The glory of God produces hope despite suffering
Romans 5: 1-5 – Peace and Hope
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
O'Neil's baseball life offered sunshine on some cloudy days
God works in mysterious ways to get a point across.
With more idle time during this coronavirus lockdown, I decided to watch the documentary: “Baseball – a film by Ken Burns.” I love baseball history. It has been my passion since childhood.
There were tidbits of information that I discovered throughout watching each inning of the nine-part extravaganza.
But, remarkably, much of it allowed me to simply reminisce on the sights, sounds, stadiums and players that have been dear to my heart.
Who else has a 1953 Topps Satchel Paige (with first name incorrectly spelled Satchell), 1960 rookie Carl Yastrzemski and 1952 Red Man Chewing Tobacco Pee Wee Reese baseball cards sitting on their desk?
And, not far off, are replica stadiums of the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Tiger Stadium.
But in watching the documentary you could not help but be drawn in by interviews with former Negro League player and manager Buck O’Neil.
Not only what he said, but how he said it with a calm, reassuring voice with joy spread across his face as he grinned ear-to-ear.
There were several signs for me to dig deeper into O’Neil.
It was the week of our annual beach trip to St. George Island, Florida that was canceled. Last year, I drove through Carrabelle, Florida – O’Neil’s birthplace – on a trip to St. James Bay golf course. O’Neil grew up in Sarasota where my daughter and son-in-law now live.
Joe Posnanski, who not only shares my Polish heritage but also is an incredible sports writer whom I was familiar with from my days of being a member of the Associated Press Sports Editors, wrote in 2007 “The Soul of Baseball – a Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.”
I had to buy the book, right? I read it in one day.
What does this have to do with our journeys to the cross? Everything. Allow me to explain.
O’Neil lived through extreme racism barnstorming across the country while delightfully playing a kids’ game. He, like many of his teammates and rivals, were never able to play baseball in the major leagues.
O’Neil became a scout for the Chicago Cubs and signing Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Billy Williams (and Montgomery’s Oscar Gamble).
He was the first black coach in the major leagues when he was hired by the Cubs in 1962 but was never given the opportunity to be a manager.
One of the main questions people asked him over the years was why he was not bitter for never being given a chance. It was not his style. The title of his autobiography – “I was Right on Time” – personifies that.
O’Neil lived to bring joy and hope to others.
Posnanski, who in writing the book followed O’Neil throughout the country on his many promotional opportunities, shared this story.
While in New York, O’Neil, who was in his 90s and approaching the end of his life, came onto an elevator with a woman he later described as looking “New York lonely” as she stared at the ground.
O’Neil introduced himself and she looked away, pretending not to hear. But O’Neil kept at it asking what her name was. She glanced up and said: “Swathy.” He replied: “Swathy, you are a beautiful young lady.”
Buck continued to talk to her, telling her how lucky she was to live in New York at her age and that she must be doing very well. When the elevator reached the bottom floor, it buckled locking into place and O’Neil stumbled. She reached out her arms to keep him from falling.
Then, he held out his arms. “Give it up,” he said. She jumped into his arms and hugged him tightly for a long time. Then, she bounded out of the elevator into the city’s rush hour.
Posnanski wrote in a 30-floor descent, her sad look evaporated like a rain puddle in Central Park. After O’Neil died in 2006 and Posnanski’s book was published, Posnanski heard from the woman who was in the elevator.
She said up to that point it was rotten day – boyfriend troubles, work troubles, New York blues – and this stately man walked in.
She said she had no idea who he was, but she could tell there was something about him, something unique. After she got out of the elevator, she repeated his name all the way to the subway. She said she looked up his story on the internet and felt happy all over again.
A short time later, Posnanski said another woman came forward and said she was the woman in the elevator. He wrote, O’Neil must know how to work elevators.
O’Neil must know how to love people …
Once O’Neil arrived to late to speak to preschool children in Atlanta. He began by asking the children if they knew how to sing.
A few muttered yes, they did. He repeated louder: “I don’t think you heard me … do you kids really know how to sing?” They shouted: “Yes!”
