Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
“Strike 3! You’re Safe”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There aren’t many experiences in life that are universal, but I bet I can think of one of them. I bet everyone here has played baseball at least once. And I bet that everyone here has struck out.
What do you remember? What was that experience of striking out like? You waited a long time for your turn to bat. Now it is your turn, you walk up to the batter’s box all by yourself. You are envisioning hitting that ball a long way, lining it to the outfield, or even better, way over the fence for a home run. Your warm-up swings are powerful and mighty. So, you step into the batter’s box, kick some dirt, and stare down the pitcher. This is your moment of fame. The pitcher winds up and lets one fly. Right past you. “Strike One!!” You still got two more chances. It only takes one, right? No problem.
You dig in. You wiggle that bat over the place where that last pitch came and take a few more of those “Babe Ruth” swings. The pitcher stares in. You get a little something in your throat. And he throws – this time you swing so hard that you lose your balance. But the ball is in the catcher’s mitt. Strike two.
Now things have gotten serious. Your teammates are rolling their eyes. Your coach is telling you to “keep your eye on the ball” and you have no idea what that really means. Your parents are in the stands and don’t know exactly what to say. And the lump that was in your throat is now a pain in the belly. You’ve only got one more chance to hit that ball. When the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand you can’t make up your mind whether to swing – or not. Will it be high, low, outside? You wait. But it goes right down the middle. Your bat never left your shoulder.
It’s the worst feeling in the world. Your heart turns to wax as the umpire bellows – “Strike 3!” He really doesn’t need to yell, you know. You’re standing right next to him. They only do that to rub it in!! A whisper would have been just fine. Then you have to drag yourself back to the dugout. It isn’t like you went out in a blaze of glory. There was no running, no effort on the part of the fielder’s to throw you out. Just a strikeout and your teammates and opponents and coach’s and parents saw it all. Boy, does that bring memories. (A few scars from the childhood, huh?)
Do you know what it means to fail? Your dad asks, “Didn’t I tell you about this?” Your mom says, “Don’t you know better than to do that?” Your spouse says to you for the hundredth time, “Honey, didn’t you promise me? Haven’t we been over this before?” Your teacher or coach remarks, “Weren’t you paying attention?” Your boss says, “Do you know what that is going to cost us?”
“Strike 3, You’re Out.” That doesn’t happen just on the diamond when you’re a kid, it happens in life and at work and in marriages and relationships and with friendships. And at least the first part of striking out was very evident in the account from the Book of Acts for today.
Our reading comes shortly after Pentecost – the sending of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. Peter and John were walking past the temple and a crippled man came to them begging for some money. Peter’s response to him was, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) The crippled man is healed and he walks and the people who see what has happened come to Peter and John and are amazed at what they did. But Peter and John not only tell who really healed this man but also tell them about the three strikes. Listen to this, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power of godliness we have made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus. You handed Him over to be killed, and you disowned Him before Pilate, though he had decided to let Him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:12-15a) A lot of you’s here!! A lot of finger pointing. A lot of guilt. A lot of responsibility that wasn’t lived up to. It is the same with us in life.
But what is so amazing is that the 3 strikes are met with a declaration that we’re safe. Strike 3! You’re not out, you’re safe!! This account says, “You killed the author of life (quite a paradox) but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man who you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given complete healing to him, as you can all see.” And then later this gift of God’s safety is given, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed to you – even Jesus.” (Acts 3:15-16, 19-20) Even after they had done what they did to Jesus they were given the news that sins, those sins, were wiped away and their souls and life can have refreshing.
Mickey Rooney, who died some years ago, was interviewed a while back. Rooney, famous as a child actor years ago, was on his eighth marriage. His first two wives died, one from cancer, the next a tragic victim of a homicide. Then followed 5 unhappy marriages in succession. He once said, “Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.” He had been married to his wife, Jan Chamberlin, then for 31 years. He was asked in the interview, “What changed?” He replied, “I changed. I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That changed everything. I had lived my life in chaos. I was a millionaire when I was a child. I participated in every form of lust and human degradation. Then, twenty years ago, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, warts, bruises and all. That has made all the difference in my world.” He had a lot of strike threes in his life. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, through promises in Scripture like, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2) we hear the word of grace – “Strike 3 – You’re safe.”
It is a marvel seeing God bringing His times of refreshing to us. It is His work and He is intent on bringing that to us. Christ dies for sin and rises again and we are forgiven, we are refreshed through this gift. Three strikes? You’re still safe.
People who know this life changing gift are people who share this life giving gift. You’re been forgiven, freely, even with strike three or maybe four strikes. Who do share this with? To whom has your patience worn out and you have determined to never offer them your forgiveness? How can we be that way? Don’t we pray in the Lord’s Prayer every time, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us?” We have been forgiven, we have been graced, we are people who offer that same gift to others who have sinned against us, that we have received. Give that same gift, the times of refreshing to others, just as it has been so freely offered to all of us through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The gift of Christ, including His forgiveness and the impact that He has upon life was witnessed at the Colorado High School Basketball Tournament. About 10 years ago, our Lutheran High School in Parker was playing The Colorado Springs School in the first game of the 2A tournament. Lutheran High has a tradition to invite the other team to center court to have a prayer before the tip off. Kevin Reel, the Head of School for The Colorado Springs School wrote this letter following the state tournament. As head of school of the Colorado Springs School, I would like to offer a message to the administration, faculty, students and families of Lutheran High School. Our schools played each other in the ‘Great Eight’ first round of the state basketball tournament. Of course, these games are very tense and typically reveal a school’s real character. As our game together was about to begin, the athletes on your team invited our team to the middle of the floor to pray. In that moment, I was told that those who spoke prayed for a high level of play, good calls, and for each team – including ours – to have our best game. I can imagine that it would be easy for one of your players to hesitate with such an invitation, particularly with a non-sectarian school such as CSS that has as eclectic a background amidst its ranks. I’m writing to report that this courageous action on the part of your team was not only welcome, but deeply touched and inspired a number of our athletes and spectators. It just so happens that our team not only won the game, but was honored to be named champions two days later. However, the victories represented by the scores – while significant for our school – seem trivial compared to the collective victory of person that was inspired by your team. As a result, we at CSS consider the students of Lutheran High School real winners with respect to character, dedication to faith, and in establishing a sense of warm welcome. Our hats are off to you…Thank you for including CSS in expressing the mission of your school. May this serve as some encouragement when it may seem difficult to invite your opponent to the middle of the floor, and may we have other opportunities to share with one another in the years to come.
The grace those students knew they shared. The forgiveness that we treasure we give away. The faith that God has times of refreshment through the mercy of Jesus allows us to know that even after strike 3 we are still safe!! Amen!!
(Today’s sermon was originally preached at Ascension on April 26, 2009)