SERMON ~ 06/27/2021 ~ Just Believe ~ South Freeport, Maine ~ Video

06/27/2021 ~ Proper 8 ~ Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Fifth Sunday after Pentecost ~ 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

Just Believe

“While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, some people came from the house of the synagogue officer and said to that officer, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But Jesus overheard the remark and said to the leader of the synagogue: ‘Do not fear— just believe.’” — Mark 5:35-36.

Given the Children’s Moment, you may have figured this out already. I am a Baseball fan. [1] I have been known to pull over to the side of the road to watch a Little League game. I lived in New York State and at different times I was in both New York City and in rural Upstate New York.

When I did live in New York, and it mattered not where, Upstate or Downstate, this is what people asked me about baseball: Yankees or Mets? Of course, when I lived in Maine— both before and currently— people who knew I was a baseball fan did not even bother to ask. They assumed I was a Red Sox fan.

I follow the Sox and I never stopped following them even when I was in exile in New York, but my real answer about team fandom is none of the above— not the Yankees, not the Mets not the Sox. I am not a team fan. I am a baseball fan. I follow baseball. Why?

If truth be told the only team for which I ever rooted was the Brooklyn Dodgers. Please note: that is not the Los Angeles Dodgers. That is the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And this proves I am old. I actually saw games in person at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. My team went out of existence in 1957. That may be why I am a baseball fan and not a team fan. My… team… died.

However, since I did spend time in New York I know a lot about those teams. This is one story about the Mets. (Slight pause.)

These days the late baseball player Tug McGraw is probably best known as the father of country music singer Tim McGraw. But I remember Tug as an outstanding relief pitcher who played from the late 60s through the early 80s— 19 seasons.

McGraw was a part of the World Series winning 1969 Mets, the 1973 National League Pennant winning Mets and the 1980 World Series winning Philadelphia Phillies. Tug always had a way with words and what stands out in my memory about that is a catchphrase he invented for those 1973 Pennant winning New York Mets.

But before I talk about the phrase McGraw invented and for those of you who don’t follow baseball, I need to explain the 1973 Mets. Under their manager Yogi Berra (also someone who had a way with words— the classic phrase, “It’s too crowded; no one goes there anymore” belongs to him) under Yogi the 1973 Mets won the National League East title. But they did so with a terrible 82–79 record. They were certainly one of the worst teams to ever win a Division.

They then won the National League Pennant by beating a much stronger Cincinnati Reds team in the playoffs. And that’s where McGraw and his words come in.

On this terrible team every time the Mets won despite the rarity of a win, McGraw would shout, “You Gotta Believe!” And on this terrible team every time the Mets lost and there were a plethora of loses, McGraw would shout, “You Gotta Believe!”

And then the press picked up on it, quoted it. Then the fans picked up on it. People started making and holding up banners with the words “You Gotta Believe!”

If the Mets were winning by ten runs fans would shout, “You Gotta Believe!” If the Mets were losing by ten runs fans would shout, “You Gotta Believe!” (Slight pause.)

“You Gotta Believe?” Believe what? Believe you can throw a baseball, hit a baseball, win a game? What does it mean to believe? (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work known as Mark: “While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, some people came from the house of the synagogue officer and said to that officer, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But Jesus overheard the remark and said to the leader of the synagogue: ‘Do not fear— just believe.’” (Slight pause.)

What is belief? What does the word belief mean? Jesus says (quote): “Do not fear— just believe.” What is this invitation Jesus presents? (Slight pause.)

In her book Christianity After Religion: the End of the Church and a New Spiritual Awakening Diana Butler Bass says as the Protestant Reformation progressed people started to place a larger emphasis on Creeds. Why? Perhaps because a Creed can readily be seen as a list of beliefs, a set of principles onto which one is expected to sign, a list of beliefs one is expected to affirm.

But Creeds have actually been defined that way, as a list of beliefs, only since a little after the Reformation blossomed. What I find fascinating about the timing is not that it coincides with the Reformation but that it coincides with the dawn of what might be called Western science.

The list of noted scientists who lived into, in or were born in the 16th Century spans giants of the era from Da Vinci to Descartes. In this era people now look at the heavens through telescopes, see things they have never seen before, look at droplets of water through microscopes, see things they have never seen before.

In short, things we humans never saw before and things we humans never thought about before, things we never knew existed are coming into focus for us. We are making new discoveries. And we humans start to look at the world with a new set of lenses. We start seeing the world as a list of facts. (Slight pause.)

Now I, for one, do not want to ignore the benefits of the era. It leads to the later discoveries of the Enlightenment and everything this thrust into modernity brought.

I like facts. I happen to like electric lights, computers and indoor plumbing— all benefits of facts, information, data, science.

But I do want to suggest when we look at faith like a science problem, we are headed down a questionable path. So, why is that questionable? (Slight pause.)

The word ‘Creed’ comes from the Latin word Credo. We translate the Latin word Credo as ‘I believe’— fair enough. Indeed, the first words of the Nicene Creed in Latin are Credo in unum Deum… which we translate as “I believe in One God.”

But to say the word Credo means I believe, as if belief is a mere piece of data, is somewhat deceiving. You see, the intent of the word Credo is not an affirmation of a belief as a fact.

The deeper meaning of the word Credo is I give my heart. So, in order to translate the phrase Credo in unum Deum accurately we should say, “I give my heart to God.” (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest giving one’s heart to God is not about God as if God is just another item, a fact on a check list. If we give our hearts to God, if we say we believe in God, it means we long to be in a deep relationship with God.

All of which is to say in Scripture— and who knows, perhaps even in Baseball— giving one’s heart is a key ingredient of what it means to believe. So when Jesus says to the synagogue officer, “Do not fear— just believe”— that is what Jesus is talking about, giving one’s heart to God.

In short this is an invitation on the part of Jesus. Jesus invites the officer of the Synagogue and is perhaps even inviting us to give our hearts to God. (Slight pause.)

I think this is clear. We need to be in a relationship with God. That’s what belief is really about. I also think what we humans find out over time is, once we are in relationship with God, this becomes clear: God calls us, invites us, to be in relationship with one another. (Slight pause.)

Well, I have good news and bad news. Belief— this being in a relationship with God— is just like any relationship. Being in a relationship with God may be the easiest thing we will ever do. And being in a relationship with God might also the hardest thing we will ever do. Amen.

South Freeport U.C.C., Maine — VIDEO

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “It is my habit to say something at the conclusion of a service before the Benediction so I shall. I once had the privilege and honor of meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu and that was before he won the Nobel Peace Prize. This quote is from Desmond Tutu’s vast wealth of theological sensibility. ‘In the end it matters not how good we are but how good God is. It matters not how much we love God but how much God loves us. And God loves us whoever we are, whatever we’ve done or failed to do, whatever we believe or can’t believe.’”

BENEDICTION: The work and the will of God is placed before us. Further, we are called to be faithful and seek to do God’s will and work. In so doing, may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

[1] In the Children’s Moment Pastor Joe tried on some hats and some baseball hats. Then this question was asked: for which team does God root? God is not a fan of one team. God loves everyone.

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