Pressure and Honor
Opening Question: What are you willing to do to please your parents? Your teacher? Your coach?
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Baseball try-outs had arrived. And Chelsea couldn't be happier. She liked to play hard. And she wanted to play with the best. So, she went to the try-outs with hope, a mean fast ball as a pitcher, and a reputation as a good fielder. She thought that would be enough to make the Yankees team.
And it was, but... Chelsea received the good news in a phone call from Coach Edwards. She made the team. But after two practices, she realized that she might sit on the bench or play short stop instead of pitching. She wanted to play with the best. And she was. The problem was these players were better than Chelsea.
That did not stop Chelsea, however. She doubled her determination. She practiced hard and played hard on the team, while she kept practicing her pitching at home. She volunteered every chance she got to pitch, so she could show her coach she had improved. But the her teammates kept improving, too. The competition between the players became more and more intense.
At the halfway point in the season, the team had a perfect winning record. But, in the coach's eyes, many of the wins were too close. The intensity between the players got in the way of their teamwork. When their teamwork suffered, so did the quality of their play. Everyone wanted to be the star. No one wanted to work together.
When the Yankees played the Marlins, the coach's fears came true. After the fourth inning, the Marlins were up 7 to 4. During the second inning, the Marlins scored four runs off of three Yankee errors. And the pitching was terrible. Coach Edwards had already put in two pitchers. No one was effective. During the top of the fifth, however, the Yankees caught a break. A single, then a walk, and the another single. Two more runs scored and the Yankees were only down by a run. Then, Chelsea came up to bat. She looped a single into center field and scored the tying run. Not bad for a short stop who sat on the bench for four innings and came to bat cold.
But, in the bottom of the fifth, the Marlins came back to load the bases. Coach Edwards sounded like he was at his breaking point. Suddenly, his eyes light up and turned to Chelsea. "Warm up your pitching arm," he told her. Surprised, she stood there speechless for a moment. "Go!" he commanded. And she left.
After a few pitches, the coach called for time, walked up to the mound, and relieved the Yankee's third pitcher. "Go get 'em," the coach said to Chelsea as he tossed her the ball. Then next moments were the most trying in her life. All eyes were on Chelsea, as she threw fastball after fastball. She felt the full weight of her team's expectations on her shoulders. She surprised herself, for she was up to the task. Her fastball smoked batter after batter. In 12 pitches, she threw 8 strikes. Only one ball was fouled away. The bases were still loaded. But, instead of no outs, the Yankees had two outs. And the count on the batter was one ball, two strikes. Chelsea stood for a moment to think about what she had done. Then she looked at what she had to do. One more pitch and the inning would be over. The pressure mounted, but she brushed it off with the shake of her head. She wound up and threw the ball as hard as she could. Strike three! The Yankee bench erupted into cheers for one girl who faced the pressure and succeeded.
That game was a turning point for Chelsea and the Yankees. Chelsea found a spot in the pitching rotation and finished the year with some very respectable statistics. The Yankees went on to a perfect season, not because of their talent, but because their teamwork. Because of the inspiration of one girl who faced a moment of pressure and succeeded, the rest of the team pulled together and won.
God loves us, but he does not promise us an easy life. In fact, he promises us times of pressure, times of trial, like Chelsea faced. This is his way of helping our hearts and character grow. This is his way of helping us focus on the things that are most important.
Have you ever faced times of pressure? What happened? How did these times help you to grow closer to God?
Bridging Question: Have you thrown out any presents you got for Christmas? Why?
Gospel: Luke 2:22-32
Five weeks after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took the boy to Jerusalem. They presented Jesus to God at the Temple because God's Law said, "The first child whom a mother bears will be called special for God." They also worshiped God with an offering of two birds, just like God's Law commands.
A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. Always trying to live by God's will, Simeon loved the Lord and waited for God to visit his people. God's Spirit lived in Simeon and told him he would see the Messiah before he died. The Spirit led Simeon into the Temple, where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to worship God. There, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and praised God:
"Now, you can let me die in your peace, Lord;
you kept your word to me.
I have seen the One who will save your people,
whom everyone will see.
He will be a light to every nation,
and will bring great honor to Israel, your people."
Brandon was in trouble. His room was a mess for three weeks in a row. And now his mother insisted that he clean it up. Brandon screamed at his mother when she refused to let him play with his friends. He made matters worse when he stomped back to his room and slammed the door behind him. He laid on his bed, feeling sorry for himself. After awhile, he distracted himself with some games, waiting for his mother to visit him, hoping she would give in and let him go play with his friends. No such luck. Bored with his games, he decided he would clean up his room. That way he could please his mother and see his friends.
After he made his bed and dusted his furniture, he turned to his closet. "What a mess!" he thought to himself. He never realized he had that many toys. After he straightened out the shoes in the closet, he began to separate the toys into piles. He would save the ones he liked and give away the rest. "Mom will like that," he mumbled to himself.
The work took longer than he expected. Half way through the pile, he found one of his Christmas presents. It was the radio controller to an expensive car he really wanted. Brandon remembered Christmas morning and how excited he was to get the car. He ripped the package open, looked desperately to find the batteries, shoved them into remote control, and terrorized his little sister with his "off-road monster." The car zoomed up and down the hall. Brandon got so excited, he didn't even open his stocking. He ran to his room, changed his clothes, and ran outside with the car and the controller. He couldn't wait to show them off to his friends. And to take the monster for a drive in the dirt. That Christmas was really fun, just because of that car, Brandon remembered.
Now Brandon looked at the remote control with the broken aerial and the missing joystick. Then, he looked down and found the car. The "off-road monster" had a cracked body and a missing wheel. "So much for that Christmas present," Brandon sighed as he picked up the controller and the car. He dumped both into the trash.
Brandon then did something unusual. He sat on his bed and stared at the controller and car lying in the trash can. He remember who gave him the car, his Uncle Jim. He remembered the happy look on his uncle's face when he opened the gift. He remembered the joy in this uncle's face when he played with the car. Then, he remembered how poor off his uncle was. Uncle Jim lived in a home with other developmentally disabled adults like him. And he worked all day long just sweeping a grocery store, working for little pay. "Uncle Jim must have saved a long time to buy me that car," Brandon thought to himself.
Brandon went to the trash and took out the car with the controller. He cleaned both of them up and placed them on his "pride shelf," the shelf with all his sports trophies and school awards. He was given those trophies and awards for what he did. But, the car and controller were different. He received those for who he was. From a person who really loved him and wanted him to be happy. That made the remote controlled car the best thing on the shelf.
Christmas seems like a long time ago. Many of your presents might be broken. Some might be at the bottom of your closet. But, let's not forget the best present we received on Christmas, Jesus. He is the one who loves us for who we really are. Just like Uncle Jim loved Brandon.
When Simeon held Jesus in his arms, he realized how precious God's gift was to us. Jesus would be the light for everyone! The light to show us God loves us just the way we are.
Closing Question: Who loves and cares for you? How does that love make you feel? Do you know Jesus loves you the same way? How do you know Jesus' love?