Rockies Rising

One of the changes in baseball this season was the advent of the pitch clock.   The pitcher has only 20 seconds to adjust himself, read the catcher’s hand signals, get set and throw.  This innovation has shortened the length of an average game significantly, and sustained the action (not to mention fan interest).  My friends at Theology on Tap wondered if we should institute a “preach clock” for roughly the same reasons.

Well.  What I like about the suggestion is the connection between baseball and church.  No, really.  Think about it: baseball is a team sport, even though players develop particular skills and gifts. Just like church.  (I really can’t bring myself to equate the team owner with God, so the metaphor isn’t perfect, but still….)  On the field, the manager leads the team, works out strategy, decides when to change pitchers, and occasionally challenges questionable calls made by fallible human umpires.  Jesus is our player-coach, the one who demonstrates as well as demands inspired vision, hard work, and good play.

A former commissioner said baseball was all about going home, and how hard it is to get there.  Anyone disagree with that shorthand definition of a faith journey?  It takes someone like the late great prophet Yogi Berra to say it plainly: Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.

This isn’t really a sermon about baseball, but I’ve found in the Great American Pastime a helpful lens through which to see more clearly the heartbreak and hope of life and the reason for it all.  In today’s text, the author speaks of building Beloved Community with rocks and Jesus as the cornerstone.   There’s the implication that it’s something we do together with Divine guidance.  There’s a startling, awesome purpose for the game as well. The stones—or shall I call them “rockies”?!— are all chosen and precious, even the ones who do not believe, who take the long way home, stumbling and shuffling by themselves for innings at a time. And look, even if you are not a baseball fan, you can reject the metaphor without missing its delightful parallels with the mystery and miracle of Christian faith and our human attempts to follow Jesus, love God and our neighbor as ourselves.   A reading from the first letter of Peter, in the second chapter, verses 4-10.   Play ball! (and start the preach clock!)     [I Peter 2:4-10]

…..once you were just a bunch of players, now you are teammates….This remarkable text —part of a circulating letter to the earliest Christian congregations —lays out the church’s essential identity and mission. And apparently I’m not the only one who likes metaphors to illumine transcendent truth.  Here the writer not only talks about rocks, but also houses, cornerstones, stumbling blocks, priesthood, darkness and light.  He’s using all his verbal powers to try to express what it means to follow Jesus.  And I’m struck by these images that do not so much tell us what to do, but remind us of who we are.    A home built from people alive in the Spirit.  A building from stones whose strength rests entirely on the founding cornerstone.  A people who make spiritual sacrifices, memorably defined by the prophet Micah as …doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

The images show—rather than state explicitly—some crucial points about this journey.   First and importantly, it’s shared with others.  Not a solitary pilgrimage, but a life in community with others. Then there’s something dynamic about those stones.  They’re living and growing.   They’ve already been used, salvaged, repurposed for this spiritual house, and will continue to transform it.   The text freely acknowledges the imperfection of these precious rocks.  They (aka “we”) will stumble through selfish choices and misplaced loyalties.  We will experience hitting slumps.  We’ll be sent down to the minors.  That alone might deter us from getting in the game at all.  But baseball players know differently.  Babe Ruth, one of the greatest of all times cautioned Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing.  (Ruth practiced what he preached. The long time home run king also struck out more often)   Any player understands the risk involved in progress: You can’t steal second and keep your foot on first.

Back in the golden days of March before the current Rockies season actually started, the Denver Post ran an article about the journey to the Show, the major leagues [The Denver Post, Rockies Preview, March 26, 2023]   Riley Pint was 18-years old when the Rockies drafted him as a hot fastball pitcher.  Now seven years, several injuries, a short retirement and comeback later, Pint is still waiting for his debut. He’s not alone:  fewer than 10% of those recruited to the minor leagues will ever make play a game in the majors.   Pint acknowledges the need for a clear identity and purpose to withstand the trials and hardships: It’s tougher than you think it’s going to be, he mused recently.  Coming in at a young age, I didn’t really know who I was as a person. I was still having my laundry done by my mom [shout out to all moms who do the dirty work!].   Pint joined the Rockies at spring training this year, but was sidelined by injury.  Ever hopeful, he continues in rehab, strengthened by a dream that will take intentional work and devotion to accomplish.

Friends, we need courage and imagination to walk this journey of Christian faith.  To follow the one who said things like “Love your enemies, not just your friends.” “Feed the hungry.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”   Go the distance.  One of the regulars at Theology on Tap commented the other evening that living your faith can be difficult and uncomfortable.  The light shining from his eyes made clear that he thinks it’s worth it.

Because finally it takes more than grit to play baseball or pursue faith.  It takes grace.  The divine gift that bestows a new beginning and sustains a weary arm.  It’s the blessing we don’t deserve; the unexpected treasure discovered in a forgotten closet.

It’s right there in our text, hidden in plain sight in the little conjunction that starts the final paragraph:  But.   Right before it is the discussion of the stumbling of the disobedient.  And maybe you thought the author was contrasting those terrible ones with us, the chosen royalty, holy people.   BUT that just doesn’t square with everything else we know of God and humans.  Yep, we are going to stumble spectacularly, truth be told.  Some of our dreams will remain unrealized. There are wounds and injuries that take a long time to heal, and often affect our play ever after.  We’ve all known the sting of losing.    The text describes all that and then . . . . BUT.  Remember that God has called you out of darkness into the marvelous light.

And here we are.  Bound for the majors.  On a team with rising prospects, no matter what the standings show.  It’s a new day.  Let us work…and play…..following the one whose grace will call us—every one of us—safe at home.

Thanks be to God!