The Moments the Change Everything

Pic. used without permission.  AP(2009)

Or…The Moment That I Became A Yankee Fan

(A Message on Matthew 25:1-13 )

Obviously, with the upcoming events of  Sunday night causing my pulse to quicken, a frenzy is working its way through my day to day.   With each passing day, we get closer and closer to Super Bowl Sunday, and I can hardly contain myself.   The excitement is growing at a dizzying pace.

I am not alone either.   More than 200 countries and territories, including Iceland and the People’s Republic of China, are expected to watch the game. The game is broadcast in 32 different languages. In the United States, its estimated that more than 90 million will watch the game, which could be as high as 40+% of every home. (Long, Howie; Czarnecki, John (2007-09-24). Football For Dummies® (Kindle Locations 507-509). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.)

In just seven days, the world will shut off and watch two great teams meet in the coliseum.   Strategy will be employed.   Trash talking will ensue.   In the end, the team that knocks the other team harder, will end up walking away with a ring, and ticker tape.   The other will watch in shock from the sidelines.   

As a man of faith, I know this isn’t necessarily theologically correct, but I am praying that it’s New England that still stands when the night is over.   Seven days from today and we will have our answer.    In the meantime I wait with anxious anticipation, and do all those things that any good fan should.  

In the Masters’ house that means making sure we have all the appropriate food and beverage, making sure the girls have their appropriate attire cleaned and properly ready for that Sunday, and insure that that the 10’ Pat Patriot lawn inflatable is ready to go.

We have an additional treat this year.    We have the Patriots Tree setup in our living room.   

Actually, there is an additional story there.    We pick and cut our own Christmas Tree this year from a great farm down the road from where we live.   We cut it in late November, brought it home and set it up. 

My girls – all three of them – have hearts of angels.    After our New Year’s day open house, Stacey took the ornaments off the tree packed them away, and left the tree’s removal up to me.    In the interim between its stripping and its removal, Sophie discovered pine cones growing on its branches.  Instantly it was decided that the tree, while it was still living, needed to be kept safe in our house.    It only seemed right, according to Sophie, that if we chopped it down, that we keep it up until its ready to leave.   Considering that each of my girls have an invisible string that has one end tied to their wrists and the other around my heart, and with each tug I will give in instantly, our Christmas Tree remains standing in our home.

A couple of weeks ago, the tree became a Valentine’s Day tree, decorated with hearts and red tinsel.    If it is still alive after that celebration passes it will be a St. Patricks Day Tree.    Today, it is a Patriots tree, decorated in dollar store and I party patriots gear.

Now, I imagine that for the next two weeks there is going to be a great deal of football talk at offices, in living rooms, and across the country.  Of all those talking I will rank up there as one of the most excited.  I have turned back into an 8 year old boy, and the football, the jersey, the ball cap, and the potato chips are ready.    That tree speaks volumes to my excitement.

All that said, and acknowledging that my obsession with the sport is up there, when someone asks me who I am rooting for on SB Sunday, my reaction has been of shock, insult, and offense.  Are you kidding me?  If I wasn’t so afraid of needles and their permanence, I would have a “Flying Elvis” tattoo on one shoulder and “Pat Patriot”on the other.    I was sickened by the thought of someone looking at me and seeing anything other than a Patriots fan.

After I almost chewed up the last person who made the inquiry to which side of the fence I would sit on that Saturday, I received a reply that made everything make sense.   “How can you like the Patriots and be a Yankees fan in the spring?”   Doesn’t that mean you should root for the Giants or the Jets.   After I almost fainted over the vile notion of being a Jets fan (I actually made both my girls take an oath to never wear or purchase any Jet attire, date a Jet Fan, or joke about doing either in my home, before they were allowed to wear the Jersey), it started to click.    

