Don’t kill the ump!
- Order of Service: Morning Praise, p45
- Lessons: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Hebrews 2:10-18, Luke 2:41-52
- Hymns: 45, 37, 58
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
We have a love-hate relationship with umpires. On the one hand, when they make the right call, we love ‘em. On the other hand, when they blow it, or we think they’ve blown it, we hate them.
It seems like we simply tolerate refs. We know they serve a purpose, but we’d prefer for them to be seen and not heard. I don’t hear a lot of praise for umps: “Way to go, Zebras, way to go!” I do hear pretty sharp criticism, all the way up to, “Kill the umps!”
Part of the problem is about control. Something you hear a lot in sports, from the players, from the coaches, from broadcasters, from fans, is, “Let ‘em play.” People appeal to the umps to swallow their whistles. People hate it “when the refs decide the game.” And we hate thinking, “If only for that call, we would have won.”
We don’t just hate that in sports, we hate that throughout life. We don’t like our parents telling us what to do. We don’t like the boss telling us what to do. We don’t like our teachers telling us what to do. We don’t like the government telling us what to do. “Let me play,” we say. “Let me do my thing.” You know who else we hate to hear this from? God. “Let me play, Lord. Let me do my thing. Don’t interfere.”
We don’t want anyone in charge except us, least of all some all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, all-meddling God. We don’t like being told to do this and avoid that. We don’t like being told what’s right and wrong. Parents do that. Bosses do that. Teachers do that. Governments do that. And now God does that, too?
We tolerate it as long as it seems to match our wishes and desires, or as long as it works out to a plus in our bank accounts. But we like to make it clear that it’s a mutual relationship. It’s give and take. “I’ll do what you say, but I want it made clear that it’s my decision to do this. You aren’t ruling over me.” Our government is founded on this principle, this idea of a contract between the governed and the governors. But to extrapolate that out into all our relationships, it just doesn’t work.
Think about some of the decisions you’ve made when you’ve taken charge, against the advice of parents, or teachers, or bosses, or the government, or God. Where did it land you? Debt? Failing grade? Lost job? Poor performance? Audit? Fines, jail, or prison? Maybe it never got to those nuclear levels, but when you struck out on your own, against good counsel, against the express direction of those in authority, those placed as umpires in your life, against God’s authority, it almost never went well, even if you think it did. Even if only because you choose to reject and disobey and, in a sense, kill the umpire.
In the end, that’s just a self-chosen work. That’s just you deciding you know better, you know best, and you’ll figure out everything, you’ll be your own umpire, you’ll get yourself to your own version or vision of heaven. And Scripture has very little good to say about self-chosen works. Jesus says our hearts make bad choices. “Out of your heart comes sin,” Christ said. Before and after the flood, Moses describes the thoughts of our hearts as only evil all the time. And this justifies no one before God. If we kill the umps around us, if we kill God, then we’re on our own. Then God says, “Fine, have at it. See how well you do. I’ll even give you a few extra pushes in your own self-chosen direction.” It only condemns us before God.
Hence, Paul says in the verse of the day for the first Sunday after Christmas, Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15, NIV84). In that word “rule” is our word “umpire.” “Let the peace of Christ umpire your hearts,” Paul says. Because the only right calls ever made come from the peace of Christ. When I make the call, I withhold myself, my life, my heart, my family, my wallet, my everything. When Christ makes the call, He gives everything up to and including His own life over into death for me, to reconcile me to the God I’ve asked to stay out of my life and just let me play. In other words, when Christ makes the call He surpasses understanding.
I can’t do this. By nature I’m bound to rebel against this umpire, to rebel against God, to rebel against God’s peace, to counter to all my interests, rebel against the best possible calls that can be made. Because I’m just that sinfully selfish. So this same Christ calls out to me. “Come to me,” He says. Even though I fight and battle and say, “Kill the ump! Kill Christ!” “Come to me,” He says. “Come to my peace. I came to give peace. I want you to have peace. I want to fill you with peace. I want to make you a part of this Body of which I am the head.”
In other words, Jesus says, “You make bad choices. You always have. Let me help you. Let me make the right calls.” That’s faith. That’s belief in Christ. That’s letting Christ’s peace rule in your hearts. He makes the decisions now, you don’t. From this new creation comes no longer evil thoughts, rebellion, and that hateful bray, “Kill the ump!” but rather faith produces new life, new love. Christ’s peace produces new breath, new life, now hope – good choices.
Because now they’re Christ’s choices. His peace. Again, keep in mind just what exactly that means. For example, Paul says to the Romans, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, NIV84) because Christ reconciled God to us. He Himself is our peace, as Paul said to the Ephesian church (2:14, NIV84). Thus Christ puts the war between God and us at an end. He won peace by denying Himself, taking up His cross, and following the Father. These are the “things above” to which Paul directs us in the early part of Colossians 3. This is the new life to which the Spirit calls us, a life totally within Christ: The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, Paul told the Galatians (2:20, NIV84).
Good choices, from beginning to end. And through faith in Christ they become your choices. They become you denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Christ. They become you yielding and submitting to the will of God your Father in all areas of your life. Because Christ did it first. He is all in all. He rescued us from death and darkness and hell and brought us into the kingdom of forgiveness, where we have peace with the Father. Our whole life is now hidden with Christ in God. He’s the Head, we’re the Body. One thing, united, in peace. And now, by the power of Christ, with Christ’s peace in our hearts, we can live that way, in peace with God and with each other. Don’t kill this ump. Because without Him, we’re out. But with Him, we have everything to be thankful for. Amen.