Not blogging today, but I was rereading a guest post from two years ago by my good friend and fellow baseball lover, Jim Stanley.  Thought you should enjoy it as well.  Jim is now a Chicagoland Episcopal priest and a man I was privileged to help disciple.  He was, however, already a baseball man before me. – STEVE
A SERMON IN THE STANDS
by Jim Stanley
   I’m a pretty loyal fan. Some friends consider me a diehard. A few offer sympathy to my wife as baseball season rolls around. They know I love my Chicago White Sox. And on those rare occasions when my first baseball love — the Pittsburgh Pirates — are playing the Cubs, you will inevitably find me watching WGN or Chicago Sports Net. I am the one guy cheering for Pittsburgh. The last dozen or so years, that’s been like cheering for the lightly armed Belgians against Hitler’s mighty war machine. Or like rooting for me, Jim Stanley, as I try to guard Michael Jordan or LeBron James in a game of one-on-one. But I remain loyal. I love the Pirates and I have since I was about three or four. It helped to grow up in Pittsburgh when they were actually good.

And it was there, in that horrendously boring soup-bowl of a stadium, where I preached my first sermon. I don’t recall the date. Must have been 1974 or 75. Dad had purchased three tickets to see the Pirates play the San Francisco Giants. We got to our seats and they were occupied. The usher looked at our tickets, then studied the squatter’s tickets. Our tickets were valid. Their tickets were valid. We each had a right to them and they got there first. And then the usher made the foolish mistake of using a phrase my Father simply could not — would not — tolerate. “Sorry sir, but you’re going to have to…”
Dad was a remarkably patient man when dealing with strangers and people in the service industry. But the phrase “you’re going to have to” was just one he would not accept. (I am the same way!) He emphatically informed the usher that he wasn’t going to have to do anything. Except maybe speak to someone in charge. And so down to the Pirate offices we went, deep in the bowels of Three Rivers Stadium. There, my father politely but very firmly stated his case. A rain check would not suffice. Whatever potentate Dad dealt with took pity on us and gave us other seats. Better seats. Right on the third base line, within earshot of the Giants’ dugout and third base!

As a Pirate fan, I would have preferred first base. But beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, I reasoned, the Buccos would have plenty of runners on third for me to cheer on. And cheer, I did. Eight or nine years old, maybe ten, I screamed my melon off the whole game. My poor sister, about 23 or 24 at the time, must have been mortified. Particularly when I informed the Pirate third baseman, Richie Hebner, that my sister was single. Yes, I admit it. I was ready to pimp my sister out for a chance to meet Willie Stargell. (Richie smiled at her, I swear it. But nothing ever came of it.)

Dad might have been embarassed or self-conscious. But I remember, years later, he told me “a stadium is one place where a kid ought to be able to scream at the top of his lungs.” I have tried to remember that when I now get annoyed at ball games!

As the game wore on, I noticed something that angered me. Pirate fans — people with the caps and the jerseys and the big, foam fingers — were boo’ing certain Pirate players. Richie Zisk and Al Oliver, to be specific. That made no sense to me. If the guy’s in a slump, and they both were, wouldn’t it be logical to cheer for them all the more? “He’s a bum!” “Send him back to the minors!” It was sermon time. And I preached a two-parter at the top of my little lungs.

The first time, (I can’t remember which of the two was up. We’ll say it was Zisk.) I stood up on my seat, turned around to the fans in our section and gave them what-for. I told them that REAL fans never boo their own team or their own players. TRUE fans cheer even harder when someone’s having a hard time. And then, I prophesied. (An eight year old televangelist. Who knew?) “Just you watch”, I said. “Just you wait! Zisk is gonna hit a homer.” The other fans were amused. But hardly receptive.

Guess what?

Yep. Out of the park.

As Zisk rounded third, I was screaming loud enough to wake the dead and scare away the walking undead. And fans around me were patting me on the back, saying, “Nice call, kid.” “Way to go.” Meanwhile, a surly-looking older man in a San Francisco Giants uniform stuck his head out of the dugout and looked into the stands.

