I was writing my Sunday Sermon last night when a scene from over 30 years ago suddenly flashed before my eyes. My texts were Isaiah 6 and Luke 5. Isaiah sees the sanctuary of the Temple filled with angels, smoke, and the glory of the Lord. His reaction is to say “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips. In the Gospel of Luke Peter has a similar experience when Jesus tells him to let down his nets for catch (after Peter had been fishing all night to no avail) and when he does the nets are filled to the point where they nearly sink both boats. Peter turns to Jesus and says, “Get away from me Lord… for I am a sinful man!”
You see, when you realize you are in the presence of greatness (in these cases the very greatness of God) You know that the smart thing to do is shut your mouth, humble your heart, and listen so as to learn as much as you can.
Now, here’s the scene that flashed into my memory as I tried to think of a real life example of this:
I grew up in Glendale, California. One of our most famous residents was Casey Stengel. If you are not a baseball fan you may not even know who he is. But if you are a baseball fan you immediately recognize the name of one of the most legendary people to ever be around the game. To prepare this sermon I had to do a little research. I discovered that Casey actually began his major league career in 1912!!! He played in the Majors for 13 years and carried a .284 lifetime batting average and a fielding percentage of .964!!! He played in three World Series with the National League Champion New York Giants and one of those years they won the Series over the Yankees.
During on of those World Series he is reputed to have hit the very first home run ever blasted out of the “old” Yankee Stadium (the house that Ruth built.) After he retired as a player in 1925 Casey began his career as a manager and after working his way up through the minor leagues and some of the weaker Major League clubs he was amazingly hired to manage his old rivals the New York Yankees!! This is where he achieved legendary status. During his 12 years at the helm of the Yankees they won 10 American League Pennants and 7 World Series Championships…including an unprecedented 5 in a row!!!
Casey is one of only 3 men in Baseball History who wore the uniforms of all 4 of the Historic New York teams. (The Brooklyn Dodgers and NYGiants as a player and the Yankees and Mets as a manager.) He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and his number 37 Jersey has been retired by both the Yankees and the Mets. In fact he was the only person who will ever have worn #37 for the Mets.
All of this sets you up for my story. It was the opening game of the Babe Ruth League (13-15 year olds) 1972 season and I was in the stands because two of my friends were the coaches of the reigning city champs. The game was to be played at our best baseball diamond in Glendale. It had been named in honor of our local legend and Casey Stengel Field (see rendering above) was beautiful. Its ivy covered fences were 12 feet high and it was 400′ to straightaway center field and 350′ down the lines. The stands were concrete and masonry and there were actually locker rooms off each of the dugouts. It was a great place to both play and watch a ballgame.
On this particular opening day the man himself had agreed to throw out the first pitch. But before he did they handed him a microphone! Now Casey was one of the great talkers of Baseball. Yogi Berra is legendary for his zany sayings but I have believe that Yogi learned much of what he knew from playing for Casey!
( two favorites : “Okay you guys! Line up alphabetically according to height!” and at the dedication of Stengel Field “It is a great honor to have a stadium named after me…especially after being thrown out of so many of them!”)
Anyway, instead of just throwing out the pitch Casey launched into a coaching session. At the time he was 82 years old with a bum hip but he started demonstrating how to block a ground ball with your body and square your shoulders to make a throw. He criticized hot dog moves and catches and stressed consistent fundamental baseball. He went on for nearly a half hour before he finally threw the pitch. All this while the two teenage teams were standing on the baselines waiting to play ball.
I was sitting by the first base dugout when the boys finally turned around to take their seats. On their way down the steps of the dugout I heard one of the 13 year-olds say “I don’t know who that was but I thought the old man would never shut up!!!”
Stop and think for a minute.
What would you pay for a 1 hour driving lesson with Dale Ernhardt?
What would you pay to play a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus? ( I was going to say Tiger but…..)
What would you give for a chance to have a personal lesson from the most legendary individual in your field of interest?
Well, this kid just had the experience of a lifetime…30 minutes with Casey Stengel… but he didn’t even know who the guy was!! And for that reason all he could see and hear was a rambling old man!
So I got to thinking about Jesus. Can we really appreciate him without knowing him? Because when you get to know the depths of his grace and the magnitude of his love it becomes easy to imagine sitting at his feet and listening to him for hours.
Maybe the reason most American Christians make jokes about the length of a preacher’s sermon is that they really have no idea who is actually doing the talking. Something to think about!