Let’s Go to the Movies: “Field of Dreams” (Genesis 12:1-9)

(This is a Fathers’ Day sermon I preached years ago. What I remember most about this sermon was the response of men of all ages. Some wept. Others deeply pondered their lives. Some men reflected on their own experience as a father while others began to look at their fathers from a different perspective. And there were those fathers who hated the sermon because they didn’t want to go down the road of painful memories they were not ready to heal. The Scripture for this sermon is Genesis 12:1-9. We had a later discussion in the church as to how that Scripture related to the movie “Field of Dreams.” At the end of this printed copy I have included my reasons for choosing this passage to preface the sermon so many years ago. To explain my reasons and to directly relate the Genesis passage to the movie would have been disruptive during the sermon.)

“Field of Dreams” is a movie that grows on you. Men especially fell in love with this film, and for good reason. I believe this movie touched many men in their pain. The story is fantasy, but it deals with deep truth on a gut level.

Ray Kinsella is a corn farmer in Iowa. He’s married to an independent woman named Annie, and they have a daughter named Karen. Ray is a baseball fan. Baseball was in his genes. His father, John Kinsella, had played in the minor leagues for a couple of seasons, and while living in Chicago became a devoted White Sox fan. His hero was Shoeless Joe Jackson. In 1919 the White Sox played in the World Series. The very next year eight White Sox players were accused of taking money from gamblers to lose the game. Among those eight was Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ray’s father never got over the scandal. We often live our dreams through our heroes, and when they fall, something withers within us.

Ray’s mom died when he was three years old. His father did the best he could, but when Ray reached his teen years he and his father argued. Tension led to alienation. After a bitter fight with his father Ray told his dad that he could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal. Ray left home and never saw his father again. John died the year Ray married. Upon reflection Ray said, “I never forgave my father for getting old.”

The years pass—the seasons come and go—baseball changes in some undesirable ways. Ray and his family are settled in a predictable life of farming and family life. But one day while walking through his cornfield he hears a voice—an unmistakable voice: “If you build it, he will come.” Build what? And who is “he”? Gradually it is revealed to Ray what he is to do. He is to plow up a considerable portion of his farm and build a baseball field so that Shoeless Joe Jackson and the others will be able to come back and play ball again. The neighbors, who have always been a little suspicious of this child of the 1960s, think he’s insane. His brother-in-law, cursed with a lethal dose of practicality, strongly advises Ray not to follow through with this harebrained idea. But Ray builds the baseball field anyway, observing that until he heard that voice, he had never done a crazy thing is his life. Summer passed, then autumn. Christmas comes and Ray stares out over a snow- covered ball diamond wondering if he has lost his mind. Spring arrives, and one day a man dressed in a baseball uniform appears out of the cornfield. It’s Shoeless Joe. Eventually the other seven players show up. They can’t play a real game with only eight players, but they can “mess around.”

Ray, Annie, and Karen can see the players, but Ray’s brother-in-law, who comes to talk about selling the farm, sees nothing but a baseball diamond where there was once a productive cornfield. Other members of Annie’s family also can’t see the players, but for Ray, Annie, and Karen those players are as obvious as the sun in the sky and the grass under their feet.

Ray receives a second message: “Ease his pain.” Through some convoluted circumstances involving a PTA meeting regarding book banning, Ray realizes that the person whose pain he is to ease is the writer Terrence Mann. Mann was popular in the 1960s but had become disillusioned and is now living as a recluse in Boston. Ray can’t see any connection between Mann and his baseball field. So, he researched Mann until he discovered that Mann had written a short story with a hero named John Kinsella (his father’s name) who dreamed of playing baseball with the pros. In a dream Ray sees that he is to ease Mann’s pain by taking him to a baseball game at Fenway Field. Mann is a baseball fanatic (or at least he used to be) but had not seen a live game in seventeen years.

Through begging and threatening, Ray persuades Mann to go to the game with him. Together they receive a third message: “Go the distance.” And they see displayed on the scoreboard these words: “Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham, Chisolm, Minnesota.” Ray and Mann drive from Boston to Chisolm only to discover that Archie Graham had died in 1972. He had always wanted to play baseball with the pros but never had a career. He played only one inning of one game and was then sent back to the minors. He had been so close to his dream. Archie became a doctor and spent his life in selfless service to the community of Chisolm.

