles take the field on Sunday and, with any luck, we will move on to the next game and continue our path to another Super Bowl. Hopefully. But, even if the Eagles don’t get to another Super Bowl any time soon, I will have my underdog mask at the ready each Sunday. Maybe it will begin sitting by the door so that I recall Timothy and Titus, the OG underdogs, on my way to teach Sunday School. Philly loves an underdog, and so does God.
Take some time to journal about a time you felt overlooked by others. Identify the feelings associated with that incident and try to use them when empathizing with underdogs in your life. How can you advocate for their inclusion in your community?
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