Saturday, August 07, 2010

Towards a Theology of Tennis!

Sunday Sermon - 8 August 2010
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta

Jesus says "Be ready", but this section of scripture, with the slave and master, always seems a little kinky to me, like that bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming soon, look busy!” It rings wrong, because I think the readiness he’s looking for is not that of a fearful slave, but more like a seasoned dancer or a trained athlete. So I want to talk about a theology of tennis as a model for good discipleship. 

I’ve been thinking about tennis a lot lately. It’s been over ten years since the last time I was on a court, but I played tennis most of my life. I joke that, since I wasn’t raised in a church, the tennis club served that purpose. It gave us community, shared purpose, both discipline and joy and a way to meet the world. I played a lot as a kid and an my early teens, but I had a tendency to lose focus, get too tight when the score was against me, try percentage shots that didn’t pay off, and I didn’t like to practice that much. 

But I will never forget my father, while we were watching a tennis match together – and either Ken Rosewall or Arthur Ashe was playing - saying: "He looks relaxed, but he’s playing smart, he knows what’s going on, nothing gets by him, he’s ready for anything." 

So in my late twenties, one summer when I had been working in our families printing business for a few years and was preparing to return to University and finish my undergraduate degree, an older friend and I spent two or three late afternoons and most Saturday mornings every week meeting on some public courts and working on our game. We even went to the local club and got lessons back to back so that we could take each other through our homework which, in my case, meant a lot of work on my backhand and a lot of time on the backboard; but by the end of the summer, when I returned to Uni, my game was better, more consistent; I was more disciplined and, paradoxically, also more free, livelier and lighter, in my game, in how I met the ball, and in how I lived my life. 

In the early 1980s I worked on a Masters degree in the History of Religion and I spent part of one semester working on a theology of tennis called Serving God: to serve, receive and return bright vehicles of meaning. I realise that sounds terribly California, but playing the game well taught me how to live life better. 

And that’s where tennis meets the Gospel for today. Jesus calls us to be disciplined in thought, word, deed and action: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those…waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him.” Alert and ready
when he comes; prepared, ready for action, like a good servant, like a good athlete, ready to serve, receive, return, all the bright opportunities, that come in living with the possibility of God. That is why we’re here, to prepare ourselves for what is wanted of God’s servants, God’s disciples, friends, in preparing for the the great heavenly banquet which just might, by the grace of God, start right here and now. 

We are here to remind ourselves, in body, mind and spirit, of what we agree to in our Baptismal vows:

“to strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself.” 

“to know Christ’s forgiving love and continue in the fellowship of the church…[and to proclaim] by word and example, the good news of God in Christ… 

So our liturgy is a kind of practice sessions, a lesson, even a dance class, in working out, living out, moving out: a choreography of belief. Visitors and newcomers notice that more than those of us who are regulars in the weekly routine: for they see how very odd it is. We sit, stand, kneel and bow. Some of us cross ourselves this way and that, we pass and give and receive, move forward and back. Finally returning to the same place, but changed, somehow, by the motions we go through. You can see newcomers looking around, thinking, “What in God’s name are they going to do next?”  But what we are acting out in this place is a kind of spiritual workout routine, for the rest of our lives in the rest of the world. 

Because if you really look, you can learn to see our whole liturgy, from Baptism on, as nothing less than a dancing class or a tennis lesson. Here we learn the radical choreography, where we come to move in the world with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. In the end, it is all about the we way we prepare, wait, respond, return: all the actions that we learn here. 

We come to church on Sunday, bringing nothing less than our selves, our whole selves, souls and bodies, to the Eucharist. Bringing all our particular questions and concerns, issues and ideas, histories, hopes and fears, the best and worst of who and what we are, where we come from and where we are going. Taking all that when we get here and mixing it up with this liturgy of confession and praise, mercy and glory, in listening and responding to the words in psalm and scripture, the articulation of the community of faith gathered through history into the present day. Presenting our sins, our concerns, our thanksgivings, all our self-offerings: and then joining with Jesus in his self-offering as disciples and friends, taking part in this eternal communion. Taking all that we have and all that we are, and giving it all over, giving it all up as we take his body and blood, and remember that we are members of his body. This is what we do: this is who we are.
So what you see here is really faith moving on; that’s the point of the whole courtly dance routine, the larger game. We come to reach for Christ; and Christ comes to us and uses our ministry to reach out to the world. We come to get a grip on him; and we stay to learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. For the hands which grasp the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands -same body- that touch the world in daily life in the places where we make business, peace, war and love, touch the lives of friends and strangers, spend our days. The love of God in Christ reaches into the particulars of all our daily liturgies so that we come to move like Christ in all these places. 

Each and every one of our ministries happen when we create, redeem, and relate like God, wherever we are: where we give our gifts. It doesn’t matter whether it be how to throw a ball, cook a pie, write a paper, fix a fixture, apply an appliance, tell a tale or do a deed. Ministry happens when you lovingly act to share the part of the world that you know well, where the actions and attitudes are clear to you, where you act to give that clarity and light to others, so that they can take part in that relationship, that action as well. Some people heal with kindness, others love the stranger, listen well. Some make justice, visit the sick, give to the poor, live cheerfully, tell the truth. Sometimes we just show up, but we do what we can. 

For each one of us, as members of Christ’s body, is called to proceed – play or dance, if you like - into the world which God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time: to take on the tasks of stewardship in this wonderful world: to be present to family, friends and strangers, in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, present in the times of frustrations and puzzlements, present in agreements that must be honored, in situations that must be met. All of these are places where we act out, serve out, flesh out, live out the reconciling life of Jesus  - in serving love of every kind - in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness. For those are the places and the actions where we shall both find and serve the very God who loves and serves us. 

May God give us grace today to take up our lives and our ministries as gifts to be received and gifts to be given, and all in Christ’s name. Amen.

1 comment:

Tim S said...

*Enthusiastically hits the 'like' button*