Ash Wednesday, Sermons

Spring Training

(A word for Ash Wednesday — February 25, 2009 — Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

My friend Stephen is a big baseball fan. He grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, and now he gets to every Sea Dogs game he possibly can. A few years ago he reminded me of the date of Opening Day, and I said, “Hey, isn’t that Maundy Thursday?” He looked disappointed. You see, Stephen is a pastor, too, and he needed to be at church.

People who love baseball love it a lot, and their countdown to spring is their countdown to box scores and double plays and home runs. Our neighbor, B, is my son Snowman’s age. We moved in across the street 11 years ago, and every spring as soon as the snow clears, we hear the familiar sound of a tennis ball being pitched against the front steps, over and over and over again. I’ll miss it when he goes to college.

It’s hard to imagine spring right now, when the sand in our lives makes the ice passable instead of forming the pitcher’s mound. It’s hard to imagine spring  with more snow in the forecast, or worse yet, “frozen mix.”

But spring will come, and opening day, and right now it’s time for spring training. The ball teams have gone to warmer climes to run drills and get into peak shape, to play practice games and do their best to win the positions they want to play. They don’t know what the season will hold, but they prepare for whatever may lie ahead.

For the disciples, the journey they took with Jesus prepared them for what they did not expect. They did not know he would die and they surely did not understand that he could rise from the dead. All the time they spent with him got them ready to later spread the word about his life and his death and his resurrection.

This church is preparing for a new phase of life, a kind of spring, and you’re doing it by the work of the search committee and by coming to meetings and by praying for what is to come.  And you’re doing it by trying things a different way, by doing even small new things along the way.

During Lent, you may take on or give up something, as part of your spiritual practice. Because of the scripture we just read, I’m reluctant to tell you what I’m planning for Lent, and maybe that’s true in case I don’t follow through. Last year I tried giving up my favorite drink, my tall nonfat no-whip mocha from Starbucks, and I only lasted about a week!

Like the baseball players, in this season of spiritual preparation, we’ll all want to be working on both our skills and our specialties. Maybe we need to practice catching or running the bases, which we might think of as listening for God, or getting out to do something for others. Just remember that in the gospel lesson, Jesus is saying, do your work, as faithfully as you can, and don’t worry about signing autographs to prove to yourself you’re a good ball player! God will know, and that’s what really matters.

In this season of preparation we get ready for the best Good News there is. We go quietly and deliberately; we look at the things we might not really want to see about ourselves; in the end, we gather to live the sadness and the joy of Holy Week.

I checked the calendar this afternoon; the Sea Dogs once again have their first home game on Maundy Thursday. The time from this day until that one will go by quickly. Let’s make the most of Spring Training. Amen.

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