I realized that some of you might be silently asking the same question, and fearing that I would yank the communion bread out of your mouth have quietly pondered the question without speaking.  I am certain that many of you have asked yourself, how Pastor Scott could be a Yankees fan.  Today, I am going to share that secret.

Truth be told some of you might know it, but many probably don’t.   As I was writing this, I thought of my childhood best friend – the biggest Sox fan I ever met – and couldn’t remember whether I actually told him.  Did I ever tell my wife or my kids?     Have I been so full of shame to share a secret version of this tale, that I regressed all memories deep down in my subconscious?

There is some shame in this story.   There was a day, when I was a Red Sox fan.   I had the hats, the shirts, and all that.  I was probably six or seven.  I lived in Orlando, not far from the spring training facility for the Sox, and like any other boy my age liked the idea of baseball.   Truth be told it wasn’t until after I left college, that I really took a down deep interest in the sport like a real fan, but I was your average 6 year old fan.

I also had one favorite player: Hall of Fame Left Fielder, Jim Rice.  I had a poster of him in my bedroom, and I thought he was the greatest thing since slice bread.  Now, with me being the exception, my family grew up far from being sports fan.   I had no idea why I liked Rice, and I don’t remember ever actually watching a game, but I knew he was the bomb.

Being a fan, and knowing that I would enjoy going to a game, a family friend invited me to a spring training game, and the two of us made the trip to Winter Haven Florida.   I remember it was an “Old Timers” celebration, and together we went from baseball legend to baseball legend shaking hands and having them sign my program.   I met Ted Williams, Rico Petrocelli, and even Johnny Pesky of the “Pesky Pole” fame.  Yet the pinnacle moment of that day, was supposed to be the moment the game ended, when the staff opened the gates and allowed kids to run out to field and get signatures of their favorite players as they walked backed to their clubhouse.

I remember running through that gate, and believing that this was a dream come true.   This was too good to be true I can recall thinking.   I remember seeing Carlton Fisk, but I had only one target; Jim Rice.    I remember being so full of smiles and joy, and being confused when I noted that he didn’t have a similar look on his face.    I was stopped dead in my tracks their in the middle of Left Field, by an angry Rice who barked out at with the language of longshore man.  

He said something akin to “Get the Blankety-Blank-Blank away from me kid,” and he never even slowed his stride.   I stood their slacked jawed –but dry eyed -and as if to rub salt in my wound, he looked over his shoulder and said “Don’t be a crybaby, Go home kid.”  It certainly wasn’t that Mean Joe Green Coca Cola commercial moment that I had hoped for.   Instead, I turned stunned and walked back to the stands.   Past the kids getting their programs signed by Pudge or Carlton Fisk.

I said nothing to my family friend, other than “he didn’t sign it”.   I remember being heartbroken at first.   I didn’t say much on the ride home.  That even the poster came down.    The next day the anger kicked in and the poster was torn to shreds.  

I tell you this story, and remind you of the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Jim Rice wasn’t a bad man.   He has been active in changing the lives of many.   He has been a coach and a broadcaster and he deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame.  Despite all of these factors, that one moment on the field left a big impression on one child.

As I walk through this memory,  you might have guessed this message isn’t about football or baseball.   This message is about those moments where we are the best we can be, or we slip and become the worst.   For you and I, as people of faith, its more then critical that we watch and that we guard for those moments.  

From what I understand of Rice, he played during a time when racial tensions were high.   He was not only the only black man on the sox, he was the best hitter in baseball.   Many wanted him to fall on his face, but it is said he possessed quiet strength.    Today, I want to dislike this man, but yet… I cannot.   As an adult, and in retrospect, the man I met in left field is not the man he is.

Too often the men and women the world sees in us, are just not who we are either.   There is a world outside of the church who believe that all that is done inside of it screams of make believe and  foolishness.   Many think we are bumbling idiots who ignore the intellectual challenges of our faith.   Then, if there are those who don’t think we are idiots, they think we are hypocrites.   They think we preach, sing, and say one thing, and live something completely different.

