Casey at the Mike!

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 one 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. 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 NY Giants 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! Casey Stengel Field (see rendering above) was beautiful.  Its ivy covered fences were 12 feet high and it was 400′ to straight-away 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 of my Casey 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!!!”

I was momentarily stunned…

Stop about and think those words 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 or Tiger Woods?

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 baseball 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!

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Frontier Preachin’

I’ve been riding horses since I was 2 years old…no seriously I have the pictures to prove it!!!  My maternal grandfather was a dairy farmer who also loved horses.  He had an old buckskin gelding named “Sonny Boy” that was the most trustworthy horse I have ever known.  He was absolutely bomb proof and it always seemed like he knew when he had a kid on his back because his whole demeanor changed. He would adjusted his gait and speed to keep that kid in the saddle.  But the more you learned the more he changed.  He was always ready to give you as much as you could handle.  One day when I was about 6 I asked my grandpa if I could take the horse to get the cows.  He smiled knowingly and said….”sure!”  He opened the gate and I cantered out to where the dairy herd was grazing.  I made a long slow circle around the herd and began to push them towards the barn.

The milk cows began their slow full-uddered amble but the yearling heifers were frisky. Without the burden of an udder between their rear legs they were always ready to run.  When the first one made a break for it I discovered I had a brand new horse.  He took off at a dead run…headed the heifer and turned her back to the herd…skidded to a stop…did a perfect roll-back spin….and headed off after another maverick making a break on the other side of the herd.  It didn’t matter what brush or low hanging tree branches were in the way.  That horse did not allow one single breakout!

Soon I was just holding on to the saddlehorn with the knotted reins hanging loose on Sonny’s neck.  I was just along for the ride! When we got back to the barn I had a combination of joy and fear on my face. I had never had so much fun in my young life.  My Grandpa was waiting at the gate with that same smile.

“How was it?” he said.

“Man, I didn’t know he could do that!”  I said.

“Neither did I till a couple years ago,” Grandpa replied, ” He must have been a cow horse somewhere in his past!”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  To look at that old gelding you would have never guessed he could do what he’d done.  He wasn’t a Quarter Horse. He looked more Saddlebred than anything. He was tall and long-legged…not at all the model ranch horse.  But he could sure git ‘er done!

You’ve heard the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”  Well, I never go by outward appearances.  In fact, I like to deliberately misdirect people. It makes watching the surprised looks on their faces all the more fun when they discover they’ve fallen prey to their prejudices.

This blog will be an attempt on my part to share the ups and downs of small town and rural ministry.  I am a pastor who is a product of the Jesus Movement of the early 1970’s . I happen to minister in the tribe of Christians called Lutherans but don’t assume you can figure out where I’m going by looking at where I’ve been.

I want the world to meet the real Jesus.  The guy who used to hang out on the docks of the Sea of Galilee and talk to commercial fishermen.  A guy who knew how to cut a compound miter joint freehand with an iron saw blade.  The guy who made good wine.  A guy who knew how to talk to everyone in a way that  made them want to stop whatever they were doing and pull up a chair.

So I hope you will feel compelled to do the same and check out the meandering thoughts of my mind each day….and I guarantee there will be a little frontier preachin’ to go along with it.



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