The youth watched The Sandlot last night (outdoors on the lawn, safely social distanced). It is one of the greatest movies about being a kid in the summertime - if you haven’t seen it in a while you can rent it on Amazon. The best thing about the movie is the way the kids form a community and take care of each other.
The movie is the story of how Scotty Smalls moves into the neighborhood and is encouraged by his mother to make friends and even get into a little mischief - to just be a kid. Scotty finds a group of boys playing baseball on the sandlot and when he joins them it becomes very clear that he knows nothing about baseball. He is wearing dress pants, he can’t catch, and he can’t throw. The other boys laugh and make fun of him.
Except for Benny Rodgriguez, the team leader. He gives Scotty some pointers about throwing, and when Scotty asks how to catch, Benny tells him all he needs to do is stand in the outfield with his glove in the air and Benny would take care of the rest. Sure enough, at his next at-bat, Benny smacks the ball into the outfield and directly into Scotty’s glove. Scotty’s in!
As the movie progresses, Scotty does manage to get himself into some mischief. The boys could have left Scotty to figure his own way out of his scrape, but they don’t. They all work together to develop a plan to help Scotty. In the process, they also manage to make friends with a neighbor they had always feared and their community grows a little larger.
If you’re clergy long enough in the UMC (but maybe any mainline denomination), you’ll be party to the “program of the month.” There’s always some new flashy program aimed at growing churches. I’ll never forget the “Fishing Expedition” program we had some ten or fifteen years ago. Churches could order branded postcards and doorknob hangers and use these items to advertise the “Fishing Expedition” sermon series leading up to Easter. This passage from Luke 5 was the touchstone scripture for the whole series. My church had decided to send postcards to their whole zipcode and to put door hangers on the doors in a several block radius. This was supposed to be a great evangelism scheme.
It turned out that beautiful graphics are not what entice people to come to church, lovely as the postcards and door hangers were. Community is what entices people to come to church. We were always more successful at welcoming new members when they were invited by other church members. The “program of the month” was never going to grow our church. Extending our hospitality and offering something bigger than any of us individually is what would grow our community.
Although the incredible catch of fish in this scripture is pretty amazing, the greatest thing about this story in Luke is how Jesus draws the disciples into something that is larger than themselves. It was never about the fish. That’s what The Sandlot gets right, too. Benny seems to understand (without any adult telling him) that baseball is fun, but the point of the team is to build community. The boys on the team are a motley crew, and none are really baseball stars. What brings them together is the sense that they are all an important part of something that is bigger than themselves. That’s why they can’t abandon Scotty Smalls to figure out his own problems. They need him as much as he needs them.
We are a motley crew, not really prepared to manage a whole election cycle, global pandemic, work-from-home, school-from-home, and climate change-related natural disasters, but here we all are. You have something special, a particular skill or ability, that the whole community needs. We need you to be part of our team. We can’t do this without you.