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Do you know who this group is [picture]? This is the 1919 Chicago White Sox team. They are known by another name too; the Chicago Black Sox. They were the best professional baseball team in 1919 and the US was looking forward to watching them beat the Cincinnati Reds in a best of 9 world series. Yet it soon became apparent that that was not going to happen and the Reds won in 8 games. The Black Sox had agreed to throw the game to help gamblers make a ton of money. They were caught, went to trial and only two confessed. Eight players were kicked out of Major League Baseball including Shoeless Joe Jackson one of the best hitters that ever played the game.
How about this person? This is a picture of Dora Ratjen who participated in the 1936 Olympics. She participated as a woman but was really a man. The scary thing was she was raised as a woman her whole life.
This is the 2000 Spanish Paralympics’ basketball team who won the gold. To play on the team you are to have some sort of intellectual disability. 10 out of the 12 players on the had no intellectual disability and their gold metal was revoked.
You probably recognize this guy [picture of Bill Belichick], this is Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots. He has taken them to the Super Bowl four times, winning three of them. Yet his team was caught video tapping the other team’s hand signals and plays which is highly against the rules in the NFL.
This is a picture of Rosie Ruiz [picture]. She was the first woman to cross the finish line in the 1980 Boston Marathon. She finished with a time of 2:31:56, the fastest time for a woman in the Boston Marathon and the 3rd fastest time for a woman ever recorded. This seemed suspicious and come to find out she had broke out of the crowd ½ mile away from the finish in and ran across it.
We know other cheaters in our world outside of sports. All I have to do is mention their names and you remember the scandals they are known for. Bernie Madoff. Enron. Richard Nixon. Aub Gharib Prison. Iran – Contra.
It is in our blood that things should be fair. Fairness is to be free from bias or injustice. There is an idea that if you do A then you should get B, and it should be the same for everyone. It is also the idea that everyone should be treated the same. If you murder your wife and her lover you should go to jail, no matter if you are famous football player or not. If you get caught for speeding you should get a ticket now matter how low cut your shirt is. If you cheat you should punished because people who don’t play fair shouldn’t play the game.
What we appreciate most about people is when they realize what fairness looks like and they live up to it in every aspect of life. I am going to stick with sports analogies for this sermon, so please stick with me. The Special Olympics are held for children with disabilities. They do different Olympic events and compete with one another. These Olympics are held all over the country in many different cities and they are great place to volunteer your time and do some good in your community. At one of these events, they held a 100 yard dash. This is a special race because in the real Olympics the winner of this race is known as the fastest person in the world, so there was an air of excitement about this race. You could tell it in the children’s eyes as they took their places. They crouched down in the starting position and the gun went off. They all ran as fast as they could. Most of them smiling the whole time. The crowd was cheering and encouraging them the whole time. Then the first person came up to the tap that marked the 100 yards and stopped right before it. Then the next kid did the same thing, until eventually all of them were stopped right in front of the tap with the clock still rolling. They grabbed each other’s hands and with one big step together, they crossed the finish line and they were all dubbed the fastest people on earth that day.
There is another story Jim Joyce. He was the first base umpire during the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers game in June of last year. The pitcher for the Tigers, Armando Galarraga, was in the midst of a career making game. In the ninth inning he was three outs away from a perfect game. A perfect game is even more rare than a no hitter, it has only happened 20 times in the over 130 years of the Major League. When a pitcher throws a no hitter it means that no batter that game was able to hit the ball and get on base. A perfect game means every matter that came up to bat got out. He didn’t walk anyone and no one could make a hit. The first batter in the 9th inning hits a ball to outfield and the center fielder makes a great catch to get him out. The second batter hits a routine grounder to the short stop and is throw out at first. The third batter hits …well here, watch the clip of the play and you can see it from there. [Video]
What is remarkable about this story and what will make it live on in baseball history is the way the both players handled it afterwards. Galarraga was upset of course but after the game he understood that it is baseball and what the umpire says goes. After the game Joyce went back to the Umpire locker room and watched the replay. In his own words, “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it, I just cost that kid a perfect game.” Moments later he asked if he could apologies to Galarraga in person. As he did Galarraga felt bad for him and sincerely appreciated the apology. They made up and there are no longer hurt feelings between them.
