Closing and Opening Doors To God

On July 11, 2021, I was asked to deliver the sermon at Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

The following is the transcript of my sermon.

***

God asks a lot of us.  All the time.  He wants us to be reverent.

He wants us to love him.

He loves us…

He asks us to pray.  He even had Jesus teach us how to pray.

God wants us to follow the Golden Rule.

He wants us to be kind, to be generous, to love… to love one another as he loves us. 

He asks us to honor our mothers and fathers, to not lust, or want, or use his name in vain.

Or take false idols.

Or to kill.

He asks a lot of us.

Because he loves us.

And because, if we follow his commandments and expectations, he knows we will have spiritually rewarding lives filled with the goodness that goodness brings.

God asks a lot of us.

And, you know what, most of us, most of the time, we do as he wishes.

We live good lives.

We follow his rules.

We do love.

And we give. 

In many ways.

We do this for many reasons, one of which is because we do love him, and respect him, and cherish and greatly value his love.

We live good lives.

We do give a lot to God.

He asks a lot… and, you know what? We give a lot.

***

But sometimes God asks of us and we don’t hear or we choose not to listen.

We give the Lord a lot, but sometimes he asks for more.

Just like we do.

We have all been given plenty, but who among us hasn’t asked God for more?

We do this all the time.

And sometimes he asks us for a little more from us too.

Do we hear him?

***

In 1 Peter 4:10-11, the scripture reads

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,

as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

This is God asking us for a little more.  He is asking us to serve him by serving others.

He needs us to serve with the talents we have. 

Sometimes we close the door to God’s requests. 

We probably do this more than we realize.

We are fortunate that God doesn’t keep score.

But he does know.

As do we.

When we fail to answer his call.

***

Three years ago, I was given one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.

And I have been given a lot: wonderful parents, a great family, a loving wife who is my best friend, three wonderful sons, a great career, friends, health, happiness…

Who could ask for more?

And yet we do.

I do.

All the time.

The gift I was given three years ago wasn’t anything tangible in the way of possession.  It wasn’t an object, per se. 

God gave me the gift of reliving a dream and of having some of my youth restored (which at 50-years-old is some gift!). 

Three years ago, I started playing baseball again.  Not softball, which I also love, but baseball.  The same game the Yankees play.

Baseball.

Three years ago, I started pitching in a baseball league.  Throwing, just as the big leaguers do, a little white ball as hard as I can, inning after inning with the hopes of getting the batters out. 

I fell in love with baseball when I was eight years old and it’s been one of the loves of my life ever since.  I don’t think a minute passes where I don’t think about baseball in some way.

God gave me another gift, a rubber arm.  I can throw inning after inning, week after week. 

***

I also love to share God’s word.

I love God.

I enjoy preaching and sharing his message.  Writing and delivering sermons brings me closer to God.  I am always rewarded for going on this spiritual journey. 

But, sometimes I don’t hear God’s call.

Or sometimes I choose to ignore it.

***

Reverend Neville reached out to me last March and asked me to preach.  He knows that I always love to assist.

I’m sure when he reached out, he expected me to respond with an enthusiastic “YES!”

But instead, when he told me the date that he needed me, that God needed me, I said “No.  Absolutely not.  Unequivocally.  No way.”

When I was asked if I could preach on Sunday, April 11, 2021, I said no way.

It was Opening Day and I was the pitcher.

I love God.

But I love baseball too.

And in this exchange, the little white ball easily won the argument.

Sometimes we close the doors to God.

***

I’ll share a little secret right here.

When I’m playing baseball, I also not very far from God. 

Before each inning I kneel down by the pitching rubber and dust it off with my hand.

That’s what it looks like I am doing, but actually, I am quietly praying.

I tell God that I love him.

And I pray for all of us – everywhere.

I also pray, sincerely, that a batter doesn’t hit a line drive right back at me.

***

I couldn’t wait for Opening Day, although I did start to feel a sense of regret and remorse for saying no to God’s simple request.

I started to imagine seeing Jesus one day in Heaven and having him approach me with a disappointed look saying, “Opening Day?  Really?”

As the days passed, I felt more and more regret for my decision.

When God calls, and he calls in all sorts of ways, we need to listen.

He called.

I didn’t listen. 

***

I felt bad about saying no.

This small occurrence helped remind me that we must have our priorities in order.

I thought I did.  Maybe I did. 

But I need to also listen better to God’s quiet call.

I reached back out to Reverend Neville and stated that I felt bad about saying no to preaching and shared that I wouldn’t say no again.

Jesus said,

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” 

Sometimes the Lord speaks and we’re just not listening. 

***

God is not vengeful or spiteful or mean.

He loves us.  Unconditionally.  And always.

But he does have a sense of humor.

On April 11, it rained and rained.

There was no game.

***

Reverend Neville then asked me to preach on May 30.

For this one I had to laugh.

“I can’t,” I said.  “It’s closing day.”

I didn’t feel badly about saying no this time.

May 30 was the day of my son Ethan’s graduation from Lafayette College.

God, the Father, knows how important it is to be a father.

***

Still, it rained that day too.

***

Opening Days.

Closing days.

Opening doors and closing doors to God.

God asks us in many ways.  He gives us the free will to make choices.  There are many temptations in this world. 

Sometimes the temptations are glory or wealth.  Prestige.  Fame.  Honor.

Sometimes the temptation is a little white ball. 

Jesus explained this when speaking in a different situation, but the point remains the same. 

Jesus reminded us to

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and to “render unto God the things that are God’s.”

Sometimes we forget how much of us is God’s.  We are his creation.  The goodness and the glory and the love and the light – and everything – are his.

We need to render our gifts, not to the Caesars of this world, or ourselves, but back to him. 

God asks… do we listen?

***

When God asks us, he asks us in quiet ways, simply.  He doesn’t talk to us through a thundering voice from Heaven or through a burning bush. 

I’ll be honest, if he asked in either of those ways, I would have said yes without question.

But that’s not how he asks.  He asks in quieter ways.  Ways that make us think about our answers and decisions and choices.

God asks a lot of us.

Sometimes we have to listen real hard to know that it is him who is asking. 

The Song of Deborah is found in the Old Testament, in the book of Judges.  We are reminded therein:

When the people willingly offer themselves — praise the Lord!

This is how we bring glory and love back to God, our Father – by listening to his quiet requests and by being there, being present, for him. 

***

There’s a baseball game going on right now that I could be pitching in.

A big part of me wants to be out there on the mound, make no mistake about that.

But I am here with you.

Sharing God’s word.

Because he asked.

And this time…

I listened. 

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