Kindling a New Fire, Bull Durham style

August 18, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 15 – Year C RCL 

Luke 12:49-56

Those of you who are baseball fans are probably familiar with the movie Bull Durham. For those less familiar, it’s a story about a struggling minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. There’s a scene in the movie… when the team is into their season, and at this point, they’ve lost twice as many games as they’ve won, and the coach is struggling with how to turn things around.

After an especially dismal game, the team and coaches head down to the locker room. While the players are getting cleaned up after the game, the usually mild-mannered coach picks up an armful of baseball bats, and throws them wildly into the team shower. They bang onto the hard tile floor and scatter all over the place, sending the towel-clad players jumping; trying not to get hit or fall down! The coach yells for all the other players in the locker room to get into the showers, and starts counting to ten! One Mississippi, Two Mississippi…

As he reaches Ten Mississippi, everyone is there, dazed and confused by the commotion. The coach starts in, “You Guys… you lollygag the ball around the infield… you LOLLY-gag your way down to first… you lollygag in and out of the dugout… and you know what that makes you?… Lollygaggers!”

Bull Durham (1988)

Bull Durham (1988)

Now that he has their attention, through gritted teeth, he says: “This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. You GOT IT?!” And that was the extent of his team-pep-talk as they were about to embark on a twelve-game road trip! The season was well underway, they were way behind where the coached hoped they would be, and time was running out.

Not unlike the coach of the Durham Bulls, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel have a similar “throwing an arm-load of bats” affect on his followers. No more mister nice-guy. No more, “Peace be with you” so often heard from Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

No, instead, Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” [It’s worth noting that the opposite of peace is division, not war… war is a byproduct of division… but we’re not going down this path today.] He goes on to tell them that families will be divided… not a division between strangers, but a division within the family itself; their closest connections; their source of security:

Father against son
Mother against daughter
Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law

By this time in the Gospel story, Jesus has begun his own road-trip… as he makes his way along the road to Jerusalem. His time is growing short. His season here on earth is approaching the end… and the fire that Jesus’ hoped to bring to the earth has not yet been kindled!

I don’t know about you, but there’s something comforting in seeing a stressed-out Jesus. Although we profess that Jesus is fully human, we tend to be drawn to and focus on the fully divine part. We like our Jesus to be in control… a peaceful, loving teacher; the Jesus that heals the lame and soothes the suffering.

Yet, to be fully human includes feeling things… becoming frustrated; wanting things to happen more quickly than they do; getting stirred up, especially when he senses his message isn’t getting through! This is one of those times.

The verse just before today’s reading says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much as been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” His followers, his disciples, have been entrusted with much, and from them, much is being demanded.

But, WHAT is being demanded?

The Jesus of Luke’s Gospel is expanding boundaries and letting everyone in! The rules are being changed, so it isn’t only the Jews, God’s chosen people, who hear this message of God’s love, but even those least expected – like the Samaritans and the Gentiles. These people who Jews had been told to separate from, are now to be embraced as their neighbors.

With this kind of change – this radical inclusivity, Jesus knew it would bring uneasiness. The division that Jesus speaks of is a predictable tension – those who have been the chosen people of God are faced with the inclusion of others that don’t come from the same tradition. This is unsettling and causes people to turn against one another.

Even though the division is predictable, it isn’t meant to be permanent – there is a wish, a plan, for peace – for unity. But even so, there is still a period of change that is hard to navigate, and creates stress.
Interestingly, the Greek word used for stress is συνέχω (synecho), and means “to hold together.” So, our stress comes because we are trying to hold things together during difficult times – often caused by change.

Some people handle change much more easily than others. Some people even thrive on change… but for those of us that like to take change more slowly, or like things just the way they are, this is stressful!
Even when we want change to happen… when it’s a GOOD change… a new house, a new school, a new job (like for me and Tony, here at Christ Church)… there is still a shift that must be navigated.

Even with the joy of a wedding… there is a new daughter-in-law that enters the household. In ancient times the daughter-in-law would literally enter the household… with multiple generations living together under one roof. And with this new addition, comes a new set of opinions of how things are to be done… the daughter-in-law brings a new perspective… but for her, it is “the way it should be.”

Is the newly married husband best served by listening to his new wife, or taking sides with his own mother?

You see, this isn’t new. This kind of division in the midst of change is as predictable as Atlanta’s late afternoon summer thunderstorms.

Jesus points this out, challenging his followers to discern their present time for what it is – a time of change. If they don’t properly interpret it, then when people begin to see division within their family, they may panic. Reacting out of fear, our natural instinct is to retreat to a place of certainty and security. We want to hold fast to what is familiar.

Instead, this is a time to trust God, knowing that if we keep God’s purpose in mind and at the center of what we do, we can weather this time of uncertainty.

Yet, Jesus is demanding something more from us: “from one to whom much as been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” So, in following Jesus we must be willing to embrace things that are unfamiliar… to let a new fire be kindled!

No exceptionsBy living into our baptismal vows, we are accepting the challenge, with God’s help, to see the face of Christ in every person, not just those that we are comfortable with; not just those we are used to being around. New boundaries have been drawn… more accurately, the boundaries have been torn down!

All are welcome!

Here at Christ Church, we, like Jesus’ followers, are in the midst of change… of growth… of opening the boundaries of our community of faith.

  • We are expanding our ministries, which means some people might move away from a ministry they’ve always done to explore something new that God is calling them to try.
  • We are welcoming newcomers, opening our own boundaries… like the show Evangel, next Saturday, we are encouraged to bring friends and others… inviting them into our church home. As a show of hospitality we also so something as simple as wearing name tags.
  • We have and will continue to make changes to our Children and Youth programs, and I’m thrilled to be part of that endeavor!
  • And, we are experimenting with and exploring ways to invigorate the liturgy and music, while navigating our commitment to our Episcopal tradition.

For some, these changes will be welcome, while for others, they may be more difficult. Yet, what is most important is that we remember we are one family in Christ – the Body of Christ – the Church. And, as One Body, we care about one another and we have a common purpose of serving God, trusting God, and prayerfully discerning our collective ministry in this world.

So how do we find our way through this change and make our way to a place of peace?

Besides keeping God at the center, I’ll make one additional suggestion…

There was a phrase my sister Kathy used to say when facing a conflict or difference of opinion with someone, which was: “This is not the hill I’m gonna die on.”

Invoking this phrase creates a shift in attitude which is vital for the path to peace. It isn’t about being walked over, and not engaging others in meaningful, constructive dialogue. But, at the end of the day, we must be willing to decide what is most important. Is it our position on an issue, or living in loving community with others?

Loving our neighbor isn’t about always agreeing, but more about living in peace and love despite our differences. If we dare, perhaps we can even cherish the differences!
In the end, most issues or positions – many HILLS that come between us – are not the most important thing… they are not worth dying on. Instead, the most important thing is our journey of faith and living into the baptism we have been baptized into.

Just as baseball is a simple game… you throw the ball; you hit the ball; and you catch the ball, God’s ultimate message through Jesus is also simple…

You love God. You love your neighbor. You welcome all.

So, with that in mind, let’s play ball!

3 Responses to “Kindling a New Fire, Bull Durham style”

  1. Informative, Inspiring and Relevant–a winning 3some–thanks

  2. cynthiaerwin said

    Love this…Team GOD!

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    bought me lunch simply because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!
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I invite your thoughts and insights.

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