If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. — Kurt Vonnegut
So much of the complicated relationship of parent and child is played out by playing “catch.” Whenever we play catch with anyone, we are playing catch with that parent. In life we become parent and child to one another. — Donald Lopez, Jr.
Did you watch the World Series over the weekend? I’m not a huge fan of baseball-only watch occasionally, but what I love about it (in my humble and inexperienced opinion) is that it’s the completely unexpected everyone anticipates that truly holds time together during a game.
Watching baseball is a spiritual practice of patience. Two teams play 9 innings or more, for 3-4 hours, and all they have to show for it is 4, 5, maybe 7 points between them (and that’s when it’s been an exciting game). Given everyone has practiced their skills to as fine an art and expertise as possible, nothing unexpected happens much.
Which is precisely why baseball fans become experts at patiently awaiting the unexpected!
Last Sunday evening, Game 4: The Dodgers were in the hole, 6-4, until the 7th inning when a homer sent three runners in to put the score at 7-6, Dodgers! Both teams had gone through their roster of pitchers and hitters and alternates. By the bottom of the 9th, Dodgers were at the mound with a 7-6 lead, with two outs and two runners on base (Rays’ pitcher Kenley Jansen having intentionally walked one of them — Randy Arozarena). A tense moment in the game.
And who walks up to the plate? Brett Phillips! Phillips, who was left off the Rays’ ALCS roster as an unlikely player with a low RBI and had only just entered Game 4 as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning. And it’s all up to him.
The pitch. Strike 1. Another pitch. Ball 1, 2… Then ball 3. Then strike 2. This was about as hopeless as it gets in baseball!
He stepped out of the box and then back up to the plate, trying to shake off the obvious — a quick camera glance to the dugout as team faces appear resigned.
Then Phillips knocked a cutting pitch from Jansen for a bloop single into center field! Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor mishandled the ball off Phillips’ bat and Kevin Kiermaier (who got on base on a broken-bat single) runs in from second and scored uncontested to tie the game at 7-7, which is where you’d have thought it would end and go into extra innings.
But L.A. followed that with an unfortunate series of errors as Dodgers’ first baseman Max Muncy’s throw to home plate was weak. Catcher Will Smith didn’t make the catch, and pitcher Jansen didn’t bother to back up home plate after Phillips’ bloop fell in for a hit. So, Randy Arozarena (who was on first base and FELL DOWN on his way home) managed to stumble and slide into home plate for the winning run!
Game over! Rays 8/Dodgers 7! The stadium exploded, and the camera suddenly turned to the outfield where Phillips (out at first base) was now running wide weaving patterns, “airplane arms” outstretched, as the whole Rays team chased him around the field for a dog pile!
The unlikely hero said after the game, “Who would have imagined this ending? Not me. Man, baseball is fun. Wow!”
We love a good story, especially with an unexpected hero and a surprise ending.
So, what does all this have to do with the Sermon on the Mount and the Kingdom of Heaven?
In short, when Jesus first opened his mouth to begin teaching (Matthew 5), no one expected him to say, “Hey, those of you who are suffering, poor, broken, humbly setting privilege aside to be present to others who have less, fighting for justice — God is on your side! You are at the front of the line as far as God’s concerned!”
No one expected that! After years of living in a story of Roman oppression, being marginalized and disdained by your own Jewish leaders and community, the last thing you would expect to hear from a respected rabbi as significant as Jesus is that you are the worthiest of God’s attention. Not the wealthy, or the powerful, or the most pious. No one expected that the beginning of this sacred story would start with those up to bat last (to stretch the metaphor) are the key to winning the game! That’s something to think about!
In fact, much of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (as with most of his life and teachings) was unexpected and contrary to popular perceptions. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not kill another.’ But I’m saying, if you have hatred or anger toward another, you are already committing murder in your heart.” The law isn’t just about adultery or theft or idolatry, but also lust, greed, envy, attachment! The Law is about our sacred relationship with one another and all of life. And it begins with “Blessed are the poor.”
What were they to do with that? What are we to do with that today?
This Sunday is also All Saints Day, a day of remembrance. But we remember more than just our loved ones and all the generations of those who’ve gone before us and made our lives possible. We consider what it might mean to be ancestors ourselves to the path of Shalom for those who follow. All the ingredients are here and always have been – to create an engaging, adventurous, and surprisingly wide landscape of justice and delight. To participate in the consummation of God’s Kin-dom! Of course, unlike watching and waiting for the unexpected with baseball, in the Kingdom of Heaven, you anticipate by participating. All that may be needed is an attentive, compassionate heart and an imaginative mind.
I hope you’ll join in this Sunday as I continue to think with you about how we create this landscape of Shalom together — “Don’t Be a Jerk: An Introduction to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven
NOTE: The best way to catch us on Sunday morning at 11:11 a.m is at this link: www.fumcfw.org/1111-live
Or join in on Brad Thompson’s FB page for a live watch party at 11:11 am.eleven:eleven live stream