Heeey – batter, battahhh!

Proper 6 Year A: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson. The video version of this sermon can be found here.

Down the street from here, generations of girls learned to play fast-pitch softball. I was one of them.

There were many lessons we learned out on those fields in the heat, humidity, and swarms of mosquitoes. 

One lesson, one instruction — was so basic, so necessary that I heard it year-in and year-out until I finally hung up my 1st baseman’s mitt at the end of 12th grade. And that instruction is this:

Keep your eye on the ball.

In order to hit and catch, one must keep one’s eye on the ball.

It’s absolutely necessary. And if you don’t, it just won’t go well … if it goes at all!

Keep your eye on the ball.

Today’s Collect collects the themes of today’s readings:

“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we my proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ” … (Book of Common Prayer, p. 230).

In softball speak: Keep your eye on the ball.

Today’s scriptures help us do that by reminding us of who God is and who we are.

Exodus — reminds us how “God led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 306) and that the people of God are treasured by God.

Romans — reminds us that the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts.

Matthew —reminds us that God in Jesus heals every disease and sickness and looks upon the crowds of people with compassion. And sends out the apostles to carry on and carry out his ministry.

These scripture snap-shots reveal the distinct character and work of God.

For remember, the ancient world was a spiritual marketplace, with lots of gods. Such as the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman gods who were often violent and capricious. Their stories are very different from ours.

Different from our Creator God, who ordered the universe, created us, and called all of it “good” (Genesis 1). Different from our God of Abraham and Sarah, who reached out to us with the Covenant (Genesis 17). Different from our God, whose most named attribute in the Old Testament is hesed — steadfast love.

Keep your eye on the ball: this is who God is. 

And who are we? Psalm 100 sums it up well:

The LORD is God; he himself has made us, and we are his. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Further, we are reminded by Matthew that “to be sent by Jesus is to be sent as Jesus.”[1] Afterall, the name “Christian” means little Christ.

This provides real clarity about who we are and how we are to live.

Keep your eye on the ball.

As I think back to the softball field, I recall that the older we became, the faster the pitches, the harder the hits … and the more intense the chatter: 

Heeey – batter, battahhh!

The jerky moves of the pitcher and the speed of the ball could get your heart pounding. Your crush in the stands could get you distracted. And the intense chatter by the other team could rattle you so that … you just couldn’t see.

And you’d strike out.

Or be out in the field and the game would spin out of control. Team members snap at one another: “How could you miss that?!” “How could I catch that?!”

And then … hear the voice of the coach from the dugout:

“Slow down.

Take a deep breath.

Focus.”

(You know what’s coming next…)

“Keep your eye on the ball.

Remember what we do in practice. This is just like practice.”

We practice Christianity. All of the worship services, prayers, study, forgiving, asking for forgiveness, serving, loving, healing, sharing good news, reaching out in kindness, receiving grace … it’s all practice for the next moment, the next encounter, the next day. 

And what we all discover along the way is that sometimes there’s a gap between our abilities and the challenge before us. A gap between the faith we confess and the lives that we live.

And that is when we offer ourselves to God and acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God … and the kingdom of heaven draws near.

Phillips Brooks, 19th century Episcopal priest and bishop, exhorts:

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you yourself shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.”

So, teammates, little Christs: Have clarity about who God is and who we are. 

For when we keep our eye on the ball — which is God’s steadfast love — we safely arrive at home.

+++

We moved to Austin, Texas so that my mother could attend Seminary of the Southwest. Here I am with my slow-pitch teammate and coach. What a joy to play on this team — skilled, harmonious, gracious, and we were undefeated in our last year together. We had an outstanding coach, Tommy Drumm, who knew just the right balance of challenge and nurture. The way he believed in each of us was a true blessing. May he rest in peace and rise in glory. I can still hear his voice calling out to me … including to run faster!
This softball field down the street from St. Timothy’s was once for the location of all the big games and tournaments. There was a press box, concession stand, tall bleachers, and … chatter!

[1] Working Preacher Podcast: Sermon Brainwave #729: Second Sunday after Pentecost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s