Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Take “Me” Out – Reflection by Fr. Benedict Varnum

priest-baseballThursday, November 03, 2016

Take “Me” Out …

I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan, and I have plenty of grumpy, fussy things to say about the salaries professional athletes are paid for our entertainment in an age where we still have trouble finding the social will to fund schools and medical clinics.

But tabling all of that for a moment, I’ll admit that I’m also a guy who lived in Chicago for ten years. And even the hardest-hearted grump can’t help but get swept up into an awareness of the Cubs curse (the owner of the Billy Goat tavern brought a live goat to a 1945 World Series Game, was kicked out because the goat smelled awful, and swore the Cubs wouldn’t win any longer).

I watched Game 7 of the World Series this past week, with all its Disney-finale movements back and forth. And this morning, talking with Mary Jane Smith here at church, we got to reflecting on Aroldis Chapman.

Now, again, I’m not a huge sports fan. I hadn’t been following the highly-technical pitching theories about who you use when, how much rest pitchers need, how many pitches someone ought to throw, etc. But I picked up enough from the announcers to understand that Aroldis is a heavyweight, brought in for big moments, and that he’d carried a huge load in games 5 and 6. Last night, for game 7, the Cubs brought him in to seal the deal in the bottom of the eighth inning, standing on a two-run lead.

Except Aroldis didn’t close the game. He actually opened it up wide open again, as almost immediately batters hit on him and made up the runs, tying the game in the bottom of the eighth. As the game was put on rain delay after a still-tied ninth inning, announcers reported that Aroldis was crying as he walked into the dugout.

I can’t imagine the pressure that’s put on one man in his late twenties, when millions of people are watching, millions of dollars of endorsements and salaries for himself, his club, and his teammates are on the line, and the results of a few dozen pitches may have endangered a victory that seemed well in reach.

But what was really heartening was watching the rest of the team step up. Instead of a game being finished by a superstar titan, looming heroically above the deeds of merely mortal men, we watched a wearied pitcher make fatigued mistakes, putting the outcome back into play for either team.

And then the Cubs had to work for it.

And so it was that the team’s batting line-up had to work the bats and the bases to find go-ahead runs again. It took Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero hitting strong to bring in two runs in the tenth. And then the unlikely Mike Montgomery was brought out to work the final pitches to the final out and close the game.

A friend noted that even the last toss that snagged the final out of the game was thrown with a slipping foot. A conclusion full of imperfect grace and much-needed teamwork on a field half-protected from rain after a 17-minute delay. Not with a bang, but a whimper, as the poet says.

I can’t help but think that many of the great works of churches are like this. We have stories of great miracles; we have the astonishing sign of the Resurrection; we have the world-shaking power of God the Almighty to confess. We have seen the witness of heroic saints in every age, who proclaimed by mighty acts and deeds a fearless faith, seeming perfect and glorious in their surety and confidence and commitment.

And yet so much of our faith is worked out in quiet moments with other people, imperfectly and unheroically. So much of our faith has a slipping foot, after a comeback that depends on other people, to arrive late in the night after a wearying journey that called for unknown gifts brought forth by leaps of faith. So much of our faith arrives, breathless, after a journey we’d never have predicted.

We’re a team. Well, rather, we’re a body – no less than the Body of Christ. And Christ has made it perfectly clear that however scarred that body is, it will still be Risen, too. However tormented we make it, and however mocked, that Body is the message of love God sends into the world as a witness to its many parts. However different the eye is from the hand, they need each other, whether or not they can understand each other.

There are curses WE still need to break. We need to break the curse of racism, and sexism, and xenophobia. We need to break the curse that lifts up any particular human wisdom over the love and grace and forgiveness that God calls us to. We need to break all sorts of curses that call on us to create divisions from one another, rather than recognizing all the world as beloved children that God has demanded we call “Neighbor.” And some of these curses have a history stretching much farther back than a mere 108 years.

But when we arrive at our victory, it won’t be because a single human being has stood on the mound, throwing thunderous pitch after thunderous pitch past batters who had no chance of hitting them. Rather, it will be because the grace of God in all of us has let us each offer some small gift that we’ve been blessed with, some piece of the holy story of reconciliation and repentance, back into a hurting world that is healed and made whole piece by piece when we offer it our gifts and love.

I love our lineup here at Saint Augustine’s. I’ve seen all sorts of star plays by our people here as we celebrate the worship of God, reach out our hands in help and support of our neighbors and our communities, and teach ourselves and our children more about Jesus. I’ve seen relief pitchers step up to spell tired arms. I’ve seen people swing for the fences and place strategic bunts to help others. I’ve seen people tag up at base after a fly ball to make sure we move forward safely. And I’ve seen us win together. I can’t wait to see what we’ve got ready for next season.

So take me out to the ballgame. And then take “me” out, that God might work through me instead.

– Fr. Benedict Varnum


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