A couple innings later, it was Al Oliver’s turn up. And, as he too was slumping, Al got treated to a chorus of raspberries and catcalls. “The guy’s a retread!” “Whiffer!” I went straight into what I call “Moses coming down from Mount Sinai” mode. If had been more familiar with Biblical syntax, I might well have thundered, “You are a stiff-necked and rebellious people!” Instead, I repeated my earlier sermon about loyalty and fandom. This was Pittsburgh, after all. City of champions. Once again, I predicted a round-tripper. And yes, Mr. Oliver delivered a towering homerun. It was one that wound up making the difference in the game. I am certain I have never yelled quite so loudly since.
This time, the fans were buying beers for my Dad. Offering, anyway. They were talking about hoisting me on their shoulders and getting me season tickets. (I thought that was a swell idea. Dad seemed to feel attending school should take precedence.)

And then, that crabby-looking old man from the Giants dugout climbed out of the dugout and scanned the crowd again. He looked, and looked, and finally…he identified me. (It wasn’t hard.)
Now, I don’t know about you. But I have always wondered if the players on the field can hear the fans. Particularly those of us in the first few rows. You never really know from watching on television. Evidently, they hear quite well. The “old man” was the Giants third base coach. I don’t remember his name, sorry to say. But I remember his steely stare. He pointed at me. “Hey kid! Yeah, you! Get over here!!!” I wasn’t terrified. I knew my Dad (to say nothing of an army of now-quite-happy Pirate fans) had my back.

Dad gave me the nod and I padded down a couple steps to the rail. The coach handed me a baseball, one that (I was certain!) had just been fouled into the dugout by none other than the great Willie Stargell. He looked at me, smiled broadly, and said, “Here kid. Now SHUT UP. You’re killin’ us!” He winked at my Dad and went back into the dugout. I still have the ball. (And sorry, but I didn’t shut up. Though I am sure you’re hardly surprised.)

For years, I remembered the story because it made me smile. A big shot noticed me, a little kid. And he gave me something special. But as I have aged, something else has become real to me about the story. I’ve been in more than my share of slumps. Like Al Oliver. Or Richie Zisk. Nothing has picked me up more, given me greater strength or helped me back onto the field like those of you who are in my cheering section. Especially those of you who cheer loudest when I am slumping most profoundly.

  I hope I cheer for you, too. At least as loudly as for Al Oliver and Richie Zisk. Because I know it. I just know it in my bones. You’re going to knock one out of the park. I believe in you. And if you ever need a reminder, you know where to find me. I’m the kid in the Pirate jersey, who smells of peanuts and is yelling at the top of his lungs.

death-defeated-jesus-rises

BY STEVE DUNN

This morning, around the world, millions and millions of people went to a place of worship to affirm and celebrate the most significant event in human history. Just shy of 2000 years ago, a zealous rabbi bent on snuffing out the Christian movement; but whose life had been utterly changed by an encounter on the road to Damascus, wrote these words to a church planted in the midst of community suffering from moral chaos. And into a world where death held mastery over all things.

” For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15.3-8, 17-19

There is no greater fear on this planet than that of death. Cryogenics can only slow it, the best medicine in the world cannot eradicate it, people are driven to all kinds of extremes to deny it, terrorists hold it over the globe as a fearsome threat, and the average person would rather not even talk about it.

Yet death is an often grim and inevitably inescapable reality – touching the lives of the rich and powerful and the least and the last. Death is the ultimate price paid in a fallen world for trying to life where man is his own God, the captain of his fate and master of his soul. Our sin simply multiplies it and fuels it. And in a world where God is already out of sight and of mind to much of the population, it carries the finality of ultimate separation from God.

But God would not let that state remain. His compassion for and love of the people He created was too great. He needed to give us away back from our relentless sinfulness and free of us from death’s clutches. For His desire was for His people to thrive in this life without fear or blame, and dwell with Him in inexpressible joy in the next.

I love the words of this Easter hymn, “Death could not keep its prey, Jesus,my Savior. He tore the bars away. Jesus’ my Lord.” He entered the grave as we must, but emerged from it three days later to be the first fruit of our living hope.

rapture_ezr

Because we still live in the presence of sin, we still live with death–but it no longer has the last word. For Christians who celebrate Easter believe in another historic event yet to be experienced. It is called The Second Coming of the Lord, when He shall put an end history as we know it and shall place everything once again under God’s loving and just authority.

