Christ our Common Ground

Vin Scully is the greatest baseball announcer in baseball history, having just concluded a career which spanned 67 years, beginning with the Dodgers in 1950. In fact, Scully has been at it for so long that when he first started calling games it was for the Brooklyn Dodgers, as the franchise was located in New York before its move to Los Angeles in 1957. His impact on and contribution to America’s pastime has been deemed so significant, that upon his retirement he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. But this post isn’t really about Vin Sully, but about a moment that he helped us experience as a nation.

It was April 8, 1974, and Scully’s Dodgers were on the road playing Hank Aaron and the Atlanta Braves. Anticipation filled the air, as Aaron’s next home run would give him sole possession of baseball’s record for most home runs in a career. With the crack of Aaron’s bat, the Dodgers outfielder went back toward the fence and watched the ball sail over, making Aaron baseball’s new “home run king.” When he finally spoke, Scully expressed the significance of the moment with these words:

A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother. [1]

A largely white crowd was cheering a black man for breaking the record of a beloved white baseball legend. And the only thing that could explain it, given the history of race relations in the south, was that in that moment a shared passion for the game of baseball transcended all other allegiances and identities.

It is amazing how things like sports can bring us together. However, not everyone plays or watches sports. If a world so full of unique individuals is going to be brought together, if our communities are going to become less divisive, and if people are going to be more loving, we need something–or someone–with whom we can all relate.

Paul has an idea of who that someone might be, as well as the role we are assigned by God in the process. Consider his words to the church in Corinth:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:16-21 ESV)

The apostle tells the Corinthians that first, Christ has reconciled them to himself, and second, that he has given them the ministry of reconciliation. The reconciliation offered by and through Christ is universal, as “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” There is no one outside of God’s invitation, which is perhaps why Paul says at the beginning of this section that “from now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.”

Jesus changes people. You see, Paul had once judged people according to the flesh, which is why he thought there was no way a crucified man could be the Messiah. His encounter with Jesus, however, had changed his outlook. When Paul says that in Christ, we are a new creation, he is speaking of a two-way street. Not only are others a new creation, defined by their status as being in Christ, but also we ourselves are empowered to see people differently. It was this new way of seeing things that allowed Paul to be transformed, from a devout Jew zealous for the law, to a preacher whose mission it was to preach to largely Gentile audiences, even going so far as to argue that those same Gentiles could be admitted to the people of God without even being circumcised!

Jesus changes people. Not only in Paul’s day, but in ours as well. If we look at the world around us and think that there is no way that we could ever find unity in Christ with our political opponents, or people who frighten us because they come from half a world away, then perhaps we should consider not only Paul’s words, but his story. The one who was a persecutor of Christians, became a preacher of Christ crucified because of his encounter with the risen Lord. If in his former life Paul thought a crucified Messiah was scandalous, I am sure most Christians thought the idea of Paul as a preacher of the gospel utterly absurd. In Christ, Paul and those who had had once persecuted, were reconciled. Where in our world, where in your community, is God calling you to the ministry of reconciliation? If God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, sinners that we are, is there any doubt that he can reconcile us to one another?

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2016/04/08/vin-scully-calls-hank-aaron-historic-715th-home-run-babe-ruth/82799928
Justin Simmons has served as minister for the Glenmora Church of Christ in central Louisiana since 2011. Previously he studied at the University of South Carolina (BA, MA), and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University (MDiv). He is blessed to call Melissa his wife, and has three wonderful step-children. He enjoys reading about history and practical theology, listening to Gregorian chants, and passionately following Braves baseball and Gamecock sports.
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Author:  Publish Date: February 13, 2017

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

The CHARIS website is supported by Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA), the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The purpose of CHARIS at ACU is to seek God’s blessings for a healthy relationship between the Christian college/university – its faculty, staff, and students – and the church heritage that gives identity and meaning to such a school. This underlying concern for Christian colleges/universities, and their relationship to the churches, is reflected in the form and content of the CHARIS website.

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