When Life Throws You a Curveball

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl McFadden on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. It seems that Jesus was always getting thrown curve balls during his life. If you take in consideration his conception (he was conceived by the Holy Spirit) and his death (he was crucified under Pontius Pilate), you could say his whole life was adjusting to curve balls. We know that not only did he adapt to the curve balls thrown in his life, he overcame them with his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven. Thanks be to God. Now, that is truly Good News. But how do we as mere mortals, simple humans adjust to the curve balls being thrown to us in our daily life?

I want to begin by sharing an experience with you that I had over the summer and the lessons I am learning as a result of it. In the midst of the twin pandemics, the COVID nightmare and the racial injustice that we were witnessing on a regular basis, I started finding baseballs on my early morning runs and walks through fields and forests and on the streets of Greenwich. When I found the first one, I was elated because I am a devoted baseball fan. I learned to play baseball from my older brother. Scott, almost five years older, was avid baseball prayer, and I was his target practice. What I mean by this is that he and my father would don catcher’s apparel on me (helmet, mask, chest padding but no shin guards) and my brother would practice his pitching with me attempting to catch his balls. You might think I would have been too terrified to be my brother’s target, but no, I was too trusting of him and my father. Plus, I was in awe of my big brother and wanted to be just like him. If Scott was a baseball player, then Cheryl was going to be a baseball player. Scott promised to teach me to throw all the pitches, you know, the fastballs, the breaking balls, and the changeups. Scott wanted to throw the best curveballs on his team and I, like a good little sister, wanted to be able to catch them. Hours and hours my brother and I practiced and played baseball with the neighborhood kids. For the older people in the congregation, do you all remember those days when you went to a field, a park, the street, or in alley and played baseball with your neighbors? Those were the days.

You can imagine my excitement when I found my first baseball and subsequent feelings of joy when I found the other five. I want to make sure you know that I didn’t find these balls just on a baseball field, but in bushes, gutters, behind the Tomes-Higgins House and even my dog Lola found one on her run through the woods. I happen to mention to a vestry member that I had been finding baseballs during my runs and walks with the dogs. In the same conversation, I mentioned how COVID was affecting people with feelings of loneliness from isolation, sadness from not being with loved ones for holidays and celebrations, postponing funerals, weddings and even baptisms. People were fearful of infection for family members and their self and some shared their change or loss of employment. People also conveyed feelings of sadness, helplessness, and fear because of racial injustice and social unrest in our nation. I said to the vestry member, “It’s like we are being thrown curve ball after curve ball.” Surprisingly, she turned to me and said, “Cheryl, we need to figure how to take those curve balls and turn them into homeruns.” It hit me then, pun intended, that she was absolutely right. I remembered that my brother told me that if you anticipate and are ready for any pitch, you can not only catch the ball but when you are the batter, you can knock it out of the park or at least in my case, get a base hit. Sometimes, we just need to stay in the game.

So, how do we turn a curve ball pitch into a homerun? Now more than ever as we welcome our newest members into the Christian community, we need to have a game plan. We need to prepare our little ones to catch and hit those curve balls, to turn challenging circumstances into great opportunities. My dear friends, I truly believe it begins with anticipating and being ready for life challenges. We need to anticipate that we are going to encounter difficult situations in our life and be ready for them. Our biblical ancestors did, our great grandparents, our grandparents, our parents experienced hardships and they not only survived but they overcame their circumstances because you are living proof. I have three simple practices that may help ground us when we encounter turbulence in our world, in our nation, and in our life. First, we need to be living, praying, and worshipping in community. We need to surround ourselves with people who support and care for us when we are in need, when we get a curve ball thrown at us. In baseball terms, we need our teammates to hit the curve ball out of the park. It’s not just the pitcher, the catcher, but all the players, coaches, and fans that are important. Our family, friends, and church community are our teammates and our biggest fans.

Second, just as my brother and I immersed ourselves in the world of baseball by reading everything we could about the sport, by watching closely the players, by studying the game and by practicing every single day, so too do we need to be that involved in reading and studying Scripture, praying and participating in programs that enhance our spiritual wellbeing. We need to be in a spiritual boot camp, Spring Training if you will. Baseball was my brother’s and my life, our soul, our passion. We knew the players, the strategies, the stats. Likewise, we need to be consumed by a passion to learn everything we can about how to be a disciple of Christ, how to hit the curve balls thrown at us. We need to zealous about our love for God and one another. God is our Coach and our family and friends at Christ Church are our teammates. Imagine Jesus as our General Manager, and let me tell you, he’s the best manager in the League (Major League Baseball).

Third, we need something that holds us together as a community, something that nourishes and sustains us, something that links us together. The best baseball players in the game have something that marks them, makes them different. Sandy Koufax was known for his curve ball. Babe Ruth was the first batter to hit 500 homers in a career. As children of God, we have two characteristics that mark us: the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us member of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. Today, we welcome Cameron, Loring, Hunter, Cecile, Clark, and Estella to share in citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God. We enthusiastically welcome them into our Christian Community. They are our new teammates.

We also have the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist which thankfully now can now consume Communion (the bread) at our outdoor services and at the 10 am service on Tuesdays in the chapel. Let me say a few words about Holy Eucharist and why it holds us together as a community. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his. life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again. The benefits of receiving Holy Eucharist are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. For a baseball player, it’s like the errors are not recorded, we are in good graces with the general manager and teammates, and we are looking forward to the World Series Championship party which we know we have already won.

My dear friends, we are going to get thrown curveballs in our life. Our newest members are going to get curve balls thrown at them. It’s really important that we anticipate and be ready for these curveballs in life so we can hit the curve balls out of the park. So teammates, “Batter Up!” Amen.