Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baseball and Preaching … Perfection or Not?

Picture by Jaime Gage-Chavez
I love baseball.  I don’t mean I lightly love it … I am a bona fide, died in the wool, Baseball Hall of Fame card carrying, countdown to Spring Training, love ‘em even when they are losing kind of fan.  From April to October my computer and cell phone help me check scores and standings on a daily basis for my team – the New York Yankees.  I watch as many games as I can.  I JUST LOVE BASEBALL!!  I think it’s a perfect game.   It has amazing history – including Lou Gehrig’s historic speech, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Willie May’s over the shoulder catch, Bucky Dent’s amazing homer over the Green Monster, Jackie Robinson’s entry into the big league, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played, and so many others.
It has stats like no other sport around.  You can find out how one pitcher throws to left handed hitters in the month of April or how many hits Derek Jeter has to left field over his career after two strikes.  And it has perfection – not just the perfectly manicured lawns, stately stadiums, and glorious nights under the lights.  Baseball has something, however, that no other sport really has – in baseball a pitcher can throw a perfect game.  That means 27 hitters come up to bat and 27 batters are retired.  It means not one batter reaches first base in an entire game.  Only 20 pitchers have thrown perfect games in MLB history.  It is a rare and amazing feat.  Only one perfect game has been thrown in a World Series game (by Don Larson of the NY Yankees).  Perfection.
But perfection is hard to come by.   And in most other professions perfection is nearly – if not totally – impossible.  I am a preacher and I can say without a doubt that I have never preached a “perfect” sermon.  I don’t even know what that would look like.  In baseball if you get a hit a third of the time you come to bat you are a hitting hero – hitting 3 of 10 times at bat.  Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns over his career, but he also struck out 1330 times.  He said once, "I hit big or I miss big.  I like to live as big as I can."

Nowhere near perfection but these types of hitters are revered as the best of the best.   So maybe in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ I should look for three good sermons out of ten.  However, I do not think the congregations we preach to would be ok with that.  Preaching the story of Jesus and God’s interaction with humans over the course of history is a powerful calling, but those who preach also are human.  Sometimes we strikeout, sometimes we hit it over the wall, sometimes we hit a little dribbler right back to the pitcher, and sometimes we never make it to first base despite all our efforts.  But God does something with our words anyway.

Preaching is an act of faith, a discipline of study, a creative endeavor, a Spirit-led process, and a powerful experience of community.  Preaching takes all our efforts to analyze a text, to relate that text to the lived lives of our people, and then to deliver it with passion, conviction and enthusiasm.  It takes practice to gain the confidence to move into the “batter’s box” and take a swing.  But God calls us to swing away.  We may never preach the perfect sermon.  We may not hit one over the wall on a regular basis.  We may even strikeout a few times even when we thought we were prepared.  What preaching takes is the courage and commitment to practice, get prepared, and to take a swing.  

What preaching takes is knowing we are not in the batter’s box alone – that’s our advantage – as we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to speak the Word.  What preaching takes is going up to hit – knowing you might strike out a few times, but trusting the Holy Spirit to use even those sermons to touch the lives of those who hear our words.  I LOVE baseball … but I LOVE preaching even more.  I’m not perfect in either one.  And that’s ok.

Preach the Gospel … use words if you have to.  But preach the Gospel in all you do.  That's perfection!!

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