The Nats, Ancient Israel, and Me…

Following the Washington Nationals this summer is a bit like reviewing the history of ancient Israel…two steps forward, three steps backward.  The excitement over the team’s 2012 performance elicited great expectations for 2013, yet as we come to the All-Star break, the Nats are one game above .500 and six games behind the Atlanta Braves.  Injuries, poor defense, and the lack of timely hitting are but some of the reasons offered for their poor performance, leaving fans frustrated and baseball experts shaking their heads.

Ancient Israel had a pretty promising start as the Creator pledged through a man named Abram that his descendents would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens. In a most unlikely manner, Abram and his wife Sarai became parents of a boy named Isaac in their old age, proof, as in many sports analogies, that it ain’t over til’ it’s over.  From this miracle of God a nation was born whose swings between faithfulness and disloyalty were as common as the National’s most recent home stand record of 5-2, followed by a road trip of 2-5.  The wondrous miracle of deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God was followed by forty-years of wandering in the wilderness because these miraculously delivered people chased after other gods instead of faithfully following the One who brought them out of oppression and slavery.  Again and again the children of Israel seemed poised to soar, only to stumble and fall.

One certainly cannot confine such comparisons so narrowly. In reality, the ups and downs of a major league baseball team and the Old Testament people of promise are but the stories of human trial and error.  As a fan, it would be great to see one’s favorite team display the kind of consistency that is continually reflected in the best efforts of the team that lead to mounting wins over losses.  As a student of history and a person of faith, it would be encouraging to see the ascending story of a people whose dependence upon and faithfulness to that promise was unwavering. 

Of course, it’s easy to point fingers at your favorite team when they underachieve or methodically dissect the failures of an ancient people.  We are fairly skilled at making these judgments from what appears to be the safe distance of fandom and history.  But these are not the stories of insular human experience.  No, these are our stories for they remind us again and again of our own failures, our own unfulfilled potential, our own missteps.  Perhaps that is why we feel so confident in our assessments about the failures of others…we are all too familiar with them.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson counsels patience. “It’s early yet,” he says.  He believes things will turn around as wounds heal and bats come to life.  He seems to see something in his players that fans do not always see.  The grace he offers must be an encouragement to the team, inspiring hope for a better day.  The grace of God is a continuing theme of the Old Testament story and indeed, the continuing human story, finding its greatest expression in the incarnation of Christ.  Though often consumed with the failures of others and ourselves, the grace of God continually calls us to see others, ourselves, and the Eternal One in a different light.

Gospel writer John chronicles these words from Jesus; “In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, Amplified Bible)  In the trials, distresses, and frustrations of life, there is a perspective for the follower of Christ that can indeed affect his or her world view.

Two steps forward…three steps backward?  I suppose that is a human pattern that we all follow from time to time.  The grace of God has proven capable of overcoming our greatest weaknesses.  That is the good news for today!

Now, if Bryce Harper can learn to hit the curve ball off left-handed pitching, Dan Haren be more consistent in the strikezone, Ryan Zimmerman more accurate in his throws to first base…and oh, yes, me more consistent in loving God and my neighbor, who knows….

 Jim Abernathy

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