Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Gospel According to the Blue Jays

(So I wrote this sermon for fun, during the Blue Jays American League Pennant series with Kansas. I got the idea from John Van Sloten, who did the same in Calgary--thanks. Naturally, I wore a Blue Jays uniform to church that day. Several people requested that I post it. So here it is!)

I wrote this sermon on Thursday (October 22), as I almost always do. However, since the theme of the sermon was, “The Gospel According to the Blue Jays,” I was at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed.
That Thursday, after all, the Blue Jays were merely behind in the series with Kansas, three games to two. I didn’t know—as I do now—whether they would win the last two games in Kansas City or lose one of them. I didn’t know, as I sat down to write, whether I would be writing about a World Series-bound team, or merely a runner-up for the American League pennant. (Of course, I know now.)

            As I was thinking about my conundrum, I came across a Facebook post that was all about Blue Jay faith. Listen:
I have seen a man come back from season ending injury to dominate in September. (Stroman)

I have seen a bringer of rain end a 22-year old playoff drought. (Anthopolous)

I have seen a .500 team fight back and win a championship. (The Jays)

I have seen two 11-game win streaks. (Jays again)

I have seen a 20-year-old rookie shut down some of the best. (Osuna)

I have seen two of baseball’s greatest talents pull on my jersey. (Price and Tulo)

I have seen the 7th inning of game 5. (Bautista, mostly)

I have seen the bat flip that electrified a country. (Bautista, totally—let’s take a look at that, in fact)

I have see a team come back from a 3-1 deficit. Kansas City did it to us 30 years ago. A little payback is in order.

I have seen an incredible team play an exciting season and I am grateful to have experienced the 2015 Blue Jays.

And it’s not done yet!


            So, as I sat there at my desk, on Thursday, I tried to believe. Bautista will come through again! Tulu shall keep hitting! I thought maybe I could make such belief the point of this sermon. Faith should be strong even when times are tough, you know? Believe enough in the Jays and that will make it so. The trouble was, I didn’t believe, whole-heartedly, at least. What if the Blue Jays didn’t win? What if I came to the pulpit with a sermon that insisted, “believe,” but that faith turned out to be totally misplaced? Does God award the pennant to whichever team has the most believing fans? Probably not.

            So as I sat at my desk I was a bit sad that I hadn’t chosen to write a sermon entitled, “The Gospel according to the Liberal Party of Canada.” By last Thursday I knew how that one turned out. I wouldn’t have needed any faith for a sermon on that theme.

            Anyway, this back and forth got me to thinking about being a sports fan—or, at least, what it is like for me.

            The truth is, I’m a bit of a fair-weather fan. Not because I don’t love baseball all the time, but because I can’t stand dramatic tension. Not in movies, not on TV, and certainly not in sports.

            So, for example, if there is a TV-show or movie where the guy is getting up the courage to kiss the girl, I have to leave the room. I can’t stand the tension of “maybe-yes,” and “maybe-no.” Or, if there is some dramatic irony that suggests the hero is going to do something stupid, like make his girl-friend mad, or miss meeting her for dinner—well then, I leave the room. I can’t stand the tension.

            Baseball is full of this sort of tension. I love watching a home run. I love watching the bust-out inning. I love a Tulowitzki-Goins-Smoak double-play. But I can’t stand to watch a game where Toronto is one run up and Osuna is pitching in the ninth. I turn it off. Too much tension.

            So when it comes to the Jays, I’m always on the knife-edge. I can’t stand it when they’re failing, or threaten to implode, so much so that I turn my back and try to ignore them.

            And living with this uncertainty, this ambiguity, this two-sidedness is really what faith is all about.

            Do you remember that Facebook post I read at the beginning of this sermon? It finished with one word, “believe.” It was almost as if the post was saying, “if you have enough faith, good things are going to happen. Just believe harder and the Jays will go all the way.” But that is exactly what faith isn’t. It isn’t a tool for getting what we want.

            Real belief, real faith recognizes that there are some things we cannot know with certainty. Faith recognizes that there are some umpires who will make lousy calls, that there are some days the bats will go cold, there are some days that pitching arms turn to rubber—and we can’t change that. Faith recognizes that life is lived on a knife-edge, where both good and bad things happen to people who may or may not deserve it.

            So faith—even large amounts of it—can’t make the Blue Jays winner, or Kansas City losers. But then, what’s the gospel according to the Blue Jays if it isn’t “have more faith if you want to win?”

            Well, I think I’d put it this way. Baseball is a spectator sport, mostly. There are only 25 guys—they are all guys—on the Blue Jays playoff roster, but 49,000 fans in the stadium, and millions more in TV and Internet Land. It’s a spectator sport.

            And, we can actually learn good things from watching this sport. We learn about teamwork, as in a double play; about sacrifice, as in a sacrifice bunt or fly. We learn from watching baseball, about leadership, about taking hiring risks, and about what it takes to succeed at something we love.

            And while we watch, we have fun. We cheer and laugh and groan and do the wave and jump in our seats and shout while, hopefully, not throwing beer cans on the field.  But it’s a spectator sport. And there is nothing wrong with that.

            On the other hand, life itself, a life of faith, is not a spectator sport. It is, rather, a long race, one for which the Apostle Paul says we need to train to succeed. He uses very strong language to describe the race of life: “So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disquailified.” Life is a race, full of any race’s uncertainties, something we train for, that we spend ourselves on, that we work hard at in order to win. Baseball is entertainment, but life is not a spectator sport.

            So what is it that we’re really training for? Well the Bible—and every religion, really—is absolutely clear on this. The game we play is love. The purpose of our lives is to love neighbours, fellow Jays fans, even Kansas city fans—but more to the point—the least, the last, the most needful in our society: our children and parents, our first nations and immigrants, our nannies and environment. Life is not a spectator sport—it consists of loving others whenever we can, whatever our job is. That’s real faith, lived on the knife-edge. We don’t know whether or not what we do for others will make them winners or not, but we do it because Jesus said this is what we do when we really live, rather than watch from the sielines.

            So the gospel according to this blue Jays fan, is this: believe, as the Jays poster says—but don’t believe by sitting in a recliner in order to be entertained. Believe to do, do the right thing, by way of your neighbours.  

            And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying so to take the fun out of life. You see, the secret of the gospel according to this blue Jays fan, is that if you live like Christ and for your neighbor—well, it’s an adventure. It’s a blast. There’s no life like it! Even given the uncertainty.

            I wrote this sermon on Thursday night. I didn’t know how the Jays series would turn out. But in a way, that’s how it is with life. We’re all in the middle of the series, and we don’t know how it is going to turn out, humanly speaking. But unlike fans of the Jays, who can really make very little difference in the outcome of the Kansas City Toronto plays by believing, we can all make a huge difference for how our lives—and the lives of our neighbours—turn out. Because when it comes to Biblical faith, we’re not spectators, we’re in the game, however it turns out. We’re lovers.

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