A Homily by the Rev. William Morrison, Victoria, B.C.
I wasn’t preaching anywhere today. But this is a favourite of mine from 2000, when the 4th Sunday in Lent fell on April 2, thus coinciding with the opening weekend of the baseball season. I’m probably the last person you’d expect to write a baseball sermon, but …
You need to know that in the first reading (Numbers 21) the Israelites find themselves in a region of the desert infested with “fiery serpents,” snakes with a burning bite. The quotes from Paul are from the second reading for the day, Ephesians 3. The Gospel reading was, of course, from John.
This sermon involved, at the appropriate times, holding up signs with “JOHN 3:16″ and “JN 3:16″ printed on them. A sermon with visual aids — what a concept!
I had fun with this one. But it does have a serious side.
I don’t watch many sports events on television, except for the odd baseball game. Not even many of them since the Blue Jays went into their multi-year slump after their two back-to-back World Series wins.
But you don’t have to have watched many games to have seen him. There at every game. Sitting in a prime, front row seat behind the catcher, where the camera picks him out every time it looks over the pitcher’s shoulder towards home plate. The best seat in the house, but he seems even less interested in baseball than I am.
He’s not there to watch the game. He’s there to hold up a placard. Not “Go Blue Jays” either. This man’s seat has been paid for, I presume, by a Christian organization, because the placard he holds up says this:
Or sometimes the even more cryptic message:
Now I know what the man is doing. He is trying to share his faith with the television audience. He is trying to reach those who are numb with the words of love, those who are dead with the words of life:
God so loved the world, that he have his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
His goal is admirable. But his tactics? Well, I don’t think they’re very good. I mean, if I hold this placard up here, in this gathering:
Or even this one:
I might expect you to know what it was about. That it’s pointing you to the 16th verse of the Gospel according to St. John, which is sometimes referred to as the Gospel in Miniature.
But what does this —
or especially this —
mean to the couch potato watching the ball game on TV? Who has never seen a Bible. Who has never been to church. Who can’t figure out, if the odds on John are 3 to 16, who’s he running against, and what race are they in. And what’s it got to do when it’s the bottom of the ninth, the score is 2 to 1, the Blue Jays have the bases loaded with two out and the count is 3 and 2?
John 3.16. Words of love. Words of life.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
The truth is that we ARE perishing. That is the first message the man sitting behind home plate with his undecipherable cypher is trying to get across to the couch potato in Podunk. We are Israel in the desert, perishing for lack of the water of life and the food of the soul, our lives poisoned by the world we live in. We are dead, Paul says. It’s the bottom of the ninth, the score IS 2 to 1, the bases ARE loaded, and the count IS 3 and 2. You’re dead.
“You are dead,’ Paul says, “through the trespasses and sins in which you live, following the course of this world,” living in “the passions of your flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses.” You are a child of wrath, living amongst fiery serpents in the darkness of alienation from God. That’s the first word our placard fellow wants us to hear.
It’s the bottom of the ninth. The score is 2 to 1. The bases are loaded. The count is 3 and 2. And GOD is pitching. And he’s got a divine curve ball. Game over. The fiery serpents have won. Not a thing you can do about it.
But wait. It may seem like God is about to strike you out and send you straight to hell, but that’s not what God has in mind. That’s the second message this —
wants our couch potato to hear. God does not condemn. God saves. God does not want you to die. God wants you to live. You’re right. There is nothing YOU can do about it. But God can do something about it. And God WILL. God sends his Son to the plate as pinch hitter. And, in the bottom of the 9th, with the bases loaded and the count 3 and 2, the Son takes the Father’s pitch and hits a home run right out of the ballpark, and brings the whole team home safe and sound.
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The fiery serpents in the outfield — what Paul calls “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient,” but we might know in our lives as anything from serious illness to disappointed love, from the many faces of violence to global warming — are routed. There is joy, not only in Mudville, but in heaven. And in your heart.
The game may seem to be against you. You’re down to the last pitch. It’s coming down the pipe, and it’s a doozie. You’re about to strike out. God seems to have it in for you. But then this guy in the stands holds up his placard, Jesus steps to the plate around you, he hits the ball, and, although it was none of you’re doing, you’ve got a grand slam. God was on your team all the time.
YOU won, you see, but JESUS is credited with the save.