What’s your favorite sport? Do you follow any sports? Some say, October is the best month of the year for sports fans. The Major League Baseball playoffs are going on; the National Football League games are in full swing; the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association officially start their new seasons. So in October, even though I’m a tennis fan, I get to watch many other sports.
Recently, I followed MLB playoffs, especially the LA Dodgers’ games. In the National League Division Series, their opponents were the Washington Nationals. The series tied at 2, and last Wednesday was their final game. The Dodgers were winning until the 7th inning. But the Nationals evened the score in the 8th by back-to-back home runs. So the game went into overtime. And it was in the 10th. The Dodgers bases were all loaded. Then, bam! The Nationals hitter Howie Kendrick hit the grand slam home run. It was the gamechanger. The Nationals won that game and so the series.
Why do we love sports? It’s because there’s a drama like this, a dramatic win. Just one pitch, just one hit, becomes the gamechanger that turns everything upside down. Because we can’t tell exactly at which moment this drama would happen, we continue to watch games cheering and hoping that our team may dramatically win. There should be a winning drama to take place—not a losing game. No other possibility than happy ending. So, even when our team is actually losing, we keep watching, waiting for a gamechanger.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, there’s a group of people who are yearning for a dramatic win. I’m not talking about any sports here. But I’m talking about the so-called game of life. In this serious game, they are losing a big time. Who are they? They are the people of Israel. They are not in Jerusalem now but in Babylon, in their exile. What happened? In 587 BCE, Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem, held many people hostage, and brought them to Babylon. In Babylon, they are miserable. They don’t understand why their enemy is winning all the time. They want God to listen to their cries and do something for them. They want God to liberate them from this captivity. Yes, for them, only God can be their gamechanger and the author of their winning drama.
Right then, to the people of Israel, God sends words through the Prophet Jeremiah. They feel like heaven breaks open and a ray of sunlight shines upon them. “Yes, that’s it! Who’s our God? Don’t you know, our God sent Moses and released the Hebrew slaves, our ancestors, from the harsh rule of Egypt? Now it’s our turn!” They expect to win everything back. But the word of God totally goes against their expectations. It begins with a bummer. “Build houses and live in them” (Jeremiah 29:5). “What? Are you kidding me?” I’m so sure that the people of Israel couldn’t believe what they just heard. There’s no gamechanger, no drama as such. The rest of the letter says, in short, “Suck it up!” Live your life fully in Babylon; embrace your situation but still do believe in God’s promise of salvation; God’s time is coming… I feel so sorry for them.
In your game of life, are you winning or losing? Like the people of Israel, for sure, we all want our life to be a winning drama—not a losing game. We all want our God to be our gamechanger and do something dramatic for us right now. But it’s not happening. Then, what can we do? When our life goes into a losing side, when we constantly losing our small battles in our daily life—lose our time and money, lose our chances, lose people we love, lose our hopes and dreams, lose our mind, lose our ways, and even lose our hairs…what should we do to write over our drama from a losing one into a winning one?
Let us look at Jesus in today’s Gospel story. His life doesn’t seem like a winning game either. His background? His people were hardly the best. He spent his early years in the poor town of Nazareth. He was a Jew and a carpenter, in Judea—one of the helpless colonies of the Roman Empire. What about current situation? The religious and political authorities and even his neighbors in his hometown are very often hostile to him and never supportive of his ministry. And today, he heals ten lepers, but one, only one of them, comes back and asks for salvation. Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Luke 17:17) Jesus lost nine. Moreover, this one person is a Samaritan, a foreigner, hated by the Jews. It means, Jesus’ own people didn’t appreciate his ministry. It looks like he is losing the game. But did he? Did he actually lose it?
Faithful friends in Christ, if we say life is like a sports game, please know this: we, believers in God, play it in a totally different way than others. Or course, there can be times we lose. There can be times we struggle. But one thing for sure, we play this game on the promise of victory. What we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won the game. This promise has been fulfilled. In history, the people of Israel got released, returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their temple and worshipped God. And Jesus? The one Samaritan leper was just a beginning. He widened his scope of salvation to all the people on earth. Jesus revealed God’s winning drama through his death and resurrection. Jesus changed the game of life for all of us by making the cross, a sign of total defeat, into a symbol of everlasting victory over the world, over sin and death.
Yes, the victory has already been won. And God promises us this victory through Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God! So again, what we need to do is to believe the promise and live as if we already won, as if we are writing our winning drama with Jesus each and every day. How? By living out our winning faith. We can pray like Jesus, even when our situation disheartens us. We can love and forgive like Jesus, even when people are not nice to us. We can willingly help others in need like Jesus, even when we are also in need of help. We can forge God’s kingdom in mission and fellowship like Jesus, even when we are busy and tired. We can shine the light of hope upon others like Jesus, even when we only see darkness around us. Yes, we can. We can write our winning drama with Jesus who has won the victory for us.
Last Wednesday, I don’t think the Washington Nationals won because of the grand slam home run. I don’t think that was the only gamechanger. Until the 10th inning, they were building up for their win with persistence. With every swing, every catch, every pitch, they were making the game turn around. Like them, we should also persist in living out our winning faith in our daily life. Even when we find ourselves in Babylon, in captivity, in unfavorable circumstances, on a losing side, our game of life, our battle, isn’t over. So, until the end of the game, let us be faithful to the promise of victory in Jesus, and write our winning drama with him. The victory has been won, says our Lord. And all God’s people say, amen.
 According to “The Bleacher Report” (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1094743-ranking-the-best-months-of-the-year-for-sports-fans).
Pastor Earl Kim