Kansas City is my hometown. So, I have lots of friends, some of them pastors, who are sports fans like me. Our moods rise and fall with the fate of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals. And this has been a banner year to be a Royals fan!
First, they won the wild card shot at the AL West Division Playoffs by winning an incredible extra-inning, never-give-up, victory over the Oakland A’s. Even my wife, who is just not a baseball fan, stayed up till a few minutes before midnight for what people all over the world called “the most exciting playoff game in baseball history." It was sweet, indeed! It was extra-sweet for fans like me who remember when the A’s took a plane for the coast and left Kansas City in the sixties. And it was not only old-time Kansas City fans like me who noticed. One of my favorite bloggers, who blogs regularly on Patheos, describes it this way:
“When the Royals won the Wild Card and played in October for the first time in 29 years, surely Jesus smiled back at George Brett and James Shields. After all, Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from. Jesus was King like the Royals are King. He was a small-market franchise, loved by a small but devoted group of followers who took a risk on a long shot because people believed.”
That may be a little stretch for the sports metaphor, but I like it! And then the Royals did what not even diehard fans like me expected – they beat the “best team in baseball,” the home-run hitting Los Angeles Angels in three straight games to win the Division Championship and then swept the Baltimore Orioles 4-0 to win the American League Champtionship! Wow! What a ride.
The Royals will be playing in the World Series for the first time in twenty-nine years! Whether they win the national championship or not, they have exceeded all expectations!
Not all my friends, including some clergy colleagues, are sports fans. Some of them say that professional sports bring out the worst in humanity - our greed, our impatience, our willingness to value money and fame and winning over everything else. And they have a point. Ministers routinely chime in at this point, complaining about all the students and parents who are absent from Church again and again for soccer or basketball or baseball practice. They also lament all the fans whose tailgating and game-day activities come before Sunday worship, and those who watch the ESPN gamecast or check the stats on their mobile phones during the service or even the sermon! (I try not to mention that if I wasn’t preaching, I’d be sneaking a look as well!)
To be sure, being a follower of Jesus is different than being a follower of our favorite sports team. Most of the time it is a lot harder. If we are faithful at it, we give our money away for things a lot less fun than season tickets. Things like keeping Church buildings going so the people of God can have one reminder in a consumer-driven culture that it’s not all about us. Things like feeding hungry people and offering hope and help to folks whose name we will never know, and loving someone else’s children or grandchildren than our own. We also know it is our calling to forgive people even when they do things much more terrible than root for the wrong team. And even though Jesus said his yoke would be easy, following him intentionally seldom is.
However, we can learn from the Kansas City Royals. They gave everything they had to play with heart and tenacity. When they were down they were really down – for twenty-nine years! But when they fought their way into to the post-season and eventually the 2014 World Series - they lifted up the spirits of Kansas City with them, sports fans and non-fans alike.
And maybe, just maybe we learned to believe in something again. And if we can believe in the future of an under-funded team with the worst home record in baseball, who somehow found an extra measure of hope and hard work this season? Well, maybe then we can believe in the culturally out-of fashion religious life of following Jesus too.
Whether we can believe in the Royals all the way to winning the World Series is yet to be seen, but I’m in! I’m also in for the life-long practice of following Jesus, with heart and tenacity, hope and hard work. How about you? #WeBelieve.