Sunday, June 19, 2011

In the Big Inning

June 19, 2011
Summer Sermon Series: Baseball
Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day and although I of all people realize that it is important to be wary of stereotypes – not all men like sports, not all women like to cook – I did think when the request came in for a sermon topic of baseball that today would be a fun day to do it.

If you are looking for depth in this morning’s message I am not sure you will find it here, although there is a message. If you are a Trinity Sunday fan and are disappointed that we will not be focusing on the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer on this day set aside for that purpose, I apologize, but encourage you to keep listening… for like Tinkers to Evers to Chance (considered to be the best double play combination of all time) – the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit will be present and will hopefully hold up the middle.

As many of you I am sure have surmised, the sermon title this morning comes from the old joke asking what was the first sport in the Bible. The answer is of course, baseball: In the ‘big inning’ Eve stole first, Adam stole second, Cain struck out Abel and the Prodigal Son was called safe at home.

Obviously baseball is not actually in the Bible, but it is certainly engrained in our culture.
Whether you like the game or not you have probably heard or spoken a phrase that finds its roots in baseball.

Let me give you a ballpark figure on how may baseball phrases are used in our everyday speech. If I don’t knock it out of the park hopefully I will at least cover all the bases. We’re playing hardball now. This is no bush league sermon, I’ve got to step up to the plate and swing for the fences because our heavy hitter is on deck. So far I’m batting a thousand but it’s still hit or miss how well I will do, after all it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Those of us who are into sports – and you know who we are – have issues. We have issues because we will talk ad nauseam about our team and their chances and where we are headed next Sunday afternoon, but we will not talk about where we go on Sunday morning. This sermon is not about lifting sports up onto a pedestal that I know already needs to be lowered. This sermon is about having a little fun and making some analogies…and being reminded of the grace of God.

Trust Your Team

There are some individual aspects to baseball – numbers are a big deal in this game – and a lot of the records that we get excited about are individual records.
Most consecutive games – Cal Ripken Jr. – 2, 632.
Most games in a row with at least one hit – Joe Dimaggio – 56.
Most home runs in a season – the record books will say it’s Barry Bonds, but real baseball fans know that it is Roger Maris – 61.

The individual records are fun, but the teamwork is what makes the game great. If there are men on base then the batter tries to hit the ball to the right side of the field in order to move them over. If a ball gets hit into the outfield, the outfielder throws the ball in to the cut-off man who is then told by the catcher where to throw it next. When run perfectly, the cut off throw is one of the most beautiful plays in baseball.

In baseball even the puniest utility player can have a role that is crucial to the team. In the 2004 American League Championship series the New York Yankees had only three outs between them and yet another World Series appearance. Their opponents were the Boston Red Sox who had famously not won the World Series since 1918. Up by only one run in the ninth the Yankees brought in their Hall of Fame bound closer, Mariano Rivera. When Rivera walked the first batter he faced it was surprising, but no one on the Yankees was really worried. Rivera has one pitch – the cutter – named because it cuts in on the batters’ hands and causes them to hit weak p
op-ups and ground balls often while breaking their bats. The entire goal of the Yankees team is to have the lead in the ninth and then hand the game to Mariano Rivera.

But on this night the Red Sox decided to pinch run for the man who walked to first and they put in Dave Roberts. Now Roberts was a major leaguer, so he had talent. His main gift was speed. He could get to anything in the outfield, but his arm was below average so players could take extra bases on him. He spent one year on the Red Sox team and when he came in to pinch run that night, he had not played in the last ten games. Basically, he was the last guy on the bench.

But on that night… he stole second base making it in ahead of the tag by mere inches. And when the next batter hit a single he was able to score and tie up the game sending the game into extra innings where the Red Sox won it after David Ortiz hit a two run home run. The Red Sox came back in that game, they came back in that series and they won the World Series after 86 years of futility. David Ortiz won the American League Championship Series MVP award, but if it we
ren’t for the speedy pinch runner, he would have never had his chance.

