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.


Songbird said...

I love that Larry Doby story. Thanks for telling it to me.

Anonymous said...

I earned a scholarship to play volleyball in college, but spent way more time on and around baseball and softball fields than in the gym. This was such a treat!!

Thanks for a fun and thoughtful look at the game and the best closer there is :o)

Anonymous said...

I earned a scholarship to play volleyball in college, but spent way more time on and around baseball and softball fields than in the gym. This was such a treat!!

Thanks for a fun and thoughtful look at the game and the best closer there is :o)

Crimson Rambler said...

OMG "TInker to Evers to Chance." Have I told you lately that I love you, O Wise Beyond Your Years?
You realize I had to get up and go downstairs and find my copy of Franklin Adams... "Trio of Bearcubs, and fleeter than birds..."
HAPPINESS IS. The Wise Women of Wednesdays at St. Curious salute you. THEY all knew Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Someday I will share with you the Great Baseball Wedding Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13. Ted Williams is in it. tickles the Grandads.
You be well,live forever, etc.

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