“It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”

Easter 2

Holy Humor Sunday

April 3, 2016


Text:  John 20:19-31


    Yogi Berra wrote the foreword to Joe Garagiola’s book, Just Play Ball.  In that foreword Yogi wrote:  “I remember in 1973 when I was the manager of the Mets.  We were in fifth place in early September, but the teams were all bunched together, and we had to play ‘em all.  They said we were dead.  When the writers asked me about it I told ‘em, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

    Those words proved to be strangely predictive.  On August 30 the Mets were in last place, 10 games under .500, but just 6½ games out of first place.  Relief pitcher Tug McGraw, who rallied his teammates by shouting “You Gotta Believe!” during a team meeting, suddenly became unhittable in September, the rest of the team started playing better, and the Mets started winning and climbing through the standings. They took over the division lead on September 21, and clinched the division title on the next to the last day of the regular season.  They won 21 of their last 29 games that season.  The Mets then went on to beat the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series, which they lost to the Oakland Athletics in seven games.  The 1973 Mets’ 82-79 regular season record remains to this day the worst record of any team to reach the World Series.  All of this happened because, even though many doubted they could succeed, they chose to believe, and good things started to happen.

    On the evening of the first day of the week following Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples were hiding in a locked upper room, afraid the authorities were going to come and arrest them, too.  They thought it was over.  Sure, they had heard strange reports from the women who had gone to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body saying that he had risen from the dead, but they were having a hard time believing it.  In addition, they may well have feared that these reports put them in even greater danger.  If the authorities got wind of these reports, they would crack down even harder on the followers of Jesus--and it turns out their fears were justified, for in due time that did happen.

    But it wasn’t over.  The Risen Christ showed up, passing through the locked door without unlocking it.  He said to them “Peace be with you.”  He showed them the nail wounds in his hands and the spear wound in his side so they would recognize him.  

    When the disciples saw that it was really Jesus, they were filled with joy.  They realized it wasn’t over after all. Indeed, they would eventually realize it was just getting started.  Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them, and before long the message of Jesus’ life and ministry and of his death and resurrection began to spread and the church was born.

    Now Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples.  When they told him what had happened, Thomas didn’t believe it.  “I won't believe it until I see and touch his wounds for myself,” he said.  A week later, he was present when the disciples gathered, and the Risen Christ showed up again.  He spoke directly to Thomas, inviting him to place his fingers in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side. We don’t know if Thomas actually did so, but we do know that he responded by crying out, “My Lord and my God!”

    Thus I find Yogi Berra’s famous line, “It ain’t over until it’s over,” to be a stunning commentary on the Resurrection.  Contrary to what the disciples thought, it wasn’t over when Jesus died.  It wasn’t over when Jesus rose, or when the disciples believed, or when Jesus ascended into heaven, or when God sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.  In fact, it still ain’t over.  The game of life in Jesus Christ as we on earth know it won’t be over until Christ comes again in glory.  But God’s game won’t be over even then.  If God is eternal, and we share eternal life with him through Christ, it will never be over.  We don’t know, of course, what that all is going to look like.  All we know for sure about it all can be summed up with another Yogiism:  “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

    Let’s not be too hard on Thomas for doubting the Resurrection.  I would probably have reacted the same way if I were in his place. At least Thomas did believe when he saw the evidence staring him in the face. Some people continue to doubt things even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, just because the evidence doesn’t happen to fit their worldview. I don’t believe Jesus wants us to check our brains at the door when it comes to faith.  But he also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  Or as Tug McGraw told his teammates on the 1973 Mets:  “You gotta believe!”  I believe Jesus wants us to trust God and to trust the witness of those faithful followers of Jesus who came before us and who have testified to the reality of the Resurrection, even though we may struggle to believe that it is really true.

    Of course, we humans are often inclined to doubt.  We certainly see this in baseball. Batters and pitchers alike often doubt the accuracy of the umpire’s eyesight.  And after reading Joe Garagiola’s book Just Play Ball, it is evident that players often doubt the abilities and intelligence of their teammates and their manager and coaches, and vice versa.  

    Doubt is certainly not limited to baseball.  In this day when so much of what is written and said comes with an agenda, and often is less than truthful or at least skewed toward a particular point of view, people have plenty of reason to doubt what they are being told.  We are given reason to doubt the honesty of politicians, the truthfulness of the news media, and the sincerity of people we deal with on a daily basis.  Indeed, authority figures of all sorts are doubted constantly, including elected officials, church leaders, scientists, educators, and other similar people.  In such an environment of skepticism, it is hard to trust anyone.  It is hard for people to trust even those who speak on God’s behalf and share the Good News of Jesus Christ--and often there are good reasons for this mistrust, for some have behaved in ways that do not deserve to be trusted.

    Baseball is certainly no exception to this.  There have always been those who have tried to skirt the rules to gain an advantage over an opponent.  There have been pitchers who have tried to get by with doctoring the baseball to get it to act differently when thrown, either by applying a foreign substance to the ball on the sly (such as the spitball) or by scuffing the ball.  I remember Gaylord Perry was reputed to be a master at getting away with the spitter.  Some players have been caught using a corked bat, where the end of the bat has been drilled out and filled with cork, styrofoam, or another lighter material that reduces the weight of the bat by a few ounces and changes its center of gravity, allowing the batter to swing more quickly.  Sammy Sosa was the most famous player to get caught at this.  And in somewhat more recent years, the astronomical home run totals put up by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa are considered tainted by many baseball fans because of lingering suspicions (and in some cases, hard evidence) that these players were among a number of players who used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs in violation of the rules of the game.

    All of this reminds me of the line in the song “Life Is a Ballgame” that was played for our anthem:  “Life is a ballgame, but you’ve got to play it fair.”  Baseball and life both work best when played with honesty and integrity.  It becomes easier to believe and harder to doubt when the world’s leaders, authority figures, and everyday players are seen as trustworthy.  Since all too often we aren’t, a change is needed in order for that to happen.   

Back in the 1950’s the New York Giants had a pitcher named Sal Maglie, nicknamed “The Barber” because he pitched inside a lot and gave hitters a lot of close shaves.  Maglie was a devout Catholic.  In those days, Catholics weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays.  If Maglie was pitching a Friday night game, however, he usually ate around 3:30 p.m. and always ordered a steak, saying he wanted to be as strong as possible.  When they brought his food he’d make the sign of the cross over the steak and say, “Swim, you son of a gun, swim.”

We need to be changed.  God can work that change in us.  We “gotta believe” this rather than doubt it, and allow our lives to be opened to God doing this work in us.  “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  God isn’t done with us yet.  God has won the game because Jesus is risen and alive, but there are still a lot of innings to be played in the game of life before God, the great umpire, says the score is final.  Let us be faithful in giving our best effort, trusting that even when we strike out, commit an error, or throw a wild pitch, God will give us another chance to make a positive contribution to the success of the game.  Amen.

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