With apologies to the Apostle Paul:
Indeed, the team does not consist of one member but of many. If the catcher were to say, ‘Because I am not a Shortstop, I do not belong to the team’, that would not make it any less a part of the team. And if the leftfielder were to say, ‘Because I am not a pitcher, I do not belong to the team’, that would not make it any less a part of the team. If the entire team were a leftfielder, where would the curveball be? If the whole body were pitching, where would the runs come from?... As it is, there are many members, yet one team. The shortstop cannot say to the catcher, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the power hitter to the pinch runner, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the team members that seem to be weaker are indispensable… if one team member loses, the entire team loses with them; if the team wins, all rejoice together.

The word of baseball… thanks be to Babe Ruth.

If God is keeping score, then Jesus is the closer. Grace.
A good friend of mine from seminary told me about the computer baseball game he had as a kid. Now compared to today’s standards, the game looked like cave drawings but one of
the cool things you could do was name your team and the players on it. Matt, being the cool preacher’s kid that he was, named his team: The God Squad.

His batting line-up began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His pitching staff consisted of the Apostle Paul - a crafty veteran who could no longer rely on his blazing fastball due to all the traveling he did in the minor leagues - and a couple of journeyman prophets as his set-up men. The ace of his staff was none other than Jesus himself. His closer: God.

And that is where our argument began because he claimed that God was the closer because no one could possibly get a hit off of God. Fair enough, but I still think his closer should be Jesus. Why? Jesus saves!

When you look at the game of baseball through the lens of our Christian theology it is - at its core - a game about law and grace. The law is the rules of the game, the grace is in how the game is played.

I know everyone here has heard of Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the major leagues. Jackie wore number 42 – a number now retired in all ballparks – and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 until 1957. How many of you have heard of Jackie Robinson? Now how many of you have heard of Larry Doby?

Larry followed Jackie Robinson and was the first African American player in the American League. Doby came up with the Cleveland Indians about 3 months after Jackie first broke the color barrier. In his very first at bat Larry Doby looked terrible. He struck out on three straight pitches that were way outside of the plate. He walked back to the dugout with his head down, sat at the end of the bench all by himself and put his head in his hands.

The next Cleveland batter was Joe ‘Flash’ Gordon, one of the best second baseman of all time. Joe was in the prime of his career and the pitcher Joe was facing was one that he always hit well. But during his turn at bat, right after Larry Doby, he swung and missed three straight times at pitches way outside of the strike zone.

Gordon returned to the dugout, went to the end of the bench, sat right next to Larry Doby and likewise, put his head in his hands. From that moment on and for as long as they played together, every time Larry Doby ran out to his position, he first picked up Joe Gordon’s glove and tossed it to him. Larry Doby went on to become one of baseball’s best home run hitters.

There is grace in this game, just as there is grace for us in this life.

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Final score:
Satan loses.
Love wins.
And Jesus gets the save!

Game over.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Beloved Children of God

A sermon for Easter 7a, June 5, 2011

This is our third week sitting around the table of the Lord’s Supper, no wonder my back is a little stiff. The disciples and Jesus are in Jerusalem and the atmosphere is thick with anticipation. The resurrection of Lazarus has already occurred and the religious authorities have placed a price on his head. But the one they really want is the one who brought him back to life, Jesus. The authorities are trying to keep a revolution from happening and in the meantime those who have followed Jesus are anticipating that the time for one has finally come.

Jesus and a small gathering of his closest followers gather in a room to eat together and Jesus surprises them all by washing and drying their feet.
He washes the feet of Peter, who will deny him.
He washes the feet of Judas, who will betray him.

It is the eve of history’s most tragic hour, the last chance that Jesus has before his death to explain the reason for everything and the purpose for the disciples going forward and he focuses not on revenge, not on judgment and not on repentence. Instead his focus is love. A few excerpts:
  • Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
  • I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you… because I live, you also will live.
  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
  • As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
  • This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Last week I took the liberty of breaking down three chapters of a repetitive monologue into 3 clichés:
  • Cliché #3 - Do not be afraid, we (the Father, the Son and the Spirit) are still with you.
  • Cliché #2 - Remember my commandment to love.
  • Cliché #1 - Your Father in heaven and I love you and support you no matter what you do.

And now immediately preceeding their departure to a garden where they will be met by Judas and a detachment of soldiers (John 18:1ff), Jesus closes their time together in prayer:

John 17:1-11
….(Jesus) looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
The Word of the Lord…

‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

It’s an interesting word, ‘glory’.

