August 9, 2015
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
HOME IS NOT A BASE
There is one way to tell a true baseball fan from someone who just has a casual acquaintance with the game. You can tell by what they call this.
This is not home base. In baseball, home is not a base. This is home plate. Which really shouldn’t matter that much, but if there are any other true baseball fans in attendance this morning, you understand. It does matter.
Bill Klem was a Major League Baseball umpire. He’s the one who takes out that little broom when home plate gets covered with dirt and cleans it off. Bill Klem umpired in 18 World Series, most of them before any of us were born. Here’s what he said about the game he loved: “Baseball is more than a game to me. It’s a religion.” So I suppose if you take your baseball as seriously as your religion, it does matter whether you call it a base or a plate.
I’m going to talk today about baseball. If you came here this morning expecting that we might be talking about God, we will be talking about God, too. But God can be found in a lot of places. Baseball, for me at least, is one of them.
One of my favorite baseball stories goes back to 1993. A 24-year-old named Curtis Pride had just been given his first chance to play in the major leagues. It came in September, when teams are allowed to expand their rosters. His team, the Montreal Expos, was in a pennant race with the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a critical game and it was a critical moment in the game. Montreal was behind by 3 runs, but they had two runners on base with one out. It was the bottom of the seventh inning. And in came Curtis Pride to pinch hit.
He had one major league at bat up to that point. He had yet to get his first hit. So it was a curious move on the part of the manager. But Curtis Pride hit the very first pitch he saw. He hit it hard. It went like a bullet between two outfielders and rolled all the way to the wall. Both runners scored. The Expos went on to win the game.
But it’s what happened after that stand-up double that people remember. Curtis Pride was all alone on second base. It was time for the game to continue. But the fans in Montreal would not let the game continue. The were cheering. The noise was deafening. It was a five-minute standing ovation. Curtis Pride was clueless. He looked confused. He was looking over at his third base coach, Jerry Manuel, to see if he might be getting a sign to steal third. The coach was pointing at his head. This was not a sign he remembered being taught. Jerry Manuel called time out and ran down to second base, pointing at his head the whole time. Finally, Curtis Pride got it. He was being told to remove his helmet and acknowledge the crowd.
How could even a rookie ball player be that dense? It was because Curtis Pride is deaf. He couldn’t hear the crowd. They knew he was deaf. That’s one reason they were cheering. It was like they thought if they yelled loud enough and long enough eventually he would be able to hear them! Curtis Pride was one of the first and definitely the best Major Leaguer to play the game without being able to hear. He is now head baseball coach at GallaudetUniversity in Washington, DC where his whole team is deaf.
That story is a picture of our place in the world. It reminds me that God is doing a lot of great things in this world and that we are totally clueless. We are like Curtis Pride standing on second base with 65,000 people yelling their encouragement, and we don’t even know it. We are oblivious. There’s a lot more going on in God’s world than we are able to take in.
Like Jesus. Who is Jesus to you? It’s a good thing to take some time and get that down on paper. Who Jesus is, what Jesus means to you. Most of us will conclude pretty quickly that there’s more to say than we can put into words. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). (Yes, we haven’t left those “I Am” sayings behind yet!) The way. The truth. The life. A preacher hears that and thinks a three-point sermon. Or a three-sermon series. But no. How can we capture the full meaning of Jesus, no matter how many words we use? It’s like the ending of John. The world itself could not hold all the books it would take to capture the meaning of Jesus Christ.
So I’m using baseball today as one way to get at some spiritual meaning. For some of us baseball is more than a game. It’s a religion. As George Will said, “Baseball, it is said is only a game. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” If you’ve ever been to Arizona and taken in the Grand Canyon, I’m guessing you’ve experienced something of God in that moment. The vastness, the beauty, the awesome wonder of that breathtaking geological formation brings us closer to God. And I’m trying real hard to make the case today, that baseball too can help us experience the presence of God.
Consider this. Baseball is a game of “3’s”. Everywhere you look in the game of baseball, there is the number “3”. There are 3 outs in an inning, there are 3 strikes and you’re out, there are 3 outfielders, there are 3 bases. Remember, it’s 3 bases, not 4. Because home is a plate, not a base! There are 9 innings in a game, and what is 9 but 3 squared? And there are 9 players on a team.
This, by the way, is one of the best arguments against the designated hitter rule in the American League. It ruins everything because it allows you to have 10 players in the game, and it’s supposed to be 9 which is 3 squared.
And then, of course, the perfect number has to be 3 to the power of 3 which is 27. 3 x 3 x 3. And a perfect game in baseball is when you get all 27 batters you face out. Isn’t that perfect!
What does the number 3 have to do with God? Well, there’s a little something called the Trinity. God in 3 persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So baseball, we might say is a Trinitarian game. That means God is in it through and through. Through and through and through. Are you buying any of this?
