Unless you live in Cleveland, tear up your notes and call the worship pastor: this Sunday, your sermon will practically write itself.
With phrases like, “‘Next year’ is finally today,” “the curse is broken,” and “‘someday’ is now,” your parishioners don’t have to be diehard baseball fans to appreciate the unbridled glee sweeping every corner of Chicago and most parts of the nation. With these words barely a step removed from the famous, “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” or the Narnian, “it’s always winter, never Christmas,” the time is ripe to remind congregations exactly what hope looks like in the Kingdom of God. Or gratitude. Or perseverance. Or faith. Or loyalty. Or fulfilled eschatological hope. Or goat-related curses.
So what do you do with all this frenzy when you’re not rewatching clips of Bill Murray’s existential ecstasy? Here are a few ideas for this Sunday:
If you didn’t hold an All Saint’s service last Sunday before the day, consider honoring the “great cloud of witnesses” this Sunday. What has been said in multiple interviews last night and this morning, by everyone from Bill Murray on the field to fans in Chicago pubs? “I’m thinking about my Mom, my Dad, my Aunt, my Uncles, if they could see this, I wish they could be here.” Cue grown men weeping. One Facebook acquaintance has been posting photos of her mother’s tombstone with a tally of Cubs postseason wins in the corner. Another acquaintance commented that his father lived his entire life, birth to death, without ever seeing a Cubs World Series win.
So it’s not bad timing to consider the Church Triumphant – “(Latin: Ecclesia triumphans), which consists of those who have the beatific vision and are in heaven.” It’s interesting that a baseball game could immediately evoke deep emotion about family relationships, grief, and loss, but it’s a dynamic not unlike the Israelites who wandered in the desert vs the Israelites who entered the Promised Land. It’s also not unlike some observations from an episode of Very British Problems on feelings and emotions, in which it was observed that a football (soccer) win allowed usually emotionally restrained men to weep, laugh, and hug publicly – a useful and socially acceptable catharsis.
Preach on what it means to fail spectacularly and publicly. In 2011, a documentary called Catching Hell came out about the nauseating incident when one well-meaning fan cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series. Steve Bartman had to be escorted out of the stadium by security after attempting to catch what he thought was a foul ball. It wasn’t. It was in play, and he kept the player from catching it. The fan’s name, place of work and even the subdivision he lived in were published in the paper the next day. He got death threats, scorned by an entire city. If there’s one person who would need an alias to have a Facebook profile, it’s this guy. Wikipedia has a page just called, “Steve Bartman Incident.” His name is synonymous now with being the guy who singlehandedly wrecks everyone’s hopes. If there was anyone praying more fervently last night than Bill Murray, it was this guy. Maybe he can sleep a little better – and safer – now. (Post-publication update on Steve Bartman’s response to the win here.)
How does this apply to a sermon? Well, redemption of inadvertent but spectacular failure is certainly a strong message. The story of Jonah might be powerful – one man’s presence due to disobedience threatening to sink a shipful of sailors. So also is the truth of what happens when a crowd turns nasty (plenty of examples of that in the book of Acts). Consider the classic hymn, too – “When I do the best I can, and my friends misunderstand, Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me.” *Note: this might best be preached by a pastor to a group of pastors.
Celebrate what it means for the Curse to be broken. According to Chicagoland lore, a local bar owner bought tickets for himself and his goat in the 1940’s. After his intended good luck-goat was barred from the game, he pronounced a curse on the Cubs and they couldn’t manage to make it into the World Series ever after. Now, most North Americans don’t actually believe in curses, though many of us are casually superstitious about certain things. What built up though was a culture, an identity of being the “Lovable Losers.” The Cubs losing became something familiar, comfortable, but as food for the hope for tomorrow – “someday.” Someday, all the way. Next year. For the Chicago Cubs, it was always regular season, never World Series. It was Friday, but maybe, someday, Sunday would come. The fans kept coming, rain or shine, for the hope of tomorrow, because today stunk. Someday, though. Someday.
In case you’re unclear what I’m driving at, let me connect the dots: Christians believe we don’t know how many extra innings we’ll go into, but we do believe that the Cosmic curse – our fall from Divine grace – has been lifted. The Book of Revelation gives a glimpse of the fireworks and victory laps to come: it gives a glimpse of the locker room celebration, even though we don’t know exactly who will get the runs or outs, or when. But in the Kingdom of God, Steve Bartman gets invited into the locker room for the afterparty.
In the midst of Narnia’s state as C.S. Lewis described it, where it was “always winter, never Christmas,” the residents of the fictional land still clung to a prophecy:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teach, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his name, we shall have spring again.
After all, we read in Revelation 22,
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
The Curse is broken, indeed.