3rd Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
“Strike Three! You’re Safe!”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Acts 3.
My dear friends,
One of the unique things about living in Sarasota is that it’s unique to meet someone born and raised here. The majority of people who live here relocated because of work, family, but mainly in retirement. Because of that, we all come from different backgrounds and experiences; we don’t have a lot of common, universal experiences. But I’ll bet that everyone here has played baseball at least once or played its overweight, middle-aged cousin softball. And I’ll bet that everyone here has struck out at least once. Maybe it was a long time ago for you, but think back. What do you remember about how that experience felt…striking out?
You’ve waited (or dreaded) your time to get a turn at bat. Now that it’s finally your turn. You’re up. You have to walk out there all by yourself. Standing there at the plate, swinging your bat around, you might feel kind of tough..invincible almost. You’re the one with the big wooden stick, and you can just imagine yourself blasting the ball over the fence. So you step into the batter’s box in front of all those people; you get yourself set. You look toward the pitcher and . . . bam! The ball snaps into the catcher’s mitt and the umpire calls, “Strike 1!” Oh, that feels so stupid! How could you have let that go by? You got distracted. You weren’t paying enough attention. You straighten up and wiggle the bat. You swing it over the plate once, right where the ball should be, and you get set again. This time you’re ready as the pitcher delivers and you swing the bat with all your strength! You swing so hard it makes you step out of the box, but you realize that you did not hit anything. You tried so hard you closed your eyes and the ball went right past you. “Strike two!” Now it’s do-or-die time. You’ve got two strikes. You know you’ve got only one more chance. You can’t afford to mess this one up in front of everybody. This time you’re going to do everything right! The right stance. The right grip. You don’t even take your eyes off of the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but you’re not sure. Is it too high? Is it a little outside? Is it going to be a ball? And you hesitate for just that split second, and then it’s too late. The ball goes by you and snaps into the catcher’s mitt, and you’re standing there with the bat still on your shoulder. It’s the worst feeling in the world. “Strike 3!” He doesn’t have to yell, you know. And so you drag yourself back to the bench; a long trudge back to the condemning glances of your teammates at your failure. Striking out is the WORST! Your teammates were counting on you and you let them down. You failed.
Do you know what it means to fail? Do you remember the lecture—maybe it was only a few sentences, but it felt like it lasted for hours, as if they were just laying on the guilt. “Didn’t I tell you about this?” your father asks. “Don’t you know better than to do that?” your mother lectures. “Honey, didn’t you promise me? Haven’t we been over this before?” your spouse says to you for the hundredth time. “I thought I told you,” your boss says. “Do you have any idea how much this is going to cost the company? Do you realize what this means?” I’m sure it only lasts a minute—maybe even less—but it feels like a hundred years. It feels as if every word is dropping another load of bricks onto your back. It feels as if you’ll never recover from your failure.
If you know that feeling, then listen again to our Scripture lesson where Peter is addressing the crowd. Peter and John have healed a man who was born with crippled legs, and it was such a remarkable miracle that everyone is running around talking about it. The man himself is walking and leaping and praising God. And now, in this happy crowd, Peter gives them “the business”:
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had 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, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (v.12-16)
We saw what you did, Peter says. God finally sent the answer to all of our prayers, and you killed him! “You delivered him over to be killed”: strike 1! “You denied the Holy and Righteous One”: strike 2! “You killed the author of life”: strike 3!
“But God raised him from the dead.” Peter crushed them with the truth of their sin. But then he opened a tiny window of hope. That hope was for the people of Israel and it is the hope for all of us in our failures: in our relationships, in our finances, in our morality, in our faithfulness, in our witnessing, in our health, in our parenting, in our stewardship. Sin makes us dead in our failures; Christ makes us alive by faith and by the resurrection. You too have been made alive again, for your resurrected Lord has called you forth from the deadly sinful failures of your daily living to the life-giving and certain proclamation of your adoption by God’s grace. Having been called forth by name, we come from different backgrounds but in this place we gather as one body and partake of the feast of victory in the Holy Supper.
Have you failed this week? I’m sure you have. We have all acted and spoken in ignorance. But today we come to repent, to have our sins blotted out by the blood of Christ so that a time of refreshing renewal would be with us when we leave this place. Today we are faithfully fed and nourished by the pierced hand of the One who calls us out of the darkness of failure into His marvelous light of grace and peace and love. And we are faithfully led and guided by the voice of him who has called us by name. Even if you “strike out” in the days and weeks ahead, you are still a loved, redeemed, and forgiven child of God. So don’t be afraid to swing away and live your live to the fullest confidence of who you are in Christ!
Don’t be afraid to play ball, because in Christ you are eternally safe.