Are they wrong?  Yes and No.   Was I wrong about Jim Rice?  Yes and No.

Perhaps as a kid, I had Rice on too high of a pedestal.   Perhaps I missed the nuances of the game.   Maybe I missed a bad performance or that he was afraid that an injury was more than it was.   Maybe he was stressed at the hecklers who stood in the bleachers hurling racial slurs his way?    Maybe I missed the anxieties, worries, angers, stresses, and fears that were going on in his head.    Maybe I did, but it didn’t matter.   He knocked a six year old on his back side with a sucker punch to the gut.

I am telling you this, because if you are doing this faith thing right, people are looking at you.   The might be looking at you like those in the bleachers cursing the black man, hoping that in our ignorance or in our hypocrisy that we fall down and stay down, or they might be looking at you like the six year old, hoping that we live up to the estimates and the tall pedestal-ed positions we hold.   In the end, there will be a moment that tells them which person we are.

Do we have to be perfect, all the time?   Part of me wants to say yes, yes we do.   Yet, I know we are far from being able to do so.     Yet, if we can’t be perfect, we have got to be ready.   We got to realize that there are moments, some of which might pass us by unaware, where another’s mind is made up, direction decided, or a life is changed.  

We have got to be ready for that moment.  I think that is what Matthew 25:1-13 tells us.   Many relate this to the second glorious coming of Christ in the clouds, and I think that they may be right, but that’s not all I see. I hear in this scripture a reminder that there will be a moment, when the act of welcoming in the Kingdom of God in the here and now is right in front of us.   

If we are not ready the possibility will pass us right by.   We can say the wrong words, look the wrong way, and make a passing comment that ends up changing everything.   In our lack of preparedness or foresight, will others stand slack jawed as we walk on by.   Is there oil in our lamps?

We need to be ready.   We need to see God’s hand everywhere.   We need to prepare ourselves as we leave the house, as we sit in our offices, or in the countless other seemingly trivial parts of life.  We need to be ready for Christ to knock on our door in a moment’s notice and we need to be ready for the stranger to knock on our door looking for Christ.   This is our calling.

We are not perfect.   Honestly, we are not even close.   Yet, we need to about the moment that could come right now.   We need to take our faith seriously.  We need to be positive that we are not living a life full of hypocrisy.    We need to find the time to be in prayer and to read the bible.  We need to practice finding the moments of silence needed to hear God.    We need to be about stewardship, devotion, and discipleship.

We need to be able to talk about why we believe even if some of the most intellectual around us tell us we are foolish.   We need to ask ourselves why we believe.   We need to know what we believe.   We need to understand those parts of our faith that challenge us or cause us to doubt, and be open and deliberate in our questions.

We need to be careful that a passing word doesn’t sting another. We need to remember that a world looks at us, silently and with fingers crossed, hoping we will stumble.   We need to realize that people are looking.   We need to practice at seeing the good, and seeing God in our neighbors, in our family members, the stranger on the street, and the most hated at your office.  

These are the actions that add oil to our lamps.

If we wait, and if we travel through our weeks unprepared, then in the end our witness fails.   It’s as simple as that.   We become the anxious ballplayer and we leave heartbreak in our wake.

 A week or so after that game in the mid 1970’s, when I saw our family friend again, I asked him a question – this question does reveal how little I knew of the sport at that time too – I asked “Who is the biggest rival of the Red Sox.”  

His answer is still clear in my memory.   “There is only one rival; The Yankees”.   

Most kids don’t know when or why they become fans of a team.   Most take on the teams of their fathers or their friends.  They hear dad talk and they mimic him at the school yard.  I, on the other hand, remember the day and the moment that I can be a New York Yankees fan, and since then, I have never looked back.  I wonder if there are people who say the same thing about their faith, because of me.   

I pray that each of us will find a way to be ready.

(Pic by S. Louise AP(2009))

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