I love baseball. And here we are at the start of another season. My beloved fallen-on- recent-hard-times Houston Astros began last season with two wins against the Yankees. It was bliss to behold.
Home here at Koinonia, I’ve been known to use baseball metaphors way beyond what is reasonable. I’m about to do it again. Bear with me.
Love one another. It’s simple. It’s difficult. Listen to the news and you just may come to believe it’s impossible. But it is Jesus’ final commandment. He’s at the Passover meal, Judas has slithered out of the room and, in these last few moments before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is clear, “Love one another.” He was sharing a lesson about love and about dying. He washed feet.
I love it when our community goes on outings. At the beginning of baseball season two years ago, a group of us went to see the movie 42 — the story of Jackie Robinson becoming the first Black man to play Major League Baseball. The old segregated way had to die and Jackie’s entrance into professional baseball helped to make it so.
Baseball is spiritual. It’s all about coming home. It’s a great metaphor about life and about dying. It’s full of sounds. The crack of the bat, the crunch of cleats as you sprint for first, the thud as you touch first base with the correct foot so you are better propelled on to second and the roar of the crowd as you round third and race for home. That’s what it’s about, but how often does it happen? Someone who bats around .300 is considered a good hitter. That means two thirds of the time, the hitter experiences death. She may hit the ball, but someone catches it or someone throws it to a base she’s trying to reach. Maybe it’s a force out or maybe she’s tagged, but she’s out. But oh, the joy, there’s another turn at bat. There’s the thrill of another chance. Those who hit at the top to the middle of the order often get four at bats in a game. Four chances to hit. Baseball is such a hopeful game.
There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead, setting captives free even to the point of finding Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves. The truth the artist conveys is Christ reaching all the way back to our human beginnings. Reaching even through death for everyone — all of us.
Love one another. To love, we die to self. I think we have focused on Jesus’ death way too much. Let’s look at his life. I think he was demonstrating what we must do — die to ourselves each day to fulfill his command to love and to bring about the “new earth.” We keep going up to the plate even when we fail two thirds of the time. We don’t stop trying. As I heard recently, “If we can be courageous one more time than we are fearful, be trusting one more time than we are anxious: be cooperative one more time than we are competitive, be forgiving one more time than we are vindictive, be forgiving one more time than we are hateful” The bat meets the ball, we see the ball going, going, gone; we touch all the bases. If we strike out, well … if Jesus reached all the way back to Adam and Eve, isn’t he reaching for us? Always. His longing for us never ceases — strike out or homerun.
I think a better baseball metaphor, one that fits better with this theme of dying to self is the sacrifice. A runner is on first base. To get him to second you bunt the ball. You lay down a sacrifice. The runner is going to get to second and into scoring position even though you’ll be thrown out at first. Or a runner is on third. You lift a long, high fly ball, but the outfielder catches is going o catch it. That’s all right. You’re out, but the runner can tag third base and make it home ahead of the throw.
Loving one another is about dying to self. It’s about making sacrifices for others. It’s about going up to the plate again no matter how many times we’ve struck out. On that night two years ago, after the movie, we all came home again to the farm and even the non-baseball fans were buoyed by Jackie Robinson’s courage and perseverance. I think he demonstrated what Jesus asks of us — he died to self, he sacrificed for others and he loved and is loved.
I love baseball.
Go ‘stros! Play ball!