It is once again the start of the major league baseball season and I could not be more excited for it. It is not that I follow it closely – I don’t. I watch occasional highlights, check the standings, and hope my team stays in the hunt, but not much else. When I was younger I knew all the White Sox players, the holes in the lineup, and the strengths and shortcomings of the pitching staff. Now I hardly know any of the players. When I look at the lineup at the start of the season I am reminded of that scene in the movie classic “Major League” when Cleveland fans on opening day ask, “Who are these guys?”
I have lived more years away from Chicago than I ever lived there. The last game I went to with my uncle was in the summer of 2000. Wearing my White Sox cap helps me remember who I am, where I come from, and the relationships with family members who shaped me. I grew up a White Sox fan in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago which was deemed Cubs territory and I wouldn’t trade what it meant to stay true to my team in those formative years. My uncle and I used to go to Cubs games and root for the other team! One year our White Sox had a commercial one year with a catchy jingle that went, “Let’s hear it for the White Sox! Look out, here they come!” We went to a Cubs game against the San Diego Padres and sang, “Let’s hear it for the Padres…” We still laugh about that particular game. I had a girlfriend in High School who was a huge Cubs fan and was infatuated by Mark Grace who played first base for them at the time. I should have known then we had no future together. Sometimes an old baseball cap can remind us not only of who we are, but also who we never want to be.
I think people sometimes see the church like their favorite team. They might not have season tickets; they might not have been to a game for years; they might have long forgotten who any of the players are. But your team is your team is your team. You can be Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist and wear the spiritual equivalent of a baseball cap to remind you of who you are supposed to be, but it is a relationship of nostalgia. It reminds people of family, or of growing up, of a feeling like going to the ballpark that is long gone. It is a faith of memory rather than one that breathes. It is one that sees their faith (or its remnant) as something holding them back, and if they can only shed it, maybe they can do something new. It’s hard to root for a new team in a new place if you never think you have
The church needs to be more open than that. Maybe we communicate the wrong things by our Lutheran“ness” or our Catholic“ness” or Methodist“ness” and we often cheer as if our team is the best. It is not a bad thing to cheer for our favorite team but often it comes at the expense of forgetting about our love for the game. When it comes to faith; that passion is our love for God and other people. Maybe we need to appreciate each other more and celebrate ourselves less. Living elsewhere I’ve come to appreciate Wisconsin fans, Minnesota fans, New England fans, New York fans and all the teams they represent. I even married a Packer/Brewer fan and all indicators suggest I am better for it. Baseball season is not just White Sox season (any sport is about more than your favorite team) and the church could learn that lesson too. My love for the games I like to watch and participate in has grown by the perspectives and passions of others who don’t share my viewpoint, and I wear my White Sox cap with greater confidence because of it. As the church we can wear our love of God and others among other Christians, other faiths, people who left the game long ago and those who don’t seem interested with a wider view than “our team is best – so get out of my way.” On the contrary, we can come to others willing to listen, learn and appreciate where they are coming from, but always starting from the cross and looking outward.
There are those who justifiably don’t like the church. All they have to do observe current scandals and past mistreatment of others as the reasons to stay away from organized religion. It is important to know our history. When it comes to the White Sox I know the Black Sox scandal from 1918 and the stain it left on the game, but it doesn’t change the beauty of the field, the warmth of the sun on your face, the smell of the grass, the sounds of the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd, the taste of that hot dog, and the feel of putting your glove on your hand and working it again as if for the first time. This is what makes baseball great. We know the greed and corruption of many players and owners, the doping scandals of last couple decades and some of the mistrust it has created with the public. Yet it’s the many more honest players, the hardworking ones, the pure talent and seasoned skill that keeps us yearning for more. The church has been through a lot over the last coupe decades too when it comes to scandal and disappointment, but it’s the faith of the everyday players like you that carries it through. Church and baseball can be a lot alike.
As your favorite team starts playing this season, think also of your church team as you watch. Consider the lineup of the players on your squad. Remember the opportunities we may have missed in prior seasons and how we might better capitalize on them with the gift of this new season ahead of us. (Easter is coming!) Let yourself experience your faith with all five senses and share it with others. Slide that glove back on your hand, and work it in. Wear your cap. It may have snowed again this week but the sun is coming, and you’ll want to keep it out of your eyes. It’s a long season, and your team is rooting for you.
“There’s always next year,” we say at the end of a baseball season when we fail to realize our aspirations. In our church life it is always next year, through a life lived by the grace of God in Christ. From the cross to the tomb and outside again, we step up to the plate knowing that the Spirit (God’s mighty wind) is blowing at our backs to carry that ball right out of the ballpark. Open your eyes and swing with everything you’ve got.
I send this letter to you in God’s church at Corinth, Christians cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life. I include in my greeting all who call out to Jesus, wherever they live. He’s their Master as well as ours! May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father, and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours. Every time I think of you – and I think of you often! – I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you – it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives. Just think – you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. The Cross: The Irony of God’s Wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:2-9)
P.S. On 3/31/2014 The White Sox won their home opener 3-5, hosting the Minnesota Twins. Go Go Sox!