Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fundamentals, Not Slam Dunks

Homily from the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Click here to see Blake Griffin's dunk.
Did any of you see the Slam Dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game a couple of weeks ago?  The winner was Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers.  It all started with a gospel choir coming onto the court and singing "I Believe I Can Fly."  Then, a car was parked in front of the hoop.  Griffin sprints toward the car.  A friend of his was inside the car, standing through the sunroof and he alley-oops the ball to Griffin.  Griffin jumps over the car, grabs the ball in mid-air, and slams it home.
A very impressive slam dunk.

However, Blake Griffin’s free throw percentage is 63%.

Out of 130 qualified players ranked in the NBA, Blake Griffin is 127th in free throw percentage.

Now don't get me wrong, Blake Griffin is not a lousy player.  He was the #1 pick in the draft last year.  He’s one of the top scorers and rebounders in the league.  He’s #2 in double-doubles.  And he’s obviously really good at delivering a very flashy slam dunk.

But his Achilles Heel is standing perfectly still, 15 feet in front of the basket, and making a free shot, with no one guarding or blocking him.

I like to pretend to golf every now and then.  Sometimes, I can be really good off the tee.  When I make good contact, I can drive it over 200 yards – but rarely.  Most of the time, I’m slicing it off into the woods, hitting into water, or hitting it off the toe or heel.

But why not every time?  Because I don’t practice... I don’t have good fundamentals.  I don’t have a good swing drilled into my head.  I just walk up there and clobber the ball.  And 1 out of every 50 shots or so are great.  But the other 49 stink.

Anyone can make the flashy play every now and then.  But only those who practice the basic fundamentals over and over and over again will become real players of the game.

In our first reading, Moses tells the people, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”  Today, Orthodox Jews still wear a Shel Rosh – little black box which contains a verse of the Torah on their foreheads.  They take Moses' words: drill these words into you, have them before you all the time, very literally.  Moses is saying, make them second nature to you; don’t forget the fundamentals.

What are the fundamentals?  Obey the commandments of the LORD, your God and turn away from following other Gods.  This is, of course, the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”  We are to worship God alone.

And there are consequences to worshipping God as we ought or failing to do so.  Moses says we will receive a blessing for obeying and a curse for not obeying.

We should remember that God's commandment to obey is not some power play on His part.  When a coach is trying to teach an athelete, he's not being arbitrary and tyrannical.  There is a right way to hit a golf ball and there are many wrong ways.  There is a right way to make a lay up and there are many wrong ways.  There is a right way to enter the Kingdom of God.  And that's by following God and His commands alone.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that the one who listens on his words and acts on them will be like a house built on rock.  In other words, you will be someone who practices the fundamentals and basics. 
Whoever listens to his words and does not act on them however, will be like a house built on sand.  Like I said, everyone every now and then can accidentally hit a good drive.  But when the pressures come; when you're facing a water hazard or a sandtrap or the trees along the fairway, will you have practiced the fundamentals well enough to hit it down the fairway without fear or anxiety?

When the rains fall and the flood waters come and the winds buffet your house, will you be swept away?  Or will you stand strong with the grace of God?

And the Lord has something to say about our "slam dunks," our flashy play, our false piety.  He says that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of God.  But only the one who does the will of the Father.  Doing the flashy things won't get you into Heaven.

We don't want to reach the end of our lives and say to the Lord, "Did we not prophesy in your name?  Did we not cast out demons in your name?  Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?  Did we not perform awesome "slam dunks" in your name?"  Jesus is not interested in the flash.  He wants you to practice your free throws in the quiet solitude of the gym called Lent.

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