He said all right, and had the kids and teachers hold hands. He began singing: “The greatest thing … in all my life … is loving you …”
The kids began to sing along, louder and louder, as they repeated the verse. He looked at kids not enthusiastically participating and encouraged them to join in.
After the song finished, he said: “I’ve never heard such singing in all my life.” The kids cheered for themselves and settled down.
O’Neil smiled at Red Moore and James Lee, two former Negro League players sitting behind him during the presentation, and said: “A little music wakes up the soul doesn’t it?”
The song is a Christian hymn written by Mark Pendergrass in 1977. Posnanski wrote that O’Neil has been using that song, that one verse even though there are others, so long, it has become part of him.
He used that song at dinners, club meetings, funerals and charity functions with people always joining hands together.
That song is part of O’Neil’s identity. Loving others. Lifting others up empowered by the loving relationship with the King above all Kings.
Do we live our lives that way? Do we raise others up no matter what we are facing or what perceived slight we think may come our way?
Do we recognize there’s glory in our sufferings?
Do we understand that suffering produces perseverance … that perseverance produces character … that character produces hope?
And, hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into us through the Holy Spirit?
Who are the most powerful examples of this passage coming to life?
How about a single mother of three children working two jobs to make ends meet? And, not only does she do it, but her actions and character reflect the joy of Jesus Christ who is at work in all her struggles.
What about someone diagnosed with terminal cancer, who not only accepts the condition but deals with it eloquently as a walking, breathing example of Christ-like character coming to the forefront?
During this coronavirus shutdowns, staff members including myself called church members to see how they were doing during this stay-at-home situation.
One call was to someone recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer given months to live. They were filled with joy and peace – and confidence in their eventual heavenly destination – it radiated through the phone.
When I was supposed to be there as comfort, that person lifted me.
Buck O’Neil lived his life that way.
Do we share the hope of what Christ has done for us to others?
After Burns’ baseball documentary, O’Neil became a popular speaker as he drummed up support for a Negro League’s Baseball Museum.
In 2006, O'Neil was nominated to a special Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for Negro League players, managers and executives in 2006.
The ballot produced 17 people for induction, but not O’Neil.
Despite his playing, managing and post-baseball role as Negro League spokesman and cheerleader, he fell short of the necessary votes.
Though, he was not bitter, the public was outraged.
“God's been good to me,” O’Neil said. “They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”
Following O’Neil’s death, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for his excellence and determination on and off the field.
The Hall of Fame named a lifetime achievement award in his honor.
The Kansas City Royals set aside seat painted red amidst the Royals’ blue seats in Section 127, Row C, Seat 9 as the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat that is awarded to the fan that exemplifies O’Neil’s spirit.
In the last year of his life, O’Neil would attend Negro League celebrations at various ballparks around the country.
At a stop in Atlanta, there was a woman working in the suite where he was sitting, and he said to her: “Is there anything sweet in this suite?”
She replied: “What do you have in mind?” He smiled and said: “Oh, Lord, I want something that won’t kill me. How about a cookie?”
He ate one cookie at wrapped up a few others for later.
He walked by the woman on his way out of the stadium and said to her: “I’m sure I will see you again?”
“I love the way you say that,” she replied. “You are so filled with hope.”
And Buck asked: “What else is there in the world?”
Christians have the greatest reason for hope, a savior in Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself on the cross for your sins and mine that we may be with our Lord for an eternity.
What other hope is there in the world?
After Posnanski finished the book, people asked him: “Did the time with Buck O’Neill change you?” Two stuck out to him: to quit feeling sorry for yourself when you think you got it bad and to enjoy life’s moments because the world gets better all the time.
O’Neil was described as having a magnetic personality. It is optimism rather than being overrun with negativity. O’Neil life exemplified it. Does yours?
Can you show God’s glory while persevering through hardship, developing character and providing hope for all to see?
God works in mysterious ways. Who is to say God is not using your life right now to shine light in the darkness? Are you up for the challenge?
Brad Zimanek is the Associate Pastor at Mulder Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry.