Sermon Text: Three Srtikes
I'm no good at baseball. In Little League, I played second base. My best move was to catch bouncing grounders with my nose, and then bleed all over my manager's handkerchief.
In more recent years, I got to throw out the first pitch at a B-Mets game. Some of you were there. It was Episcopal Night at the Mets, and people from all the area Episcopal churches were there. Of course, I threw the pitch right in the dirt.
But I am in good company. According to the Gospels, Jesus was no good at baseball. You might be surprised by this, since the Gospels never mention baseball. But it's true.
You know the first rule of baseball. It's in the famous song: For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out...Jesus was no good at that rule.
There was the time he met his friends on the beach. It was a couple days after the crucifixion. The guys had been out fishing all night, but caught nothing. Now there's someone on the beach, shouting to them. It turned out to be Jesus, risen from the dead.
Peter was there, and you'd think Jesus would have been angry with Peter. When things got tough, Peter denied knowing Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times. Three strikes and you're out, right?
But Jesus was no good at baseball. Peter should have been out, but Jesus gave Peter another chance. He asked Peter, "Do you love me?" And Peter said yes. Jesus did this not once, not twice, but three times.
I love that story. And I need it. I have no talent for baseball. But I have a lot of talent for beating myself up. I judge myself harshly when I fall short of what I should be. I tend to be a perfectionist.
Today we are baptizing Sophia Stento, a young teenager who decided on her own she wants to be baptized. I think that's pretty cool. When I was Sophia's age, I had learned to be a perfectionist. I had to get the best grades in school, I had to behave perfectly all the time, and I had to be the best trumpet player in school.
Those are fine goals, but if I fell short at all, I felt awful. I beat myself up. I felt unworthy as a person...much of the time. I wish I had not been such a perfectionist.
I came across something in my reading, words by a college psychology professor, and these words go right to my heart. He said this: Many people are pretty mean to themselves inside their own heads. Other people take a kinder, gentler approach to themselves. They know that everybody has shortcomings and problems. They realize that everybody makes mistakes. The difference is not in how they evaluate themselves (that's self-esteem), but in how they treat themselves (that's self-compassion).
Self-compassionate people treat themselves in the same caring, kind, and supportive ways they treat friends and family members when they are struggling. Self-compassionate people approach their problems, failures, and shortcomings with love and concern rather than with judgment and self-criticism. Self-compassionate people try to be kind to themselves in the face of difficulties.
Those words speak to my heart. They reminds me of the Great Commandment: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Well, that implies I have to love myself, to treat myself as well as I'd treat my neighbor. We perfectionists often treat ourselves worse than we'd treat others!
Now, speaking of baseball, we have this great Thursday evening event called "Bible & Beer." A bunch of us get together in the Lounge and talk about the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday. And we bring our favorite beverage along, whether it's beer, or wine, or tea, or fizzy water.
There are some lads in the group who got off on a tangent a couple weeks ago, a tangent involving baseball, and some team down in New York City. Eventually, I got them back on topic, but it took the threat of detention for these boys.
We are looking at the first letter of John these days in Bible study, because on Sunday mornings, we are working our way through that text as our second reading. There is a great line in the first letter of John that speaks directly to my baseball failures, my other shortcomings, and my tendency toward perfectionism. Whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.
In other words, I might be down on myself, and beat myself up for my failures, but God understands who I am and how I got here, and even how I failed. And God does not condemn. Instead, God loves. It's not "three strikes and you're out," but I'm forgiven, I'm forgiven, I'm forgiven.
J.B. Phillips was a priest in the Anglican Church back in the mid-20th century, and a great translator of the New Testament. He wrote that this verse from first John changed his life.
He wrote: Like many others, I find myself something of a perfectionist. If we don't watch ourselves, this obsession for the perfect can make us arrogantly critical of other people. And it can make us desperately critical of ourselves. This tyrannical Super-Me condemns and has no mercy on myself.
But the words of this letter are inspired. "Whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything." Unlike us, God knows all the factors involved in human behavior. We did not choose our heredity. We did not choose the way we were brought up, whether that was good, bad, or indifferent.
That does not mean that every wrong we do, every rage or fear, is entirely because of our heredity or environment or upbringing. But it certainly does mean that we are in no position to judge ourselves. We simply must leave that to God, who is greater than our hearts and knows everything. The first letter of John says, in effect, "If God loves us, who are we to be so high and mighty as to refuse to love ourselves?"
That sounds like good news to me.
That sounds like Gospel to me.
That sounds like Jesus to me.
It's not "one, two, three strikes, you're out at the old ballgame."
Instead, it's this:
"You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved."
Don't forget it.