Come and See Basketball

Sermon Preached on January 19, 2020 – Epiphany II
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Come and See Basketball
(Preached with a basketball in hand)

When Jesus turned and saw John’s disciples following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Teacher, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

(Bounce)

It was the crazy time of year – near the end of football season with basketball already getting started. I was the assistant athletic trainer at Catholic University. With all the fall teams still playing and the winter teams in preseason, I was exhausted. We were having lunch in the coaches’ lounge and the head basketball coach for the men’s team was going on and on about the glories of the game. When I just snapped, and said something like, “Look, Bob, you have to love basketball, but I don’t. Honestly, I just don’t get it, up and down the court, all that scoring, not much strategy.” The room got very quiet.

(Bounce)

I braced for Bob’s famous Italian temper. I deserved it. But he didn’t say anything – he just sat for a moment. Then he said to me, “Next Thursday, 5 o’clock, in the main gym, see you there.” I looked at my boss, the head athletic trainer, who just nodded – and that’s how I found myself the head trainer for men’s basketball that season.

Come and See… Bob didn’t try to talk me into appreciating basketball. He knew that in order to explain why he loved this game, he’d have to show me. More than show me, he’d have to get me involved in the game, and he did.

He would go over the game plan, talk me through a certain drill in practice, pull me into the post-game pow wows and ask my opinion. For the season opener in New York City he sent me ahead with the team and had me take them to the local college gym where I ran the practice. Come and see, indeed. I got invested in this season quickly!

(Bounce)

This was a pretty weak Division Three team, no scholarships, no particularly talented players, just a lot of guys who liked to play basketball. After practice they liked to hang out in the gym and shoot three pointers. The guys had a running competition going and everyone had gotten pretty good.

Their coach decided that this year was going to be interesting at the very least, and he changed their style of play, opening up the court and letting – even expecting – everyone who thought they could make a three pointer to go ahead and take it. At any point in the game. If they saw the shot, pull up and take it. No argument, no problem if they missed, just have a great time out there and see how many threes they could hit in a game. Week to week there was more detailed strategy involved, but that was the basic game plan.

At first the players were nervous, they weren’t sure that coach really meant it, but after the first few games they began to realize that he was serious. And they stopped worrying and started shooting threes – a lot of threes. They were having fun, the other teams couldn’t figure out what was going on, and Catholic University Men’s Basketball was winning games.

(Bounce)

A lot of games. In fact they won more games that season than they had won in the 90 years prior. It was an incredible season, not only because they were winning, but because they were having fun, we all were. It was freeing for them to be told, “I know you can do this, you’re really a good shooting team, so just shoot it.” They came together as a team, they spent their free time together, they were best of friends.

And they had a chance to live authentically, do what they were doing for the right reasons: play basketball because it’s fun. Spend time with your teammates because you really like them. Hang out with the coach because you respect him and he respects you. Shoot three pointers because it’s fun, and laugh when your division three team ends up in the NCAA book of records. Live the experience freely, joyfully.

(Bounce)

Which brings us back to this morning’s Gospel story. Let’s be clear – I’m not saying that Jesus and the disciples are a basketball team, with Jesus at point guard, Peter at center and John the Baptist as their manager.

What I AM saying is come and see. Be in relationship, get involved. Live authentically. You’re free to take the risk of being involved. You don’t have to live afraid that you’re going to fail. You’re free to take the shot, even if it’s a long shot. We’re called to be in relationship with Jesus, in relationship with one another, to live authentically – and joyfully.

(Bounce)

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, Teacher, ‘Where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’