This past Saturday, Anita and I were invited to attend a party here in Moody. It was an outdoor party and it was hot! Everyone there was sweating and trying to find whatever shade was available. But that wasn't the roughest part of the event; you should have seen many of those in attendance. Social skills were largely missing ... few seemed to grasp the concept of good manners ... their clothing was ill-fiting and somewhat out of date ... inappropriate language was commonplace ... there was plenty of food, but much of it in crumbs on people's shirts or smeared on faces because of lack of napkin use ... awkward behavior abounded.
In many ways it was an incredibly uncomfortable event. But in other ways it was a truly beautiful time. We expected all the messy, inappropriate, awkward behavior since the party was the 15th anniversary celebration of the Moody Miracle League. If you're not familiar with the Miracle League you should check it out - www.moodymiracleleague.org. The Miracle League provides boys and girls of all ages with all sorts of physical and mental handicaps to play baseball in an organized league. Seth plays for the Braves - undefeated for the past 15 years ... but so is every other team! Seth's batting average is 1000 ... but so is every other player's. Every player hits, every player scores, every team wins - it is by far the best sporting event in the area!
This party featured folks in wheelchairs who can't use their legs and arms; those with various forms of mental retardation, Down Syndrome, extreme autism, etc.; boys and girls with Cerebral Palsy, who are blind, had life-changing injuries, have Muscular Dystrophy, born with deformities, etc. The handicaps are serious and many, but all these folks come together to play ball and experience the joy of the sport!
My favorite moment of the Miracle League party was when the DandyLion team arrived all together. Johnny, one of their players, probably around 30 years old, severely mentally retarded, broke away from his group and came to me wanting only a hug. I'd not met Johnny before but we stood there for 5 minutes just hugging each other. His smell, the drool from his mouth, his frequent coughing didn't bother me at all. I could only smile and reflect on the beauty of the moment as I felt his strong embrace and unconditional acceptance of me. I began to hug him a bit harder as I thought about it all.
I wonder what the average Christian expects when he/she attends worship on Sunday. I suspect that most of us don't want to get messy, don't want to get slobbered on, don't want to deal with brokenness, don't want to be troubled by someone else's problems, don't want to see any inappropriate behavior, don't want to feel awkward, etc. But the reality is that everyone in church will have a handicap far more serious than anything seen at a Miracle League game. Our handicap is the sin that resides in our heart ... and it's ugly, messy, offensive, inappropriate, and gross. Sometimes that sin even spills out, becomes visible, and makes us all very uncomfortable. But where else should sinners be other than meeting with other sinners in the family of God, each pleading our need of forgiveness and grace, and clinging to the cross of Jesus as our only hope? We have something far more significant than baseball to bring us together ... we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
So this Sunday come expecting to meet a "Johnny" and to get a little messy ... and don't be afraid to be "Johnny" either! Let's come with our mess, our lack of spiritual tidiness, our brokenness, and embrace one another in Christ!