February 18, 2019
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav'n, to earth come down!
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter ev'ry trembling heart.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #631]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, February 24, 2019, the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, are as follows:
In light of all the hand-wringing last week about the looming shutdown (which, thankfully, didn't happen); the commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, massacre; and the ongoing controversy over whether or not a wall will be built along the nation's southern border, there was a significantly important event that went largely unnoticed by the general public:
pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.
It obviously doesn't mean much to anyone who isn't a baseball fan, but to those who love the game, it marks the beginning of a new season - a new creation filled with hope and dreams of a final reward sometime in late October.
For the next several weeks until early April, the dominant topic of conversation will center around the needs of our favorite team - who will bat where in the lineup, which player can bring the most value in a trade, is the manager putting the best talent on the field.
The hope that a new season brings is never destroyed, no matter how many disappointments we live through year after year after year.
There was a time when my nose would be buried in a newspaper's sports pages poring over statistics and the standings. These days, my interests have shifted to learning more about the players themselves and what drove them to be successful. So right about now I usually pick up a baseball biography to read in preparation for the season. I already have on my shelf, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, by Jane Levy.
But before going too deep into the baseball bushes, we look ahead at the lessons for this upcoming Sunday and the theme of forgiveness that ties them together.
In the Old Testament reading from Genesis this Sunday, we witness the climactic scene of the story of Joseph, who forgives his brothers for having sold him into slavery many years earlier. It's worth reading the story thoroughly, beginning at chapter 37, to grasp the full measure of the wide range of emotions that are at play in this family drama.
In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples with the following instructions, "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
That's a tall order for those who would follow in the way of Jesus. We struggle with these challenges because hatred and resentment so often have such a strong hold on us that we find it difficult to let go of what were perceived as offenses from the past. In my visits to congregations and councils I'm fascinated by the many stories I hear of incidents that happened years ago, but still have a grip on their present state of affairs.
In Native-American lore, there's a legend about an old Cherokee warrior who told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
"My son," he said, "there's a battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, inferiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, gratitude, truth, and compassion."
The grandson thought for a minute and then asked "Grandfather, Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Jesus encourages his disciples (and by extension, us) to feed the Good wolf, not to react in anger or with vengeance. However, he does not say that we are to overlook injustice. Think of where we would be, for example, if Martin Luther King had ignored the unjust segregation laws of the south in the fifties.
Baseball came to mind as I pondered the readings because I've always thought of baseball as an unforgiving sport. The rules are inviolate: three strikes, you're out; three outs, your team takes the field; the team that scores the most runs wins. Everything is absolute. There is no wiggle room.
On the other hand, baseball also allows for redemption. A batter gets at least three chances, often four, to accomplish something in a game. Even if he strikes out his first time at the plate, he can atone for his failure in his next appearance. Consider, also, that an exceptional batting average in baseball is .300. Translated into practical terms, that means that seven times out of ten a player has flopped.
Sports in general, and baseball in particular, can supplement what scripture teaches us about living in harmony with each other. The late Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, was a huge soccer fan. He wrote a book titled, Soccer in Sun and Shadow. In it, he related the following anecdote, which somewhat summarizes all of the above
"A reporter once asked German theologian Dorothee Sölle, 'How would you explain happiness to a child?'
'I wouldn't explain it,' she answered. 'I'd toss him a ball and let him play.'"
This coming Sunday, February 24, I will be with the people of God at Zion, New Middletown. Their long time pastor, the Rev. Larry Klinker, is retiring. We will celebrate his many years of service to the people of Zion and give thanks to God as he concludes his ministry to them.
I failed to mention last week that our offices would be closed on Monday, February 18, for the Presidents Day holiday. We reopen on Tuesday.
The assigned Psalm for this week provides wise counsel:
Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord, and see what God will do. [Psalm 37:5]
+Bishop Abraham Allende