You might say this is a superficial way of talking about God in baseball. And you would be right, if you said that. So to go a little deeper, let me tell you about a bumper sticker I saw the other day. Do you ever get a little closer than you should to the car in front of you just so you could read the bumper sticker? That’s what I did. This is what the bumper sticker said: “In baseball as in life, all the important things happen at home.”
Home is an important word for all of us. It’s not a base. It’s not even a plate. It’s more than that. Home was an important word for Jesus. It may be his best-known, best-loved parable. The one about the Prodigal Son who didn’t like his life at home. So he left. But then he liked his life away from home even less. So he came back home. He didn’t think he could come home. He didn’t think he’d be welcome back there. But he was. There is great rejoicing when he comes home.
Jesus wanted to have one last home-cooked meal with his disciples before he went to the cross. John’s gospel tells us he washed their feet on that occasion. In that day, that’s what your servants would do for you when you came home. They would wash all the dust and grime off your tired feet. They would pamper you and fuss over you. That’s what Jesus did for them. He wanted them to be comfortable. Well-fed, well-cared for. He wanted them to feel at home. And then he gave them a little talk about what home really means.
He told them that he was going home. That meant he was leaving them. That meant he was going to die. They didn’t like that. But he went on to tell them that they were going home, too. He was leaving them for a short time but he would come back and then he would take them with him. “That where I am you may be also.”
He told them about God’s home. It’s not just where God lives. It’s where we will live. There’s plenty of room in God’s home. There are many rooms. It’s not a small house. There’s a place for each of us and for all of us.
So Jesus told his disciples who were so upset that he was leaving them that they didn’t need to be so upset. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He was going home and so were they. How were they to get there? How were they to find their way home? Jesus said they already knew the way.
One of his disciples, Thomas, piped up. He said, “No we don’t. We don’t know the way. How can we know the way?” And that’s when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me.”
You take the scripture we read today, put it together with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and what do you get? You get a joyous homecoming celebration. Kind of like in baseball.
I looked for a YouTube montage of baseball players celebrating when they touch home plate. Helen was relieved when I couldn’t find one. She remembers those three solid minutes of Damian Lillard making baskets. But that’s the whole point of baseball. To be safe at home. And when you’re safe at home, it’s always such a great feeling! And there’s always such a joyous celebration!
Jesus talked about the joy in heaven when one sinner repents and comes home (Luke 15:7). And there’s a hymn about that joy. “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!” That’s our ultimate goal. That’s our ultimate destination. But home has great meaning short of our heavenly home. And again, baseball gives us a glimpse into that meaning.
I’ve just discovered a baseball league I never knew existed. It’s called the Miracle League. It’s a special league for kids who otherwise would never be able to play the game.
They don’t play on grass and dirt. Wheelchairs don’t do well on soft surfaces. Every player has at least one “buddy” who helps them when they need help. I got a copy of the rules.
1. Every player gets to bat each inning.
2. Every player gets to circle the bases each inning.
3. Every player gets to touch home plate each inning.
4. No player is ever called “out”.
The way they make all this work is that every inning ends with a home run. It doesn’t matter how far you hit the ball or even whether you hit the ball, if you are the last one to bat that inning, you are the one who is going to hit a base-clearing home run.
Has anyone here ever seen a Miracle League baseball game? Here’s a little glimpse of what one is like.
And who knows? That just may be a little glimpse of heaven. It’s certainly a glimpse of heaven on earth.
One of the great Major League Baseball players of all time spent half of his life in a wheelchair. Roy Campanella. He played in the old Negro Leagues until 1947, the first year Major League Baseball allowed black players to play. Jackie Robinson was the first. His teammate on the Brooklyn Dodgers, Roy Campanella was right on his heels.
He was one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. He lost years on both ends of his playing career. He got a late start because of the color barrier. And his career ended earlier than expected. He broke his neck in January of 1958 in a car accident. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down, though through physical therapy he eventually regained some use of his arms,
I remember Roy Campanella well. Not as a player. I was a little young for that. But I remember my dad telling me the Roy Campanella story. And I remember how even from a wheelchair he still loved the game of baseball and inspired many to overcome their adversity and live life to the fullest. He’s remembered both as a baseball player and as an author. He wrote a book called, It’s Good to Be Alive.
One of the all-time great baseball quotes comes from Roy Campanella.
You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too. When you see Willie Mays and Ted Williams jumping and hopping around the bases after hitting a home run, and the kissing and hugging that goes on at home plate, you realize they have to be little boys.
I guess that’s one reason I love baseball. It appeals to the little boy in me. It’s more than a game for some of us. Not all of us. I understand that. But I think we all want to go home. Home is where we can be safe. Home is where we can celebrate with others who share our joy. Home is where we can know the security of God’s love. And God’s love makes us want to make sure that others can also experience the joy of being safe at home.
You are doing some great things God. And many of us remain totally clueless. Help us to see you in places where we might not expect to find you. Even in a bunch of kids or kids at heart enjoying a ball game. We thank you for the heavenly home we have to look forward to. But God, help us to live to the fullest each day you give us here on earth. “It’s good to be alive.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.