This is illustrated in a true story by missionary writer, Gregory Fisher:

“What will he say when he shouts?” The question took me by surprise. I had already found that West African Bible College students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture.”Reverend, I Thess. 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.”

I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope.

“Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away.

“Enough’” I said. “He will shout, ’Enough’ when he returns.”

A look of surprise opened the face of the student. “What do you mean, ’Enough’?”

“Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough”

This is why I celebrate Easter.

1545775_561246304009108_6999568843495661321_nBY STEVE DUNN

This is my youngest grandson, Caleb Jay Huther.  His mother is my youngest daughter, Katie; and her husband, Jason–a high school principal.  Today Katie recorded this conversation on her Facebook Page.

Caleb: Daddy, can I type letters on your computer?
Jason: Sorry buddy it’s charging
Caleb: It’s charging?
Jason: Yep and we can’t touch it while it’s charging
Caleb: but Daddy … How can it be charging if there is no cord plugged in?
Jason: (moment of silence) … Well buddy … I didn’t realize you were smart enough to figure that out

Katie added:  … Hah! My educator husband with a million degrees was just outsmarted by our three year old!

I wonder how often I approached my children with the same attitude.

In the Bible, we read of a young pastor, Timothy.  A young pastor/apostle who was given authority far beyond his years.  Yet he had wisdom, passion, and a mature faith.  He received this counsel from an older Christian leader, Paul.  And this was Paul’s guidance:

 “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:2 NLT

The church is often guilty of discounting its young.  Oh yes, they want their church to attract youth because “they are the church of the future.  But how much time and energy is spent on actually discipling them? Or bridging the gap between worship that is often very adult-focused and worship that draws children and youth into the presence of God?

And although they lack experience, God often gives children and youth discernment and wisdom beyond their years.  In what way do we try to answer their questions honestly?  In what way do we give them leadership opportunities that allow them to learn how to be leaders?

Just thinking today …..

© 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.

BY STEVE DUNN

Long ago, in my early preaching days, I came across this little story. It’s probably apocryphal but contain at least a kernel of reality.

A Sunday school teacher was teaching a group of four-year-olds. It was Easter Sunday and she asked, ”Does anyone know what today is?” One little girl raised her hand and said, ”It’s Easter.” The teacher complimented her and then asked, ”Does anyone know what makes Easter so special?” The same little girl raised her hand and said, ”Easter is special because Jesus rose from the dead…” Before the teacher could compliment her, the little girl added, ”but if He sees His shadow, He has to go back in for seven weeks.”

Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian year, but it’s prime value to most Americans is to create a convenient spring break. Many could recount the first half of the little girl’s answer, but for them it has little personal significance. There was a time when even our more secular population put on their finery to join Mom and Dad at the family church to attend a worship service before rushing off to fight for a spot at a local restaurant serving dinner on a Sunday when few people wanted to cook. Now with less and less of the population having any Christian roots, it’s a sunny day to be enjoyed in some other family activity that probably won’t include even a prayer.

But Easter is the celebration of the day when God took the sting out of death. It is the day God decisively declared that sin need not be our master and invited us once again into a life of hope that would not disappoint us. It is the day of Resurrection–not some seasonal cycle of the planet, but the transformed destiny of a people who once again could become a people who loved and served God with their whole being. A destiny that was more than now-it was eternal.

The apostle Peter perhaps said it best: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – I Peter 1.3-5

And more recently the late Johnny Hart described it this way:

B.C EASTER COMIC STRIP

© 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.

