Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
My name is Deb, and I'm a planner. A somewhat compulsive organizer. Calendars. To do lists. These are my go-to tools.
So anytime I start to doubt God’s sense of humor I consider that two of the great loves of my life – parenting and pastoring – continually put me in situations where unplanned, unanticipated, couldn’t-possibly-have-seen-it-coming moments can be so much more important than anything on my carefully crafted to do list for a given day.
And I’m not just talking about interruptions that involve a medical crisis for someone, or require some other type of pastoral care intervention.
I’m also thinking of the wonderful, beautiful moments no amount of planning could possibly pull off. I’ve been caught off guard with many of those as well.
If you’re at all like me, and you tend to aim for efficiency when you have a long list of places to go and things to do, and every once in awhile you wonder why you’re still running around at top speed on a glorious sunny day, or why you’re trying so hard to check things off that to do list when you’d far rather spend time with your family or with a good friend, then you too may hear a word from God in today’s Scripture text.
Whether it's taking the time to stop and consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air – and we are so blessed in this part of the world with opportunities all around us to do just that – to consider the majesty of the Olympics and Cascades and Rainier, the deep blues of the lakes and the Sound, the rainbow of flowers on every street … or whether it's a disruption in our schedule that graciously allows us to slow down and focus on what's really important, I believe we’re all invited to be on the lookout for good distractions from God.
Jesus certainly knew how to take advantage of life’s marvelous interruptions. It was just last week that we read about the disciples trying to shoo away the little children who wanted to climb up onto his lap. Let them come, Jesus said. This is what the kingdom of God is all about.
Bill Harley tells a story about how a kid's baseball game reminded him of the importance of setting the right priorities and allowing himself to be distracted by an eternal moment. Some of you may have even heard him share this story on NPR’s All Things Considered some years ago.
Harley had an epiphany one day, and the experience spawned a philosophy he holds close to his heart. He calls it going for the dog.
You see, his younger son was playing T-ball. This is the bottom step on the 20-rung ladder leading to Major League Baseball, where it's possible to make millions of dollars and buy your parents a large house. So needless to say, he was delighted when Dylan wanted to play, though the bank would not give him the [huge] mortgage he promptly requested. The rules for T-ball are different in many ways from the major leagues. First, there are no agents. There's no reserve clause. You go to the team that chooses you. In fact, there are only two teams in the league, with 25 kids on each team. Parents are friendly to each other, a civility which [may or may not last] in several years as the lottery for positions in the major leagues comes closer and closer.
In T-ball, everybody bats each inning, regardless of how many outs there are. In fact, an out is a rare occurrence. All 25 players play each inning, and are littered through the infield, forming a wall of humanity through which it is virtually impossible for a ball to pass. On each team, there's one player who insists on fielding every ball and then running after the base runner, never throwing it. Balls are rarely thrown, and if they are thrown, they must either go over the head of the intended recipient or hit them in the back.
Every player who scores has hit a home run, no matter how many times the ball has been thrown into the outfield. No such thing as an error. In T-ball, each player has a different concept of the score. In T-ball, kids have to go to the bathroom almost immediately. Civilian parents go out into the field and console their children, who have skinned their knees or bumped into their neighboring infielder. And, of course, in T-ball, no one pitches. The ball sits on a plastic tee, waiting for the batter to hit it, which generally happens about once every three batters.
Now, on the other team, there was a girl named Tracy. Tracy came each week. Bill knew this, since his son's team always played her team. She was not very good. She had coke-bottle glasses and hearing aids in each ear. She ran in a loping, carefree way, with one leg pulling after the other, one arm wind-milling wildly in the air. Everyone in the bleachers cheered for her, regardless of what team their progeny played on. In all the games he saw, she never hit the ball, not even close. It sat there on the tee waiting to be hit and it never was. But everyone absolutely loved Tracy.
Sometimes, after ten or eleven swings, Tracy hit the tee. The ball would fall off the tee and sit on the ground six inches in front of home plate. 'Run! Run!,' yelled Tracy's coach, and Tracy would lope off to first, clutching the bat in both arms, smiling. Someone usually woke up and ran her down with the ball before she reached first. Everyone applauded.
The last game of the season, Tracy came up, and through some fluke, or simply in a nod toward the law of averages, she creamed the ball. She smoked it right up the middle, through the legs of 17 players. Kids dodged as it went by or looked absentmindedly at it as it rolled unstopped, seemingly gaining in speed, hopping over second base, heading into center field. And once it got there, there was no one to stop it. Have you heard that there are no outfielders in T-ball? Well, there are for three minutes in the beginning of every inning, but then they move into the infield to be closer to the action, or, at least, to their friends.
Tracy hit the ball and stood at home, delighted. 'Run!' yelled her coach. 'Run!' All the parents, all of them, they stood and screamed, 'Run, Tracy, run, run!' Tracy turned and smiled at them, and then, happy to please, stumbled off to first. The first base coach waved his arms 'round and 'round when Tracy stopped at first. 'Keep going, Tracy, keep going! Go!'
Again, eager to please, she headed to second. By the time she was halfway to second, seven members of the opposition had reached the ball and were passing it among themselves. It's a rule in T-ball - everyone on the defending team has to touch every ball. So the ball began to make its long and circuitous route toward home plate, passing from one side of the field to the other. Tracy headed to third. Adults fell out of the bleachers. 'Go, Tracy, go!' Tracy reached third and stopped, but the parents were very close to her now and she got the message. Her coach stood at home plate calling her as the ball passed over the first baseman's head and landed in the fielding team's empty dugout. 'Come on, Tracy! Come on, baby! Get a home run!'
Tracy started for home, and then it happened. During the pandemonium, no one had noticed the 12-year-old mutt that had lazily settled itself down in front of the bleachers five feet from the third-base line. As Tracy rounded third, the dog, awakened by the screaming, sat up and wagged its tail at Tracy as she headed down the line. The tongue hung out, mouth pulled back in an unmistakable canine smile, and Tracy stopped, right there. Halfway home, 30 feet from a legitimate home run. She looked at the dog. Her coach called, ''Come on, Tracy! Come on home!' He went to his knees behind the plate, pleading.
The crowd cheered, 'Go, Tracy, go! Go, Tracy, go!' She looked at all the adults, at her own parents shrieking and catching it all on video. She looked at the dog. The dog wagged its tail. She looked at her coach. She looked at home. She looked at the dog. Everything went into slow motion, and ... SHE WENT FOR THE DOG!
It was a moment of complete, stunned silence. And then, perhaps, not as loud, but deeper, longer, more heartfelt, they all applauded as Tracy fell to her knees to hug the dog. Two roads diverged on a third-base line. Tracy went for the dog.
And there you have it - a whole new way to define a “perfect game.”
You might say Tracy stopped to consider the lilies of the field, to seize an eternal moment from God. She understood what was most important in that instant. And it wasn't what everyone was telling her it ought to be. She taught all those goal-oriented adults that sometimes the process is more important than the goal, the interruption more worthwhile than the task at hand.
So whatever these summer months may hold for you: Consider the lilies... Let the little children come... And by all means, go for the dog!
May we all be blessed with glimpses of eternity in the ordinary moments of our lives. Amen.