This year of Major League Baseball has been a very difficult one. I don’t know anyone whose team is enjoying a winning season…except maybe my aunt in San Francisco and my friend who loves the Phillies.
But the Padres, the Cubs, the Astros, the Angels, even the Dodger fans – we’re all hurting.
So we try to make the best of it. Some, I know, try to look at this year as a building year (Dad) studying up on the young players with high hopes for next year.
Since we only have about 4 television channels that come in clearly at our house, it’s a little hard for me to watch and keep up with the players to really analyze the futures of my favorite losing teams, so I’ve taken a different coping strategy. I’ve kind of “gone inside my baseball self”, and I’ve been slowly watching my way through the Ken Burns documentary entitled “Baseball”. Anyone seen it? It’s 11 episodes, over 2 hours each episode, about the history of the American pastime. And I love it! I’ve even gotten teared up watching the sections on Jackie Robinson becoming the first African American player to enter the league, Lou Gehrig’s last speech, or interviews of fans and historians recalling their feelings when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.
It’s actually been an incredibly rejuvenating and uplifting experience for me in another sad and sorry season of my favorite sport. And in the course of watching these episodes, I continue to come across metaphors, words and images, that are helpful in articulating why baseball means so much to me. Baseball is like community [yeah!]; it’s about sacrificing one for the good of the whole [yeah!]; it’s like refuge from the world; one commentator in the film said that baseball’s “action is in the absence of action”; it’s about losing – even the greatest hitters are successful only small percentage of the time; it’s about staying the same, through the midst of change; it’s about the past, and it is pastoral.” I don’t always have the words, and I’m reminded how we depend on the help of metaphors and images, words.
This week here in worship, Jesus uses words and images to articulate to the people of Matthew’s day—not what baseball is like, but what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus uses things of this earth to give us an idea of the very things of heaven.
In Matthew’s time, the image of a pearl found in a field was big deal, a net overflowing with fish made a lot of sense – these were things that never happened, but things that people could easily see in their mind’s eye, and so these images had Christ’s listeners sitting up and celebrating, their imaginations coming alive.
But perhaps those metaphors don’t have quite the same effect for us today?
How would he compare the kingdom of heaven now? It’s like a perfectly executed double play, like a Roberto Clemente clutch home run, or a Sandy Koufax strike-out. Or perhaps the baseball metaphors aren’t so effective for you. What language might Jesus craft to reach your ears? The kingdom of heaven is like a nap in a hammock after a long and trying meeting. Like getting a raise. Like getting the perfect compliment. Like a cool sip of ice tea in the shade, on humid day. A reconnection with a beloved friend, where you realize that time and distance hasn’t separated you at all. The kingdom of heaven is like joining hands with all those you love and saying grace before a great meal.
Today we reflect on the Word. And we are blessed by a Gospel text that fires images at us, words, almost too quickly to catch them all, “like scenes glimpsed through the windows of a fast-moving train” (BBTaylor). Mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearl, net full of fish. I think Jesus does this on purpose…for the Kingdom of heaven hard to pin down to one image, it’s hard to articulate, like my feelings about baseball. And so we look to words and images of things that are before us – sunsets and smiles and cool drinks and small victories – to point to things that are beyond us. No image nails it perfectly: God’s holy and loving reign, come down on earth to us. But even if our language may come up short and incomplete, we realize that God has put so much right before us. And it’s so good, in fact, that we can even say that the stuff of earth is like stuff of heaven! The kingdom of heaven is like…a baseball game…a getting together with friends…a warm quilt…a slice of fresh bread.
Indeed the Kingdom of God is not to be found in metaphors of lofty places, like golden castles in south of France, but what’s striking about what Jesus is doing here is he’s using images that are right in front of us, things that we can all imagine quite clearly: fields and fish, women and men, bread. Parts of our everyday. Things here and now. Those simple things are what the kingdom of heaven is like!
And God offers us bits of this glorious kingdom, already. At this holy table, but not just there: in this holy world. God’s kingdom is right here for us! It’s not something that we must build or create, or even search for, it’s already here. The simple joys: the breath of fresh air, the cool breeze off the ocean, the song of the bird or the song of the crowd at the game. The warmth of this family. The gift of this day. Thanks be to God, thy kingdom has come.
May God continue to give us the wisdom to see this kingdom come, the creativity of language to help one another name this kingdom come, and the peace to enjoy this kingdom come. AMEN.