While Ray and Terrence are driving back to Iowa, they pick up a hitchhiker–a young man who is hoping to strike it big in the baseball world. His name is Archie Graham. Terrence and Ray give each other a look of astonishment. On that long journey to Iowa, Ray reflects on all that has happened and is happening. He remembers his last conversation with his father and how he had hurt him with his putdown of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ray knew that Shoeless Joe was not a criminal and had not thrown the World Series. But he said what he knew would hurt his father the most. Ray now believes that his penance is bringing back his dad’s hero.

When Ray, Terrence, and Archie arrive at the farm, they discover that enough players have returned from “wherever” to play a game. Mann can’t believe what he sees—Shoeless Joe Jackson and all the other immortals of baseball! Archie is asked to join the players as a rookie. All seems wonderful until reality hits. The brother-in-law comes with the papers. Ray must sell his farm which will pay off his debts or the bank will foreclose tomorrow.

But Ray’s daughter Karen says that they won’t have to sell the farm. People will come and pay to see the game like they did when they were kids. Mann chimes in and says, “Ray, people will come as innocent as children longing for the past when they cheered their heroes. They will watch the game, and it will be as though they dipped themselves in magic waters. And the memories will be so thick they will have to brush them away from their faces. Baseball reminds us of all that was good and can be again.”

The brother-in-law rebukes Karen for interfering and accidentally knocks her off the top of the bleacher on which she is sitting. She stops breathing. Archie comes off the field and immediately becomes an old man again—a doctor who can save Karen’s life. He knew when he left the field he could never go back, but he had had his moment. He had played with baseball immortals.

Suddenly Ray’s brother-in-law asks, “Where did all these players come from?” He can now see them and understands why Ray has acted so strangely. “Ray, don’t sell this farm!”

The players decide to call it quits for that day, but Shoeless Joe asks Terrence Mann, “Do you want to go with us out there?” Mann now understands his purpose in this unbelievable drama. He will go with them and write about what is in this other dimension. But Ray is a little put out. He wants to know why he can’t go. He’s done everything. He has risked all he had. Shoeless Joe asks Ray, “Is that why you did all of this—for what’s in it for you.” Ray answers, “No—Yes–What’s in it for me?”

“If you build it, he will come.” With these words Shoeless Joe reminds Ray of how all this incredible tale had started. Shoeless Joe then points to a lone ball player at home base (the catcher). Ray looks and recognizes his dad as he would have looked as a very young man. “Ease his pain,” quotes Shoeless Joe. Ray says, “I thought it was you.” Joe says, “No, Ray. It was you.” Annie gets to meet Ray’s dad and Karen her grandfather. And Ray sees his dad as he was when he was younger than Ray. He asks, “Dad, do you want to have a catch?” “I’d like that,” responds John. And so Ray and his father begin to redeem their past.

As the sun begins to set with Ray and John Kinsella, son and father, throwing ball, we see a long line of car lights as far as the eye can see—people drawn inextricably to a farm in Iowa to reclaim their dreams. Earlier in the movie, Shoeless Joe asked Ray when he first appeared on the ballfield, “Is this heaven?” Ray responds, “No. It’s Iowa.” Maybe it was both.

