Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Baseball and Church??
At one time, baseball was considered “America’s Sport” but it has since been replaced by Football. Football is a “rough and tumble” game, with hard-hitting action, excitement and thrills and that spirit resembles life in our culture today. Baseball on the other hand is a leisurely game where action and excitement seems out of place on the baseball diamond. That is of course, until someone hits a home run, or a player misses a catch, or maybe someone hits the perfect bunt and sends the third base runner home.
Life football, baseball players are talented athletes, but it takes more than talent to score. Baseball players must train and practice everyday the basics of the game. They must hone those skills of swinging a bat, catching a ball, running the bases, and fielding a fly ball. Players must be willing to receive constant training, they must focus on good nutrition, they must learn from outstanding coaches, and they must show up with an inherent spirit of teamwork and mutual support. Church is a little like baseball.
Church is not the constant action, hard-hitting, defeat your opponent, epic football game world, which some of us live in each day. Church is more like the leisurely engagement with our teammates on the “field of dreams” found here in the sanctuary, or in the parish hall, or together in our homes over shared meals, and most especially in the local mission field where we are called to serve the least, lost, and lonely neighbors all around us. Like baseball being a follower of Jesus is a team sport. You cannot play baseball alone, and you certainly cannot be a Christian alone.
Unity for Mission
In a faith community, we all show up to God’s party of love with gifts and talents, and we may even show up with our quirky junk that we would rather folks not know about, but that is ok, because we are all “beggars trying to show others where to find bread.” Somehow in the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, God pulls all of us together, with all our unique talents, quirky habits and strange ways, and miraculously makes us one body, one spirit in Christ. God coaches us into a unified team of fellow sojourners in life, who depend on one another to learn the lessons of Holy Love.
God doesn’t just send us out on the field with our talents and junk to figure out this Christian life thing on our own. God gives us coaches and team managers, or as scripture calls them “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” When we actively and not passively engage in ministry in the community, God is training us, in some way for life, for mission, and for our own sanctification. As Paul writes, we are being built up to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Church life is the training ground for being a follower of Jesus.
Preparing for the Game
Unlike a great football game, Church may not offer the same kind of “action” and “excitement,” which we 21stcentury Americans crave. However, if you do decide to actively play on the diamond of Christian community, and you allow yourself to be coached and trained for faith every day, you will experience how the Spirit gives us glimpses of Amazing Grace in ways you would never expect.
Maybe you will witness the amazing “double play” of mutual ministry when you pray with someone who needs healing, and in that moment the other person comes to understand that God’s grace is present in all circumstances, even the worst situations of life. Maybe you will witness the “third base coach help a player go to home plate” when two people take communion to someone in the hospital, and they experience the grace of God’s presence in that holy meal that those who could not present with us on Sunday, receive from their fellow teammates. Maybe you will witness the incredible “catch off the wall” when a young mother and her infant receives much needed diapers, which allows her to use her income for more important things like nutritious food, rent, or utilities.
Maybe you will witness the the “seventh inning stretch” of looking into the eyes of that young child you are coaching in Sunday School, and you experience that moment when that child realizes that Jesus is her Lord. Maybe you will witness the incredible “triple header” of joy, love, and peace in the eyes of people as they stretch out their hand to receive the Body of Christ, or when you share the Chalice of the Blood of Christ with your sister or brother.
My sisters and brothers, talented baseball players cannot play baseball by themselves and likewise, we cannot grow in faith all by ourselves. Christian community is a shared experience by which, we come together to attain “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Being a Christian and sharing the mission of Christ takes a team of Christians. Remember, Jesus said, “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you.”
The Game Begins
Like a baseball team, in order to play or rather, “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” we need to spiritually train, to eat right at this table, to spiritually exercise, and to coordinate our mission work together, and then we go out and play the game. On the night of a big baseball game, the stadium grass is freshly mowed, the diamond looks immaculate, everyone shows up in spotless uniforms, the national anthem plays, and the game begins. Sunday mornings, the parish is clean, the linens are pressed, the silver is polished, the sermon is prepared, the choir has practiced, the organ sounds beautiful, the altar party is wearing spotless albs, and the service begins.
However, the big event, the multi-game series in which, we followers of Jesus Christ are called to play, surprisingly is not the time we gather for weekly worship. Do not get me wrong, the time we gather is an essential part of our discipleship training regime. Yes, it is a holy time, a holy gathering, and a sacred moment, but the big game for which, we are being trained and coached, actually happens when we leave these doors and go out into the world each and every day.
Last week, I told you, “we are being fed each week for a purpose, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Our mission is to be witnesses in the world of Christ’s redeeming love, and we do that by literally being Good News. We do that by reaching into the storms of others’ lives and showing them the bread of grace. We do that by working to restore justice and dignity to every human being. We do that by loving one another as we love ourselves.”
Actively serving in one of the many ministries of service, worship, education, evangelism, parish life, pastoral care, and stewardship here at St. Monica’s, these are your training camps for Christian discipleship. Through your ministry, you will be prepared for the big game of witnessing to Christ’s love and grace in the world. My sisters and brothers we all need to be out there on the training field and in the game. We all need to practice with each other the holy, life-giving, challenging, time-demanding, and sometimes messy discipleship training, of living in and serving in Christian community together. We all must find our place on the team, and not any one of us can play more than one position at a time. If you are not sure what position God is calling you to play, there are lots of coaches here who are ready to come alongside you to encourage and help you find your place, most especially me.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to take the field, hone your spiritual gifts, grow into a deeper love of Jesus Christ, feed on him, and then go into the world singing, “Take me out the ballgame.” Better yet, maybe our song should be, “Lord, I trust you, I depend on you, I will follow you; so, take me out into your mission field, where I can be your hands and feet each and every day.” Each of us has a position to play on the team so remember, “it takes the whole team working together to accomplish the mission.” It is God’s mission of restoring all people to unity with Christ and one with another; the mission of reconciliation, mercy, peace, grace, and love.