"Die Propheten" by Moshe Pearlman
Ken Evers-Hood: What are you living for that's bigger than you?
King David suffered when he ignored the tradition that guided how to care for the ark of the covenant. We too suffer when we forget our indebtedness to the past and our obligation to the future.
August 28, 2012 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. Ken Evers-Hood preached this sermon July 15, 2012, at Tualatin Presbyterian Church near Portland, Ore.
The most memorable game in Ryne Sandberg’s long career as a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs came in 1984, when the Cubs faced the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs were down 9-8. The Cardinals put in Bruce Sutter, their ace reliever, and after a couple of outs everyone starting pouring out into the streets. But Sandberg stood and delivered. He smacked a fastball over the left-field fence to keep the Cubs alive. People started heading back to their seats. At the top of the 10th, the Cardinals scored two more to again dash the Cubs’ hopes. But would you believe that when Sandberg was back up at bat, with a man on second, he hit another home run to tie the game again? The Cubs went on to win in the 11th, and the event became known as “The Sandberg Game.”
It was an extraordinary moment, but it wasn’t Sandberg’s finest. That came 20 years later, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. … I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. Make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases; hit a home run, put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases, because the name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back. That’s respect. … These guys sitting up here [he gestures to those already in the Hall of Fame] did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you, and to the game of baseball. … Respect. A lot of people say this honor today validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect. … If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game did what they were supposed to do and I did what I was supposed to do.”
Hugh Heclo quotes this speech in “On Thinking Institutionally” to suggest the importance of sensing our place within the world, our debt to the past and our obligation to the future. Sandberg’s words about respect for the game and respect for the people who came before him illustrate that this is a man who was formed and shaped by something much larger than himself. Ryne Sandberg knew he owed his career to those who came before him and that, likewise, he owed a great deal to those who would come next.
This sense of respect for the past and the future is extremely rare today. In every era of great cultural transformation, people invariably become so focused on themselves and the changes they are going through that they lose sight of their past and become blind to where they are headed.
It’s what happened when Israel went through the incredible transformation from having judges to having kings. You see this clearly in the story of the ark.
Anyone who has seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has a pretty good sense that the ark of the covenant is a big wooden box you seriously don’t want to mess with. The ark is first described in the book of Exodus when the Israelites would carry it with them through the desert. The box, with two winged cherubim on top, was filled with the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, some manna and Aaron’s rod. Whenever the ark was with them, the Israelites felt like they were invincible.
Except, in the fourth chapter of 1 Samuel, the unthinkable happened. The Israelites went up against the Philistines, who had chariots, and -- even with their ark -- the Israelites were no match. The Philistines captured the ark. Only it started making everyone sick who was near it, so they decided to return it. But even though Israel got the ark back, the people weren’t happy with it anymore. This is the moment when the people ganged up on Samuel and demanded a king so they could be like the nations. Amidst the ensuing changes, the ark was forgotten, a dusty relic in the town of Kiriath-jearim.
Until the first king, Saul, died, and the new king, David, decided to dig deep into the past, retrieve the old relic and try to unite the people around him. But David had lost respect for the tradition and had forgotten how to care for the ark and carry himself around it. Because of this, a young man named Uzzah died.
The story begins with David sending all of his men to Kiriath-jearim. He ordered a new cart to be made for the ark, and this was his first mistake. The ark wasn’t meant to be put on a cart but was supposed to be carried by priests, on poles. With the ark on their backs, the priests could feel the weight of God’s presence with them. The only people who had put the ark on a cart before were the Philistines.
The second mistake the Israelites made was forgetting to offer a sacrifice. They were singing and dancing and making a big racket. David wanted all of the benefits of the ark, but he didn’t want to invest in the work, the time or the money the institution of the ark demanded.