I can’t stop looking at this photo of the Guatemalan sinkhole.
Seriously, that thing is hypnotic. It’s so big and crazy and scary looking to me. It swallowed a three story building and a house. Although reports are shaky about whether anyone died in it, it’s a terrifying reminder of how fragile and out of our control the world really is. And it’s a visual reminder to pray for the victims of that hurricane.
If I were a pastor though, I wouldn’t preach about it. I think sometimes we need to be really careful about how we turn things like that into “insta-sermon illustrations.” But that’s OK, because last week pastors around the world were hand delivered the greatest sermon illustrations of 2010 …the botched call perfect game.
A few days ago, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was one out from pitching a perfect game. Only 20 other pitchers in the history of baseball have done this. It is that sport’s most difficult feat. And on the last play of the game, as he ran to first base to tag out the runner, the umpire blew the call. He just completely missed it and in doing so created a media storm of failure and ridicule and anger.
One out. One umpire. One pitcher. Frozen in time with one of the worst moments in sports history. Not even a sham wow magic rag could have wiped up the amount of drama that moment contained. It’s dominated sports conversations this last week and my guess is that it’s going to dominate some sermons too.
If I were going to turn that into a sermon illustration, here’s what I would do:
1. This is grace in 3D.
Professional athletes sometimes get a bad rap. They get arrested, they do steroids, they inevitably get in trouble “outside of a strip club.” (Seriously, if you’re a pro athlete, your goal should be to avoid ever appearing in a news story that involves you and the phrase “outside a strip club.”) We constantly hear about the bad stuff like what I referenced in yesterday’s post and it would have been perfectly normal for the pitcher of this game, Armando Galarraga to tear up the locker room and curse the umpire upside down. But he didn’t. Instead, he said simply, “Nobody’s perfect, everybody is human.” What? I was madder than the pitcher. I was more of a baby about it then he was. He did the seemingly impossible. He showed grace. Big, 3D, raw, messy, out of control grace. That is what I would preach on.
2. We all fall.
The umpire, Jim Joyce, is one of the most well respected umpires in all of baseball. He’s umped the World Series, playoffs and every other big game you can imagine. He started in 1989 and has a tremendous track record. And in one split second, all of that became overshadowed by a mistake. He entered the history books, alongside Bill Buckner and other goats after this event. It’s a cautionary tale about how frail life really is, how quickly it can all turn on us, how as the Bible says, we are dust. And his response, his honesty about blowing the call is a great example for us when we do. He owned the moment, stepped into and didn’t blame anyone else. He fell and we all do.
3. Get back up.
If I was the pitcher, do you know what I would have done the day after this nightmare? Probably gone to Monkey Joe’s. It’s a jump jump warehouse where they have a dozen huge bouncy, moonwalk kind of things. I would have rented it just for me and then bounced my troubles away while chewing original flavor Big League Chew. But that’s just how I deal with hurt. Know what Armando Galarraga did in the days after? He walked out the lineup card to Jim Joyce before the start of another game. The man who had single handedly ruined his chance to be the first Detroit Tiger in 110 years to pitch a perfect game, the man who kept him out of the record books. He walked out and again, showed what forgiveness looks like and what it means to get back up. The moment was over. The day was done. It wasn’t going to own Armando Galarraga. He got back up.
If you’ve read SCL for a while then you probably remember the Michael Phelps sermon illustrations. If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, please feel free to use a Christian swear like “dang” or “shucks” in the comments if you are still not over it. But otherwise, I’d love to hear how you might share this near perfect game, but pure perfect response in a sermon.