Pinch-Hitting for Christ

On December 11, 2022, I delivered the following sermon at Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, NJ

***

I’ll begin my sermon today by sharing some names that are out-of-date and out of season both in the holiday sense and in the sense of the sporting world.

I promise this will all come together…

Eventually.

  • Ed Kranepool
  • Manny Mota
  • Smokey Burgess
  • Lenny Harris

It’s an interesting list… and, again, a strange list for this time of the year.

During the Christmas season if non-Biblical names are uttered, the names are often much different than the ones I just shared.  You might hear of

  • Dasher
  • Dancer
  • Prancer
  • Vixen

We might talk of Rudolph or Santa…

In some ways. Comet and Cupid (and the rest) along with Frosty and the Little Drummer Boy have become as much a part of the Christmas story as Mary, and Joseph and Jesus himself.

But, Manny Mota? 

Odds are no one here has even heard of Manny Mota. 

And he isn’t the Emmanuel that we sing of this reverent season.

***

I remember a warm summer day in 1979.  It was July.  I was with my dad.  We were sitting in the upper deck at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets.  I was already a Yankees fan, but I loved baseball in general and this was my first time going to a game in a ballpark other than Yankee Stadium.

I don’t recall much about the game save for the fact that the Mets were playing the Dodgers.  I believe the game went into extra-innings… I know it was a close game.  I also remember that late in the game, the Mets sent up an aging veteran to come off the bench and try to get a big hit.

That player’s name was Ed Kranepool. 

I do not remember if he got a hit or not, but I do remember the crowd all cheering this old-time player as his name was announced and as he walked up to the plate. 

The love for him was apparent even to me, an eleven-year-old kid. 

Together, all the fans wanted and wished for Kranepool to deliver, to come through, to get a pinch-hit.

It’s not easy to come off the bench late in a game and deliver.

As an adult, and someone who loves sports, especially baseball, I sometimes wonder at the love and adulation that we give to our sports heroes.  The fans were on the feet cheering for this great old player.

When was the last time we were ever on our feet cheering for God or Jesus?  That, though, is a thought for another time…

Those names I mentioned at the start, they were all famous baseball players – players who became somewhat legendary for one unique skill… they were great at pinch-hitting.

***

Late Thursday afternoon, Reverend Neville called me.  He asked if I could deliver the sermon and run the service today.

I, of course, said “Yes.”

I love having the opportunity to preach, to share the word of God, to share the love of Christ, and to come together in fellowship with others in doing this.

So, please, then forgive me, if, as I started thinking about this sermon, I immediately thought of Ed Kranepool, Manny Mota, and a few others.

As I began my work as pinch-hitter, I thought of others who had to perform similarly. 

In a short time, I needed to come off the bench to deliver a base hit, and hopefully a little more.

***

It’s a Sunday in December.  We don’t usually think of baseball at this time of year.

If we think of sports at all, we most often think of football.  The playoffs are coming.  Every game matters.  Football takes priority in many homes. 

It takes priority over family, friends, even church, worship, and even praying. 

(To be fair, if the game is close and it’s late, the praying factor might actually increase, such is the way we root for our favorite teams.)

Football doesn’t have pinch-hitters, but it has its own equivalent – the place kicker; a person who comes off the bench to try to deliver in a pinch.

He often has to come into the game, usually in a pressurized situation ,and kick a football forty or more yards between the tall yellow uprights in the end zone. 

It might look easy, but…

Oh, let’s not kid ourselves, it doesn’t even look easy.

***

Christmas is in two weeks.  In just two weeks, we’ll be celebrating a most wonderful holiday, the day when we honor and remember the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus was actually the greatest pinch hitter of them all.

Of that, there’s no doubt, but, I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

***

Being a good person is hard.

Being a good Christian is even more difficult.

Remembering God and Jesus and doing the right thing can be tough.

Earlier we listened to the Ten Commandments as delivered by Moses to the Israelites. 

Those are important laws and rules – the most important – ever.  God set a high standard for us to live up to. 

And, as it has been said before, those are not the 10 Big Ideas or just a few suggestions.

No.  They’re more than that.

Think of the word that defines those laws…

Commandments.

These are the commands from God. 

These are the rules we must follow and live up to.

We know we have to do it – and we try – and I’d argue that more often than not – we do succeed.  We adhere to these commandments. 

And we live our lives with Christ in mind.  We do “wonder what Jesus would do” and we often try to emulate his example.  We follow his rules, we try to turn the other cheek, we try to love others as we love ourselves, we try to pray and to give generously from the heart…

But it’s not always easy.

We know we should probably give more to charity, but the driveway needs to be repaved, and the roof is in its 26th year, and those old windows… let alone the tires the car… and the price of gas and groceries… and we do need to buy the best Christmas presents ever this year (and maybe hope that we also get some good ones in return). 

