[A couple of months ago, our pastors were both gone one Sunday, so I preached, about how Christians live in the Christ story, which is the story of how God loves us, how we love God—by loving what God loves—and how we love one another. I had intended to include the following in the sermon, but I realized that the service was running long. When that happens, the preacher has to cut the sermon short. So I left this out.]
The Christ story is the story of love, not just for some, but for everyone. The problem is, when we tell this story, we leave out so many people. We are especially aware right now of how we leave out LGBTQ folks. But because we are Methodists, those quintessential people of Christian action, we tend to leave out just about anybody who can’t keep up with our frantic pace, who are only Christian beings and not Christian doings.
When Helen and I became Bloomarangs 4 years ago, we could do everything we had always done, only slower. I filled in for 3 months as the pastor in Oolitic. We worked food repack at the food bank. We went to IU basketball games and climbed many steps. We drove all over the place after dark.
Then something happened. We got old. Our first daughter tried to comfort us by saying, “Well, at least you won’t get early-onset anything,” which was funny—which is its own reward--but that didn’t help much. For our whole lives, we had been useful Christians, and suddenly we were useless Christians.
My mother’s four brothers were handsome men, but even in that group, Jesse stood out, with his wavy hair and his gorgeous, easy-going smile. He stood out from his brothers in another way, too, for Ted and Claude and Johnny were basketball stars at the tiny Francisco, IN high school, but Jesse was widely acknowledged as the worst player in the history of basketball, not just in Frisco, but anywhere. But it was a small school, and they had only seven other boys who could play ball, and he looked good in those short shorts, so he was on the team. Except he never played in a game.
Until the last game of his career, with the score tied, and down to the final minute, and a second player fouled out. There was no one left but Jesse. The movie, “Hoosiers,” had not been made yet, so the coach did not know that he could say, “My team is on the floor,” so he put Jesse in.
But he told him, “Just stand there. Don’t touch the ball.” But, of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, an errant pass sent the ball directly at Jesse, and more for self-protection than anything else, he threw up his hands and caught it, and then remembered he wasn’t supposed to touch the ball, so he threw it up into the air, and it came down, right through the basket. Of the other team. And the horn sounded, the game was over. The only basket of Uncle Jesse’s career he had scored for the other team.
When McFarlands gather, their idea of humor is telling corny jokes. When my mother’s family gathered, though, their idea of humor was to humiliate one another as much as possible. So the story of Uncle Jesse’s only goal was always told, along with much finger-pointing and many Bronx cheers.
I was a high school basketball player myself then, and I couldn’t imagine having to endure the shame of hearing that terrible story over and over. One Thanksgiving day, I took Uncle Jesse aside and said, “How can you stand to hear that story?”
He smiled that wonderful smile of his and said, “I always knew which side I was on.”
Even if you are too young or too old, too handicapped or too sick, too depressed or too distressed, too addicted or too afflicted, you can always know which side you are on, which story you belong in, which story you live in. That is the beginning point of the Christ story, and that is the end point of the Christ story. That is the beginning point of love, and that is the end point of love.
John Robert McFarland
“Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together