The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

We need umpires to keep things going – in sport we need a quick decision so that the game can go on. Generally we accept the that competing tensions of fairness or playing by the rules, competitiveness, and a desire to win means we may not be as clear sighted as we think we are – and so we accept the ruling of a keen independent watcher of the game. Umpires are expected to be independent and honest. Not to leave the crease or insist that you grounded the ball and scored the try is simply not part of the way game should be played. So far the theory but in practice it is messy. As it is if we think any form of adjudication or judgement – in an employment dispute, to do with the law, a grade in education, quality of manufacture – in fact wherever you have rules, you can have lots of mess as people quibble and squabble and appeal and appeal.

Of course, we want to be accurate in our judgements – fair and honest – and so the umpiring process involves education (umpires are trained rather than just picked from the crowd turning up that day) and there is now technology. We have Hawk-Eye in cricket and tennis, goal line technology in football and rugby and also the use of the third umpire – all of which means that there are umpires for the on-field umpires! We have many levels of courts through which a legal challenge might travel. But finally unless one is going to stop the game, if the umpire’s finger goes up, the batsman will walk.

Sometimes you do need the extra help with umpiring and the opportunity to appeal because corruption by its very nature is insidious and hides within structures and processes and sometimes people just refuse to accept that the ball was out and shout and smash their racquet. And so we have fines and sanctions and disqualifications but again, when you get here there definitely is a lot of mess.

How much easier would it be if we had integrity (it is one of the Sea Cadet’s core values) which is about being upright and honest and wanting the best for everyone in that moment. Ideally, it would mean less umpiring because the person would nod and say, ‘Yep, I was offside’. I find it interesting that one of the description of sin is ‘incurvatus in se’ (curled inward on oneself) which just as a picture is the opposite of having integrity. Sin turns us into a ball where we are raging at the world for not doing what we want and it is a hallmark of human nature. Oh. Ok, so that’s why we have umpires! We need them so that we can live in this world – play the game – to some degree.

But wouldn’t it be better if walking upright, looking at the world, knowing ourselves for who we are (and all that entails) we wanted to live well with all those around us also living well – living well together – you might even say, being a blessing to each other? Wouldn’t that be a life less messy and if there was mess, perhaps then we’d bend down to … clean it up!

And that is a picture of what I think Christian discipleship is all about – standing and walking upright and looking around with wonder and gratitude and not in fear and an inner rage – because we have heard the most terrible judgement of all. For me, it is George, the wages of sin is death – and you are a sinner. There is no greater condemnation. But there’s more – the message goes on – George, and the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, your Lord – and that is the best gift of all … to me! The message – Law and Gospel – helps us live and in fact, I think, would minimise the need for as many umpires as the world currently needs. GS