And it would be good to spend more time giving to others, volunteering in one way or another, but our families and friends need us.

And everything is so busy right now.

And we are tired.

We know we should make more time and give more of ourselves, and we try, but sometimes there just isn’t any more to give.

We know that God asks us to give generously and that if we do that he’ll take care of us in return, we heard those words as well this morning…

God will care for us, he always does, he loves us.

But, forgive me… please…

I’ve never seen Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John – or St. Peter, or St. Paul or any of the heroes of the Bible laying roof shingles at the homes of those who give the most generously.

As we try to do the work of the Lord, we often get caught up in the realities of life.

I think we always desire to stand in well for Christ, but I also think we also strikeout far too often.

***

Remember being a kid?

The magic of Christmas?

Santa was one who came off the bench ever year – and he always delivered.  He never let us down. 

Low and behold every Christmas morning he delivered.

He delivered to you and to me.

With gifts and toys and lots and lots of joys. 

(In my house, it was especially good when Santa delivered things with no assembly required.)

I still believe in Santa Claus.  In fact, I’m going to be spending some close time with him for the Grace Nursey School next week, and for years, Santa and I were extremely close at the Grace Church Christmas Fairs.

When we were children, it was Santa who helped us make the holiday so special. 

He stepped up to do the work of Christ, in his way, to bring good tidings of great joy to all people.

If you think of it, in a way, on Christmas Eve, as he travels the world in his sleigh, Santa Claus is pinch-hitting for Christ.

***

But then Santa takes the rest of the year off leaving it to others to do Christ’s work.

He leaves that work – to us.

We are needed, each day, and every day, to pinch-hit and help Christ spread his message. 

Christ need us be examples for the world and not just the big world, the world we live in.  The world that surrounds us each day.

Christ needs us to be examples in our towns and villages and in our places of work.

He needs us to be exemplars in our homes and with our families.

There is no off-season in doing the Lord’s work. 

***

Christ needs us to love our enemies. 

I love how he tells us that it’s easy to love those who love us.  I tell that to my college students who aspire to be teachers…

It’s easy to love the best kids, the good kids, the students getting A’s and doing the right thing – the challenge is to love the child who seems the most un-loveable.

Often times, that child needs our love most of all.

Each day, through the way we respond to others, and the way we respond to situations, both good and bad, we need to think about honesty, and love, and compassion, and we to find ways to respect the example Christ gave us because as we live, we are pinch-hitting for him.

In a way that’s called discipleship.  It’s not just following; it’s leading the way.  It’s stepping up in the moment, the big moment, and delivering.

Jesus knows it’s not easy.

He knows it is hard.

Because… he had it tougher.

***

A long time ago, Jesus pinch-hit for us.  All of us.

And if you think you don’t have the time or the finances or the ability or whatever to pinch-hit for him, remember how Jesus pinch-hit for us…

All of us.

He did this by taking on the sins of the world and being put on a cross and suffering and dying so that we might – all of us – be saved. 

If Christ was willing to pinch hit for us, especially in that manner, it should not be a lot to ask, then, for him to ask, as God’s son, the son we celebrate every Christmas, that we pinch-hit for him.

***

In all of life’s circumstances, we have to think and consider what it is that Jesus wants us to do.

When we’re rushing and a car cuts us off, do we act in a certain manner or would Christ expect us to act differently.

When we’re asked to serve, do we step up or do we determine that there are other more pressing needs (some that became much more pressing the moment we were asked to do something else)?

When we’re asked to love, isn’t it sometimes easier not to?

It’s almost always easier not to.

We’re human after all and part of that experience is being flawed and with sin and being prone to make mistakes even when we know we should do better and that we have to do better.

***

We read today and listened to some words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

In that sermon, he also asks us to pray for forgiveness and to talk, often in prayer, to God.

We need to do this as often as we can.

Part of pinch-hitting for Jesus is first letting him into our lives.

And it won’t be easy – nothing good ever is – but we also have to know that as we pinch-hit for Jesus, that he’s standing right there with us.  If we take the time, we can feel his presence.  He’s right there beside us.

And when the pitch comes, if we let him in, he’ll help us drive it out of the park for a home run.

Jesus loves us, this I know, for the Bible tells us so.

Let us, today, and every day, be great pinch-hitters.  Let us not just strive, but let us deliver.

Let us, today, be surrogates for Christ and to work to live our lives, always, and in every way, the way Jesus would want us to live.

Let us, rush onto the field to kick the game-winning Field Goal for Christ.

Let us, show the world, through our daily actions, that Christ is within us – and that we are with him.

Let us deliver and he delivers for us.

We can all be great pinch-hitters. 

We already know what to do.

Amen.

***

You can view the sermon as I delivered it HERE.

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