BY STEVE DUNN
Many years ago I was part of a ministry team sent to Mississippi to explore connecting with churches that were seeking a denomination to become a part of.  I am not sure what criterion they were using in approaching us, but for us it was a chance to establish a presence in the South.  Over 120 years before that, our fledgling missionary efforts in the South had ended when our abolitionist beliefs ran straight into the wall of segregation and pro-slavery sentiment. In fact, our denominational magazine had been burned by postal authorities in Richmond as “dangerous and seditious.”
This was in the early 80’s and we were hoping that sentiments had changed.  But as we passed near the city of Philadelphia MS, one old preacher made what he meant to be a joke.  “You probably know what happened around here a while back to another group of boys from Ohio.”  Our denominational office was in Ohio and he was referring to the killing of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan.  Fortunately, he was an exception to the people in his church; but it was deeply troubling that such an attitude in anyone could be considered humorous.  Murder and racism are not funny.
Only 15 years before my visit to Philadelphia MS, a major event occurred in civil rights history.  In Selma AL nonviolent protestors attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.  It became known as Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), taking its name from the beating that roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists sustained at the hands of white state troopers and police who attacked them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas.
These people were simply protesting so that they could have an equal right to vote–something that African-Americans had been promised 100 years before that.  They were opposed by the embedded racism that justified segregation, states rightists who believed the state should have sovereignty over the nation, and the virulent, violent hatred of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Sadly, racism is not yet ended in America–in fact, a racism exists that often goes both ways.  And the wounds of racism are not healed and there are too many people who gain their self-worth by perpetuating it.
It is something we cannot stop battling against.

BY STEPHEN DUNN

Four days ago the Christian season of Lent began. A good part of the planet, especially in our increasingly secularized America, hardly gave it a thought. American television stations still use it as a time-filling story each year, along with sweet tooth-inducing features about fastnacts that are all the rage on Fat Tuesday. Or people noticed the day when they noticed someone with a smudge of charcoal in the shape of a cross adorning their foreheads.

You probably should know that Ash Wednesday and Lent do not appear in the Bible. Ash Wednesday, or dies cinerum, the day of ashes, was first described by medieval writers around the seventh or eighth century A.D. It has, however , become a rich observance for Christians (including this one) who observe it.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of reflection, repentance and renewal. For me personally, these passages speak to both the purpose and objective,

” If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7.14

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” -James 4.8-10

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51.7-17

Most of us and not just Christians live an unreflective life. We are busy, distracted, doing our days by triage instead with intentionality. We also live in a world where moral values seem to be all too vague or subjective, and what we have is constantly slipping and eroding under the daily onslaught of a culture is amoral at best and truth is perceived as what is good for me and my friends, not by what is undeniably true.

Those of who are committed to following Jesus Christ and developing a Christ-like character are not immune to these temptations nor perfect in our resisting that which is eternal by accepting that which is convenient, And after a while a subtle pride manifests itself as we retreat all too subtly to Adam’s sin–thinking we can run our own lives “thank you, very much.:”

That’s why we observe Lent. To build into our annual rhythm a time to reflect on the reality in which we have been living, repent of what we have allowed to go wrong, and then be renewed by the new mind that God provides.

(C) 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

BY STEVE DUNN

Just a couple of hours until the New Year arrives.  Dianne and I are at the age where a quiet evening at home is preferable to parting til the ball drops.  We both slept a little later to start the day.  Then we binged on popcorn at a nearby Regal to see “The Hobbit–The Battle of Five Armies” (4 1/2 stars out of five).  Had an early dinner at Applebees (meaning three in the afternoon).  We shared the restaurant with yet perky wait staff, families with very young children (who will probably be in bed by seven) and couples of an older persuasion trying to get off the road before the crazies come out.

This evening more popcorn, some dangerous sweets, and in about two hours, a cold bottle of sparkling cider.  Our TV fare has been a Big Bang Theory Marathon on TBS.  Since we have lost touch with the music pop culture, all the variation’s of Rockin’ New Year’s Eve have no appeal.  We will switch to Ryan Secrest at 11:45 and watch the ball drop.  Break open the cider, the annual New Year’s Eve Kiss.  Both of us will probably be asleep by 12:25.

Sound boring.–No, satisfying.

New Year’s Eve means an end to 2014–filled with memories, challenges, mistakes, and triumphs.  It means that tomorrow we will awaken on a fresh new opportunity (although  it will not look much different from this morning, still embedded in 2014.)

Satisfying is preferable to sensational, the latter often like a comet speeding across the night sky, but forgotten with the sunrise of the next day. Satisfying is a sign of contentment.

The Bible has a thought on that with which I wrap up this post.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” – I Timothy 6:6

Good counsel with which to greet 2015.

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