Friday night, the Texas Rangers defeated the Babylon of the Major Leagues. Poetically, ARod strikes out looking (and sweet justice rolled down like rolling rivers). And nothing was left but the celebration. Everyone was celebrating (except the Yankees). But not everyone was celebrating the same way. Most players were drinking Champagne, but not Josh Hamilton. He was drinking Ginger Ale, and that was okay.
A lot of times sports are about more than just sports. They are the individual stories that we bring to the team we belong to. There are a lot of reasons why I love the Texas Rangers, but this is one of them. They look like church to me. From Ron Washington recent confession of using cocaine, to Josh Hamilton’s very public relapse last year. We know that they aren’t perfect people on this team, but they know that too.
And they make space for each other to be better.
Last Friday night, the most searched item on Google wasn’t porn. It was “Josh Hamilton’s Story.” And maybe it’s because Josh didn’t interview like your typical Pennant winner MVP. He took his daughter on the media stage with him. When asked about his journey to the top, Hamilton reminded reporters that this isn’t the top for him. He refused to let the spotlight be on him. He was, in other words, being a follower of Jesus, who happened to play professional baseball.
I wrote the following blog last year the day after Josh’s relapse went public. It’s a great reminder for the church what happens when our failures don’t have the last word. Because sometimes Prodigals come home, and sometime they win the ALDS MVP.
The first time I had ever heard of Josh Hamilton I didn’t like him. I was at Wrigley Field, cheering on the Cubs as they led the Cincinnati Reds 3-1. My buddy, Michael Peters, was in the middle of explaining to me how Hamilton was a solid Christian, and God had delivered him from a self-inflicted hell of alcohol and drug abuse.
And about that time he hit a 3 shot, game-winning, home run.
Since then Hamilton has left the dark side. Joined the Rangers, become a Major League Baseball legend, as well as a rare role-model that little boys can look up to.
And then something happens.
Maybe you’ve heard already about Hamilton’s relapse. It happened back in January in Arizona. He went to a bar, one thing led to another, and within the last few hours pictures have surfaced all over the internet of him doing something that is less than honorable.
Be sure your sins will find you out, especially when there are poloroids.
But that’s not where this story stops. At least for me.
I know the power that addiction had over a person. From both personal experience and watching my close friends hurt themselves. And it’s easy to feign shock about someone making a tragic mistake like this, but in reality, anyone with a pulse knows what this is like.
We know what it’s like to do the very thing we hope we don’t do. Or not do the very thing that we want to do. And while some of us may not make the same mistakes that Mr. Hamilton has, I don’t think any of us want our worst struggles publicized.
One of the more famous stories that Jesus tells is the one about a Father with two sons. One goes away after shaming his Father, his family, and himself. The prodigal son runs away, he wanted to be free only to find out that he had always been his captor.
So the prodigal son comes home, the Father throws a party, and the older brother pouts.
But Jesus never says “The End” on that story does he? The story doesn’t resolve. There’s no fade to black. Instead, like most great stories, it is open-ended. It gives us a lens for how to view a reality that just keeps going.
So what if that prodigal son makes the same mistake again? What if he goes off again, drags his dad through the mud again? What if he abuses that same grace again? I think the story just starts over.
This is not to say that what God offers us is cheap grace, but the truth is that many times when we hear about stories like Mr. Hamilton’s our immediate reaction is much more like the older brother’s than the generous Father.
Maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t tie the story up in a neat little bow. Maybe He knows that life doesn’t always end with the credits rolling at just the right time, and that none of our biographies tend to resolve the way we wish they would.
Because the Prodigal story happens every day. And there are followers of Jesus who consistently fall in the categories of each of the three characters Jesus tells us about.
Which brings me back to Josh Hamilton. This story is breaking, and I’m sure more details are yet to unfold. But as soon as he heard about the pictures he called a press conference and fully confessed to everything.
Which is not what MLB baseball players normally do.
The day after it happened back in January he told his wife, his team manager, and the MLB organization. And now, when the proverbial crap hits the fan, he already has a group of people standing behind him.
Donald Miller once said that when we make mistakes, God steps back and says, “Okay, let’s start there.” Because following Jesus is a process. Because life is open-ended. And because Egypt always looks better in hind-sight, maybe Josh Hamilton still is a good role-model.
But whether you want your kids to look up to him or not, beware of being the older brother.
Because like it or not, grace means, when someone returns to their senses they can always come home.