Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Prayer for the Sunday after the Aurora, CO Shootings

(We observed a moment of silence to remember the victims and their families; I then prayed the following prayer.)

O God,

Once again we have been confronted with the horror of the killing and wounding of a large number of people, this time in Aurora, Colorado. As we ponder the numbers—12 killed and 59 wounded—help us to remember that each one of those numbers represents a person whose death or injury has left their family and friends grief-stricken and in turmoil.

Lord, have mercy on those families.
Christ, have mercy on that community.
Lord, have mercy on us.

We pray for the one who carried out these murders. We ask for him the related miracles of healing and forgiveness that come only by your grace. We pray that the kind of darkness that overcame his soul will never overcome ours.

This tragedy, like all such tragedies, causes us to ask hard and challenging questions. Help us, O God, not to hide from confronting questions that we need to confront. We readily acknowledge the sin and sickness that are present in one who would carry out such an act. Is there also sin and sickness in our nation, in our culture, in our mindset, in our priorities, in our communities and even in our churches that help to contribute to such an event?

Is there something in our hearts? Is there something in my heart?

If our asking of such questions and if our seeking of your Spirit lead us to conclusions that challenge and trouble us, help us to deal with those conclusions honestly and courageously.

On your grace and on your grace alone can we rely in this time and in all times.

Thank you for hearing our prayers.
Thank you for seeing our hearts.
Thank you for healing our hurts.
Thank you for forgiving our sins.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How About a Hit Behind the Runner Derby?

I did not watch the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby this year.

Frankly, I get bored watching major league sluggers hit booming shots off batting practice pitches. Besides, I worry that one of those high fly balls that doesn’t make it over the fence will bonk one of the kids trying to catch them right on the noggin.

So I decided to go “back, back, back, back, back” to my study and do something productive, like write another bad song.

Home runs are certainly impressive and I guess that tape-measure home runs are even more impressive. It’s interesting, though, that in a real game, a home run that barely clears the wall counts for one run just like one that lands in McCovey Cove or on Waveland Avenue.

Do you remember those commercials that Cy Young Award-winning and future first ballot Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were in a few years ago in which, after they saw Heather Locklear admiring Mark McGwire’s blasts, they tried to become power hitters because, as they said, “Chicks dig the long ball”? Well, dudes seem to dig it, too, because everybody loves to see home runs hit.

Thus is explained the popularity of the Home Run Derby, which has turned into a fourteen-hour ESPN spectacular.

A home run is a beautiful thing.

There are things that happen in a baseball game, though, that are even more beautiful. Let me name just two.

First, there is the sacrifice bunt, which occurs when there is a runner on base and the batter bunts the ball, fully expecting to be thrown out, in order to advance the runner to the next base.

The sacrifice bunt is often executed when a runner is on first base or runners are on first and second base with no outs; it is often used also when a runner is on first or second and the pitcher is at the plate with no outs or one out. The purpose of the bunt is to move the runner or runners into a position from which they can more easily score.

It’s called a “sacrifice” bunt because the batter is willingly and intentionally giving himself up because the situation calls for such a sacrifice for the sake of the team. The batter is not penalized statistically for a sacrifice bunt because an at bat that results in a successful sacrifice is not counted as an official at bat.

The second kind of hitting display that is even more beautiful than a home run and that may be even more beautiful than a sacrifice bunt occurs when the batter hits behind the runner in order to move him over.

This happens when a runner is on second base with no outs and the batter does everything he can to hit the ball behind the runner, that is, to hit the ball on the ground to the right or first base side of the infield. If the batter successfully does that, the runner will advance to third where he will be with one out and with the ability to score in any number of ways, including as the result of a base hit, a sacrifice fly, a wild pitch, a passed ball, or a balk.

What makes hitting behind the runner an even more beautiful play than the sacrifice bunt, which is a truly beautiful baseball play, is the fact that it constitutes a true sacrifice; the at bat counts and so the hitter’s batting average is negatively impacted. He has truly given himself up for the good of the team.

Both the fireworks and the crowd go off when a home run is hit; the reaction is much more subdued when a hitter lays down a sacrifice bunt or moves a runner over by successfully hitting behind him.

But watch the reaction of the players and coaches—they know.

Church members can create a lot of stress when they expect worship and church life to be characterized constantly by the blast of long balls and of fireworks; pastors and church leaders carry around a lot of stress when they feel like they are expected to turn every game around with one crushing blow.

Pastors and other worship leaders are susceptible to the seductive cheers of the crowd that can come when they seem to have put on an awesome display of power.

I sometimes wonder how many church members can see the value—the indispensability, really—of the subtle, quiet, regular giving up of self that characterizes real worship, real preaching, real ministry, and real Christian practice; I sometimes wonder how many church members notice the sacrifices that are so often made by their leaders for the sake of the faith, of the church, and of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to serve and to give his up his life.

Every great once in a while, someone will tell me that I hit a home run with a sermon.

I take that for what it’s worth.

I’d take it as a real compliment if someone were to say as they shake my hand at noon on some Sunday, “Way to hit behind the runner, Preacher.”