I think of politicians who win their election. On that night they are surrounded by those who support them, streamers and confetti flying, music blaring and hundreds or thousands of supporters shouting their name and flashing signs with their name on them. Power! Glory!

I think of CEO’s who present the shareholders with increased earnings. At that meeting they are surrounded by those who benefitted from their decisions. Hugs are shared and backs are slapped and hundreds or thousands of supporters are willing to do anything they are asked. Power! Glory!

I think of the athletes who win their city a championship. On the day of the parade they are surrounded by those who support them, streamers and confetti flying, music blaring and thousands or hundreds of thousands of supporters shouting their name and flashing jerseys with their name on them. Power! Glory!

The thing about glory is we cannot retain it. It’s not ours to keep. And when we try the fall from it is not far behind.
We’ve seen it.
We’ve seen politicians fall from grace when their quest for power undermined their morals.
We’ve seen CEO’s fall from grace when their quest for wealth undermined their values.
We’ve seen athletes fall from grace when their quest for winning undermined the rules of fair play.

We’ve seen it whether it be in the national headlines or closer to home. It’s easy to get confused and hung up on earthly and material glory. Our culture reminds us every chance it gets in every piece of 30 second interval it can find that we deserve the glory and the power and once we get it, we need to protect it and grow it at all costs.

As if it were ours to begin with. The belief that the glory lies in us is the first mistake.

To God be the glory. From God be the glory.

I think of Jesus when so many thought he was going to be their idea of a savior. He came into Jerusalem surrounded by those who had hope in him, palm branches and hosannas flying, hundreds of people lining the way, shouting his name, “King of Israel!” Those in authority said to one another: You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him! (John 12:19)
Power! Glory!

But Jesus both fully human and fully divine, knew that it was not his glory.
To God be the glory. From God be the glory.

In Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John, the first miracle at the wedding at Cana and Mary the mother of Jesus says to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ (2:4)
And what are the first words of this prayer? Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people…

Authority over all people. Power! Glory!
Jesus has the chance to cling to the power!
The stage is set for him to take the glory!

In the garden when they come to arrest him there are torches and lanterns and weapons. One of his own strikes first – but that is where it stops. God’s glory is not proven in a final act of power and might. God’s glory is revealed in the ultimate act of mercy, grace and love.

It is in this choice of the cross that an invitation is extended to us to participate in the glory of God; not by clinging to power, but by letting it go. Not by hoarding glory for ourselves, but in reflecting God’s glory back into the world,
To God be the glory. From God be the glory.

At the end of the 14th century, mystic Julian of Norwich wrote:
Would you like to know your Lord's meaning?
Okay, then know it well. The Lord's meaning is love. Love is God's only meaning.
Who shows this to you? Love.
What did God show you? Love.
And why did God show it to you? For love.
Stay in God's love, then, and you'll learn more about its unconditional, unending, joyful nature. And you'll see for yourself, all manner of things will be well.

Do not let your hearts be troubled…

Listen to the final petition in this prayer from Jesus on our behalf:
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them’ (17:25-26).

To God be the glory. From God be the glory.

Power? Glory?

They are nothing without love.

In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: Summer Rerun Edition

From Songbird over at the revgals....
It's that time of year when the only new things on television are music/dance competitions (the 21st century answer to variety shows?). Yes, it's the season of reruns.

This week the clock turned back to last fall and the Glee kids went back to school and still got "slushied," and Michael hired his nephew on The Office, which was not something even he would be likely to repeat.

In honor of this annual Time Warp, please share five things worth a repeat. These could be books, movies, CDs, recipes, vacations, or even TV shows

5) I remember as a kid reading Trumpet of the Swan a LOT.
4) I watched FRIENDS so much that my friend and I actually taped the repeats. We had taped them pausing on the commercials (pre-kids, can you tell?) so when we sat down to watch a tape, 8 HOURS later we could still be found sitting on the couch, very much having to pee but there were NO commercial breaks to do it in.
3) I have a few songs that remind me of certain people or certain moments and I like to listen to those.
2) Christmas is filled with re-run recipes.
1) We are hoping the beach will be a vacation trip we repeat every summer.