What is remarkable is that this was all fair. It is up the human umpire’s eyes to make a call in a split second. No rules were broken and no one was even cheating. It was a mistake, a bad call, but it happens in sports. It also happens in life. Life has its moments when even the fair thing seems unfair.
That is what we feel in this story today. For most of us, the regular church goers, the everyday Christian, not just the Sunday one, we constantly work for God. We pray. We do mission work. We volunteer. We teach. We do and we do and we do because we feel this is what God is calling us to do. We are the ones who are picked up at the beginning of the day and who are asked to work in the field and we do so with no worries.
There are others who come late to the game. They come in and only do a couple of hours of work, or for some only a couple of minutes. Then the manager comes out to pass out the pay. In Biblical times a day’s wage was around 1 denarius, or about $50-$70 in today’s money, about minimum wage. As the manager pays out the workers who came last he passes them a day’s wage, all the way down the line until he gets to those he picked up first. They were expecting more but he passes them a day’s wage. “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go.” It is fair but seems so unfair.
Grace is like this. We sang last week the song Amazing Grace. We love grace. We love to hear about it and we love the idea. Thursday I preached at the revival downtown and I preached a modern retelling of the prodigal son story. I told them I went out to Las Vegas and made a huge about of money that I squandered away on girls and drugs. I then came back home and my dad, who I completely think will disown me but he doesn’t. He welcomes me home with open arms and love. The prodigal son is always a story we think of when we think of grace.
A story that we usually don’t think about is Jonah. The Old Testament text today is the last bit of Jonah. Hear it now, starting in chapter 3 verse 11 and going to the end. [read scripture] We know this story because in Jonah’s unwillingness to do what God asks him he is swallowed up by a huge fish. We all learned this in Sunday School. But we don’t really remember the end of this book. The story ends with Jonah all mad and ready to die because of the grace God offered the Ninevites. Jonah wants the wrath of God to come down on this group of people he loathes but instead God sheds his grace and forgiveness. If this story was about a group of people Jonah liked he would have celebrated the fact that God has saved him, but he doesn’t because deep down he wished God would have destroyed that city and all of the people in it.
We are like that. There are people we want to see rot in hell for what they have done to us or to the people we love. Last college basketball season I came across someone’s Facebook page that had a picture of a Kentucky Wildcats fan wearing a tee-shirt that said, “I still hate Laettner.” Duke’s Christian Laettner made a last second shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 Final Four semi-final game. Almost 20 years later this fan cannot stand Laettner, yet God’s grace is still bestowed on him. I am sure we can go through about every sport’s rivalry and say the same thing. I usually say I am ABC, anyone but Carolina. I don’t care what sport it is whether college basketball, football, women’s field hockey, or ultimate Frisbee, I want to see Carolina lose. Yet God’s grace is still there for them whether I like it or not.
I have joked and used sports for every illustration today but it goes deeper than that. There are people who don’t like others because of their race, their nationality, because they snuck over the boarder or because they cannot speak English. We hate people because of a past offense or because they hurt a person in our family. Yet whether we like it or not God offers them grace.
If we were to make a judgment on who gets grace and who doesn’t we would simply cancel ourselves out. If we say, those people are out because they are homosexual and because they are living in sin, then shouldn’t we also kick out those who had heterosexual sex before they were married or even with someone else who wasn’t their spouse? That would be fair right? If we said God’s grace is okay for everyone who doesn’t cheat then we will probably have to include people who lie. Cheating is really just lying. This means when your wife asked you if she looked fat in that dress and you said “no,” sorry you are out. If your husband asked you if the dinner he cooked was good and you swallowed hard and said “delicious,” you’re out. If your parents looked at you and said who broke that glass and you pointed to your sister or brother, sorry you are out.
Once we start to build up who we think deserves grace more than others we move to the front of the line. You see the amazing thing about grace is that we get it in the first place. Grace is given to the criminal on the cross, the Ninevites, the worker who starts at the beginning of the day and the one who comes at the end. Grace is always freely given and is offered to all. If we are honest with ourselves we know that we are not worthy because of the sins we have committed. For us to receive it would really be unfair, yet God still looks at us and offers us grace. Thanks be to God.
And all God’s people said…Amen.