You may never have heard of Ernie Banks…but he is a member of The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York…and a member of God’s Hall of Fame too! Let me explain. Ernie Banks played baseball in the era with legends like Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Although Mantle, Aaron and Mays got the headlines because they won so many World Series games, Banks’ team, the Chicago Cubs were mired in obscurity. During the 19 years that Banks played for the Cubs, they never even played in one World Series game! In fact, Banks played in more games (2,528) than any other Major League player in history without playing in a post season game. Yet in spite of constant losing seasons, Banks brought more joy to the city of Chicago than any other player in Cubs history. This was not only because he had the skills to match the greatest players of his time (he was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, and hit over 500 Home Runs for a last place team) but because when his team and the fans were discouraged with losing, he transformed the mood with his infectious smile and his famous saying… “It is a beautiful day…let’s play two!” Ernie Banks was the first African American to play for the Cubs and endured the horrors of racism, slander and prejudice with class and character. He was a role model for young kids of all races and colors reminding them that you can be a successful person and not win a championship. Most people don’t…Banks reminded them! Banks worked tirelessly at Boys and Girls Clubs to encourage kids to finish school, be good citizens, and make a difference in society. President Obama presented Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 to commemorate his life of servant leadership on and off the baseball field.
When I think of Ernie Banks, I think of all those people who labor in obscurity in “losing seasons” and challenging circumstances who are loyal to their team, their office and their neighborhood. Like Ernie Banks, they make the people and the environment around them better … even when times are tough!
The biblical story of Ruth and Naomi reminds us that loyalty and faithfulness are significant gifts we give to the people around us. Elimelech and Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left their home in Bethlehem of Judea, in a time of great famine, to seek food in Moab. While in Moab, the two sons married Moabite women. But this story doesn’t have a “happily ever after ending.” Naomi endured the greatest tragedies that any human being can endure – the death of her husband and two sons. The pain was excruciating and her despair was indescribable when she lost the three most important people in her life. Naomi asked people to call her “Mara” which means “bitter” … because the Lord dealt bitterly with her.
As Naomi started back her home in Judah, with her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, it occurred to her that she needed to set the two young women free…which she did. Naomi’s daughter in law, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and left her to find a new life. But, the other daughter in law, Ruth, made a deep and abiding commitment to Naomi and said, “Where you go, I will go.”
Naomi is an illustration of an important biblical principle, “there is no loyalty without liberty”. Liberty and loyalty are Siamese twins born in the womb of God’s grace. The one cannot thrive without the other. Naomi had to set her daughters in law free… in order to find genuine love. Ruth was set free to stay in her home country of Moab… or to go with her Mother in law to a new land in Judah. Ruth freely made a commitment to Naomi. When an Israelite named Boaz saw the commitment that Naomi made to her Mother in law, he knew that this was a woman he wanted to marry. And, he did! (If you want to know what kind of spouse someone will be, watch how they treat their parents and their future in laws.) When Ruth and Boaz’s child Obed was born, Naomi had the joy of caring for her grandchild, who was the grandfather of King David! This is why Ruth is mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ. (See Matthew 1: 5). Ruth is in God’s Hall of Fame because she displayed the kind of loyalty that God shows toward us.
[tweetable] Loyalty is not fostered by bosses who demand loyalty oaths. There is another, deeper dimension to loyalty. True loyalty sets other people free. It involves caring enough to tell someone what they NEED to hear not what they WANT to hear. Loyalty tells people the truth… and sticks with them in the tough times. It is easy to say “I am loyal” with our lips, but the true test is if we stick with people in the rough times. Ruth stuck with Naomi just as Ernie Banks stuck with the Cubs… in the midst of losses.
It is easy to be loyal when times are good and “the team” is winning. But the true test of loyalty is if we stick with each other in the tough times. And, when we do, we receive God’s Crown of Righteousness… and, we enter God’s Hall of Fame. So… when the Cubs won the World Series last year, I have a hunch that somewhere in heaven…Mr. Cub was smiling…