Easter 3A, Luke 24:13-35, Sermons

That’s All Right

(A sermon for Easter 3A May 8, 2011 Luke 24:13-35)

We’re sitting in the front row of the Upper Deck at Camden Yards, on the first base side, the dug out below us, far away, and on our left is a bored woman drinking multiple cocktails while reading email on her Blackberry and ignoring the Orioles fans who brought her, and on our right are some fans from Boston, checking their phones for Bruins results all through the game.

And I’m not rooting for anyone in particular — the team I loved, the Washington Senators, went on to its reward, or Texas, circa 1971 — I’m just happy when someone is doing well. I just want it to be a game, you know? I want to see bat meet ball and great fielding, too, and strike-outs as well as home runs, and this game had it all. I even got to hold the Holy Scorebook while my friend, Kathryn, went out for a beer — for herself, you understand; just a Diet Coke for *your* pastor.

It’s late in the game, and the teams are changing at the end of an inning. Maybe they’re manicuring the infield, it’s a long break, and suddenly Kathryn asks, “Can you see the scoreboard?” She has been looking past me, and I toward her, away from it, but I turn my head quickly and there I see it scrolling past, my name, Martha Spong, and after it, in parentheses, the fateful number, fifty (50).

It was gone as quickly as it was there, but I had seen it, and I can close my eyes and see it now: my age, on the scoreboard, undeniable. And although some friends might not like having some other friends who are a good bit younger put their milestone birthdays on the scoreboard at a Major League Baseball game, that’s all right. I still love her.

If we aren’t looking at the right moment, we may miss the name on the scoreboard. If we’re not looking at the right moment, we may miss love.

I went to another ballgame on my vacation, but this one featured five and six year olds in helmets, swinging at a ball on a tee. No one keeps score at a t-ball game. Everyone gets to run the bases at the end of an inning, which is measured by every batter having had a turn. At t-ball, you hope everyone is cheering for everyone else, even though not much is happening. And given the number of swings the players get to take, and the few times someone actually catches a ball, it’s possible to get involved with an adult conversation and miss the action when it finally occurs.

If we aren’t looking at the right moment, we may miss the little kid throwing to his friend at first. And who cares if the friend manages to tag the runner out? In t-ball, we’re not keeping score.

Well, except maybe when you’re the mom of a six-year-old who is playing it cool. You try to keep an eye on your little fellow, to give him a smile of encouragement, but he is showing how grown-up he is by studiously paying NO attention to mom or her friends. His eye is on the ball. So when it doesn’t go well, when he misses his swing, and you know he cares, you keep your focus on him, just in case. You wouldn’t want to be looking away at the moment he decides he DOES want some mother love.

The dads coaching the two teams I watched were supportive and pretty laid-back, but we all know that as these kids move up to the next age bracket, it will become more competitive. I spent many spring evenings watching my little brother play baseball. He was a great shortstop, and he was a solid hitter, so valuable to his team that when they made it to the play-offs, his coach drove four hours to pick up an eleven-year-old at summer camp to bring him home for the championship game.

It’s possible I’m embroidering some part of this story, because it’s a memory of long ago, but I’m pretty sure they won that game. I do remember with certainty that my brother was written up in the newspaper. But this was before the era of either cut-throat little league competition or the culture of self-esteem, and my parents enjoyed my brother’s triumph without letting it show on their faces.

And that’s what makes another mama so memorable to me. She had two sons who played with my brother. This was Virginia, and it was 1974, and it was still pretty new to have a mixed-race team. The white parents and the African-American parents were courteous to one another, and everyone wanted the team to win. We all cheered when they did well, and shook our heads disappointedly when things went wrong. But this mama set a completely different example for how to support the team, and your own child, in particular. Seated smack in the middle of the tiny bleachers behind home plate, she watched the game avidly, and if one of her boys struck out or missed a catch, she would call out so everyone could hear:

“That’s all right. I still love you, Honey!”

Those boys didn’t have to look up at the right moment to know the Love of the Great Mother.

I still love you, Honey.

That’s God.

God who loves us even when we fail.
God who loves us even when we don’t recognize God’s own self.

He Qi, Supper at Emmaus

I hate to talk too much about what happened on the road to Emmaus and at the supper table, because the story really tells itself. But here’s what captivates me: these are people who KNEW Jesus. Cleopas is a name so close to the name Clopas that we think this couple may have been just that, the wife of Clopas, or Cleopas, and her husband. Some of the gospels put her at the foot of the cross.

They knew Jesus, but they couldn’t see he was right there with them. They didn’t recognize his voice, or his turns of phrase. And I find that amazing, because in that stunned time after a great loss I usually see the people I’m missing in places they aren’t, instead of the other way around.

“That’s all right. I still love you, Honey.”

That’s God, perched on bleachers far too small to hold the Divine Source of All That Is.

God who loves us even when we fail.
God who loves us even when we don’t recognize God’s own self.

The Red Sox lost that very good game, 5-4. My little brother went on to break my heart by giving up baseball and becoming a lacrosse player instead. Six-year-old boys not only don’t speak to their mother’s friends at a t-ball game, they hardly say hi later at home! We don’t always make the connections. Sometimes we even lose.

“That’s all right. I still love you, Honey.”

That’s God, calling out to us and giving signs that we are not as far off base as we fear.

God who loves us even when we fail.
God who loves us even when we don’t recognize God’s own self.

That’s God, who loves us, no matter what our circumstances, no matter the final score of our lives in the world’s terms. We know it because Jesus — whose score would have appeared to be Rome 1, Nazareth 0 — died but did not disappear from view.

On the road, he patiently explained it all to them, his place in history and all the teachings that seemed so confusing at the time, and when they talked about it later, they realized their hearts were burning all along!

They had their heads turned away from the scoreboard.

And so do we, most of the time.

The fantastically unimaginable Good News is this: death could not take away our Jesus, and Resurrection brought us the Christ who is with us, in every time and every place. And when we don’t believe it, when we can’t see it, when it’s hardest to feel, that’s just the time we hear her calling:

“That’s all right. I still love you, Honey.”

Amen.

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8 thoughts on “That’s All Right”

  1. I've always said baseball makes for great theology. And I hope you get a good laugh at the "Washington Senators, went on to its reward, or Texas…" line. Cuz it sure made me giggle. 😉

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  2. I so love this sermon, and not just for the obvious reasons. I love that your sermon begins its walk and then all of the sudden we too recognize the Good News and Jesus in its and our midst.Thank you.

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