It’s known as the Sandberg Game. June 23, 1984. The Chicago Cubs were up against their archrival and highly favored St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs were losing 9 to 8 at the bottom of the ninth. The crowds started leaving the stadium Then Ryne Sandberg was called up to bat and hit a fastball over the left-field fence. The crowds began returning to their seats. The Cardinals scored two more. Then Sandberg was back to bat. He hit another home run and the game was tied again. The Cubs eventually went on the win in the eleventh.

Sandberg had every reason to feel validated as an excellent player. But Ryne Sandberg revealed the kind of player and person he is when he was inducted into the baseball hall of Fame.

In his 2005 acceptance speech Sandberg said, “I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. … I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. Make a great play, act like you’ve done it before…hit a home run, put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases, because the name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back. … {He gestured to those already in the Hall of Fame} These guys…did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you, and to the game of baseball. … I didn’t work hard for validation. … I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect. … If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

Hugh Heclo quotes this speech in his book On Thinking Institutionally. Heclo says Sandberg is a person who has found his place in something much larger than himself. He understands the value – and responsibility – of passing on a national institution.

Institutions – like baseball, public education, worship – help us find our place in history. Through them we acknowledge our debt to those who have gone before us and our obligation to those who come after.

Heclo suggests that during times of cultural upheaval, such as we are going through now, people tend to lose sight of the importance of institutions. Just when we need stability and common goals most, our sense of disorientation leads us to be more self-absorbed. We forget our reliance on what has been formed for us and our responsibility to those who follow.

This happened to Israel. There was a great cultural disruption as the kingdom moved from judges to kings. In that time, Israel forgot its institution of worship.

We see this in the story of the ark.

The ark was the holiest site of worship for Israel. Described first in the book of Exodus, the ark was a big wooden box that carried items which link Israel to its past and future as the people of God. The two stone tablets with the 10 commandments inscribed on them was in the ark, along with some manna, and the rod of Aaron that blossomed with new life. The ark was covered in gold and topped with two winged cherubim. It was so holy that it was covered with a cloth when it was in public places and carried on poles – because it was not to be touched.

With this place and practice of worship, reminding them of the God of their salvation, the people felt almost invincible.

Until the arch enemies of Israel, the Philistines captured the ark. But Philistines did not treat the ark as a place of worship and in its presence, things went badly for them. Everyone who came in contact with the ark in Philistine grew gravely ill. So, the Philistines returned the ark to the Israelites, on a cart pulled by oxen.

When the ark was returned, however, the Israelites were ambivalent about this institution. It’s as if they had forgotten its purpose in history, and they stashed it away in a remote little town, Kiriath-Jearim. It lingered there all but forgotten for twenty years.

It is David, after his anointing as king, who decides to bring the ark out of hiding. David intends to use the ark of the covenant to unite the people he rules. But David does not respect the traditions about the ark. He has forgotten literally how to carry the ark. He has forgotten the weight of the institution.

It is on a cart. Only Philistines have put the ark on a cart, until now. The ark should be carried by its poles, by priests, who will feel the weight of the worship of God upon their backs. David, also, fails to make any sacrifice as the ark is transported. David invests in a great celebration procession, yet he doesn’t invest the time, money and power sharing that respect the weight of worship. And in doing so he puts others at risk.

During the procession that we just read about, two young men – Uzzah and Ahio – are driving the cart. Just beyond our reading of tambourines, castanets and cymbals, the oxen give a shake, the ark begins to slip off the cart. Uzzah, who is walking behind, puts out his hand to steady the ark and is instantly struck dead by the God who is the holiest of holies.

David, perhaps revealing his true ego-driven reasons for all this festivity, is first angry with the Lord God and then afraid. It is clear that the Lord God is God and David is just a ruler. David has forgotten that he is supposed to be part of something much larger than himself. His grand procession is not worth much – is even dangerous – if it forgets the past and does not protect the future.

Not yet ready to learn this lesson and reclaim responsibility for the institution, David sends the ark to a still more distant rural outpost, to the house of a farm family.

We live in a time when people are forgetful and disrespectful. The accomplishment of individual and ego is celebrated above the institution. Many have abandoned the idea of the common good, in pursuit of their own good.

Look at sports. It has a few fine leaders like Ryne Stanberg, quietly playing the game out of respect for the institution, acknowledging those who have gone before them and paving the way for those who follow. There are plenty demanding more recognition, complaining about how they are managing, and expecting ticker tape parades worthy of an Israelite procession.

It’s true also of other institutions. In the business world, non-profits, in government there are egos willing to compromise critically ill patients for the sake of more revenues, burdening people with debt to increase their bottom line, dissolving jobs while executive salaries climb, cutting children off from reduced price school meals to claim a tax cut. Forgetting the common good, that we are all part of a larger purpose, puts millions of Uzzah’s at risk.

Many of us take for granted what others sacrificed to provide for us. We forget the personal cost and humility of those who created and maintained institutions that hold us together – public education, colleges and universities, our civic infrastructure, our judicial system, political parties, economic structures. It was built for us – not to use it up – but to be stewards who improve it for the children who are to come.

It is true that many of our institutions have given us reason to be distrustful. But perhaps it is because we have treated them as the ark was treated – as though they can be casually toted around in a manner most convenient for us and banishing them to the hinterlands when they demand our full respect and investment.

Worship is one of those institutions that reminds us that we are a link in the chain. Worship does not just remind us. It reshapes us. It brings us to the place where God has the opportunity to remake, redeem and reorient us.

It happened to David. David sees that the ark brings great blessing to the outback farm where it is annexed. He decides to reclaim the institution of worship. This time he did what he is supposed to do.

First, he gives up the cart. He finds the right people to bear the weight of God upon their backs. Then he dresses himself appropriately for the procession. He puts on a linen ephod – a priestly garment. And he makes a sacrifice. When the cart had been carried only six steps two great beasts are slain.

This time, as the ark of the covenant makes its way into the great city, David dances. Once David had yoked himself to a being and purpose beyond himself, can he enter into worship with rejoicing.

We too come to worship because it is here that we are reminded that we are part of something much larger. That we belong to someone much larger than ourselves. Here we remember that we are indebted to the past and that we have a responsibility to those who will come after us. Here we accept the burden that common values require sacrifice. Here we are encouraged to take on the investment of time and money that protects the vulnerable. Here in our worship we look to Jesus Christ, who has gone before us in all things, to remember what it is we are supposed to do and the kind of people we are supposed to be.

Here in worship, we remember to clothe ourselves in the robes of baptism and we dance – in our hearts, if not with our steps – as we carry on an institution that bears the precious weight of a living God, who is the hope for the future.