  1. This is a movie about dreams. We all have dreams, but too often those dreams are forgotten or we have them robbed from us. Too many men I have known have surrendered their dreams, and as the movie suggests, to surrender your dreams is to grow old. What dreams have you forgotten? What dreams have been robbed from your soul? What dreams have you surrendered? I’m not talking about greedy desires and self-centered plans. I’m talking about dreams which correspond to the uniqueness of your heart—dreams which reflect why you are on this earth—dreams which resonate with both your inner being and God’s purpose for your existence. What voices have you heard? What voices have you forgotten? Have you ever done anything the world would judge as really crazy? Will you dare to dream? Will you take the risk of being yourself as God has made you?
  2. Most people I’ve known have had problems with their parents. And most men I’ve known have had strained relationships with their fathers. I wonder how different these relationships would be if we could have known our fathers when they were younger than we are now. Every person has a story, and every story has shattered dreams. We are the cumulative effect of our story thus far in our lives. And so is everyone else, even our parents. Part of what heaven (or whatever we choose to call it) will be like in my opinion is that we will get to know the stories of everyone else, especially those closest to us. And I believe once we know those stories from start to finish, there will be a lot more compassion, forgiveness, and understanding than we can currently muster. But we need not wait entirely for that next dimension of existence. We and those still with us can listen to one another right now as we share our stories and unwrap our dreams. This can be both “Iowa” and heaven, if we care to listen.
  3. What I like about this movie is that this strange movement of grace is designed for the healing of so many people—Shoeless Joe and the other seven players, Terence Mann, Archie “Moonlight” Graham, Ray and his father John, Annie and Karen, and countless others who will come to a farm in Iowa “to dip themselves in magic” and to reclaim their dreams.

We are included in a grand conspiracy by God. The theological term for this conspiracy is providence. Our lives are woven into intricate patterns we can only begin to understand. We can touch others and heal them in significant ways only to discover that the one really being healed is our self. If we say “Yes” to the voice of God and follow our dreams, we shall discover one day that the Master Weaver has been at the loom every moment in time, weaving a pattern of exquisite beauty that includes us all—even you and me.

Communion:  Every one of us has a story, and every story involves dreams. Some of you are pursuing your dreams at this moment. Others of you have forgotten your dreams while still others have had their dreams robbed from their souls. I invite you to bring all your dreams and place them on this altar as you are fed by One who calls you by name and who desires exactly what will make you whole.

Commission: “Field of Dreams” reveals a profound truth. My healing, your healing, and the healing of everyone else in this world (not to mention the healing of creation herself) are all interconnected. If we seek the salvation of others, we will find that healing encompassing our own lives. We all belong to God, and our destinies are inextricably and mysteriously intertwined. As we leave this Holy Table and go out into this world God so loves, let us act like we belong to one another before God.

How Genesis 12:1-9 relates to the movie “Field of Dreams”:

The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 is God’s answer to all the rebellion, sin, and hopelessness of Genesis 3-11. Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve (in other words, us) in chapter 3 and ending with all of humankind being scattered, alienated, and confused with the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, we are presented with an immense problem. How can God deal with all this tragedy and pain? God, the Master of surprises, chooses to begin the healing through an old man and an old woman. Through their faithfulness and through their descendants God will bless the world that is now so fragmented and afflicted with sin and violence.

Abraham and Sarah are at an age when they should be thinking about finding a good nursing home. But God calls them to leave everything they know and treasure and to go to an unknown destination to start a family. Abraham, who the book of Hebrews said was “as good as dead,” and Sarah, who was postmenopausal, are to become parents of a gift-child who will signal God’s redemptive plans for the whole world.

Can you imagine what Abraham’s family and friends thought and said? “Have you lost your freaking mind? At your age leaving all you know and going off to God knows where? And to start a family? Sarah becoming pregnant at her age? What have you been smoking?”

But this God, whose voice Abraham hears, knows exactly what God is doing. For the rest of the Bible, God chooses what the world would judge as inadequate, improper, substandard, foolish, and ridiculous. Bless God’s heart, She just can’t help it. It’s just Her way. And yes, at times Abraham and Sarah doubted and tried to change the plan God intended, but on the whole they were faithful. And Isaac, the gift-child, was born. The world would be blessed by this incredible beginning. And Abraham and Sarah would be blessed with a son. The barren couple would have a child, and there would be laughter and new energy in those later years which neither Abe nor Sarah could have possibly imagined would be so full.

God also has dreams, but the God of Abraham and Sarah—of Mary and Joseph—and of Jesus of Nazareth never forgets or abandons those dreams. God is faithful. God weaves a beautiful tapestry which in the end includes us all. But we don’t have to wait for the end. We can say “Yes” to God right now—just like Abe and Sarah, Mary and Joe, and countless other people who dare to dream with God and to follow those dreams to fruition.

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