After taking a series of golf lessons this summer, I recently took my friend, Roger, to a championship course so he could help with my game. We arrived to find our Saturday morning tee time so busy that the starter teamed us with two strangers.
The golfers, in their mid-40s, introduced themselves as Bill and Vick. When I warned the hapless pair that I was a new golfer, Vick gave an uncaring shrug while Bill lit a cigarette and blew plumes into the cloudless day.
Our pairing reminded me of the ominous warning posted on the course website that players would be “… rewarded for carefully planned and executed shots and punished for improper course management.”
Was I to be “punished” by breathing secondhand smoke all morning? No, there would be more.
Just after the first hole, Vick offered Roger a beer from their twelve-pack, while Bill, ever the consummate host, offered me some of his “weed.”
I declined with a junior high laugh, explaining, I was randomly tested by the National Guard.
Bill pulled empty hands from his jeans pocket as if rescinding his offer.
“Oh, you’re ‘military’?” he asked.
I nodded, telling him that I was in the Air National Guard, but our weekend drill was canceled by the government shutdown. Bill allowed a grateful sigh, mumbling something about the government shutdown allowing his “shipments” to cross the border.
When I asked them what they did for a living, Vick happily told us he was a purchaser of pharmaceuticals for a large HMO. Bill was quiet, as it seemed he’d encoded his answer within his mumbled remark.
That’s when I really started questioning our predicament. Who were these weed-smoking beer guzzlers? Were they from a different world? Was our pairing an example of the “improper course management” mentioned in the website?
Here we were — chaplains, duffers, struggling to go the conversational distance with two guys from another world — when I suddenly realized that we were the ones from another world.
At least that’s how Jesus explained it in a fairly lengthy prayer recorded in the 15th chapter of John, just prior to Judas’ arresting kiss.
In the heart of the prayer, Jesus compares his followers to himself by reminding God, “In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.”
It’s a passage that Christians often diminish by teaching, “We are supposed to be in the world, but not of the world.” The problem is that Jesus never meant to recuse us from worldly people like Vick and Bill — or things like dancing, drinking or voting Democrat.
The prayer has deployment tone of a battlefield chaplain. Jesus was not looking to shield his followers from the world; he was sending them into it. Our posting in this world isn’t some kind of punishing purgatory; it’s the mission destination.
At the end of the day, I think Jesus was trying to tell me three things.
First: our pairing with the two wasn’t a mistake. As much as Roger and I wanted to be excused from associating with these guys, this wasn’t a detour of God’s plan.
Second: Like the Blues Brothers, we were “on a mission from God.” Our mission was to play a part in God’s purpose and creation, and then to show Bill and Vick that they were a part of that purpose.
Last, and this is only my guess, I think Jesus would have had me use a 3-wood to get over the water on the 5th hole.