Summary: A short sermon using baseball images to explain how Christians can feel pain despite Christ’s High Priestly prayer "protect them from the evil one."
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Three in One who provides your place in the Church and won’t give it away to anyone beside you.
It was a nightgame. I was 11 years old and playing catcher. The pitcher threw to the outside of the strike zone and to my surprise the batter actually swung. I remember that much. The next thing I remember is the pain of the foul ball hitting the side of my knee, somehow missing the shinguards. The pain was excruciating.
My coach ran up to me and I held my knee close to me, tears forming in my eyes. It was like one of those scenes from the movies where you’re looking up into the light and the blur becomes a familiar face saying your name, “Jay… Jay? Jay…”
I chocked out a “yeah…”
My coach pulled me to my feet, told me to walk. I began to walk, but my walk soon turned into a painful limp. It was so painful that the moment that I tried to put all of my weight on the knee, it would buckle and I would have to regain my balance with the other leg. I walked down the third base line a little while.
“Does it still hurt?” He asked me.
“Yeah. It does.” I nodded my head.
“I don’t have another catcher tonight. I can take you out if you really need it, walk it off for a few minutes and get back in there.”
That was probably the most painful game I ever played. I would like to tell you that something grand happened in that game, that I kept someone from sliding into home and scoring a run, that I caught the last foul pop up that ended the game. That didn’t happen.
I went home dirty, and dusty, and with a huge bruise on the side of my knee. We did, at least, win the game.
Our reading today is from John 17, the whole chapter is called “the High Priestly Prayer.” If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I recommend you go home and you read it today. It’s one of the most intimate looks at Jesus and why He did what He did. As we hear Jesus’ words of prayer to the Father about us and why He is about to suffer for us we begin to see a bit of Jesus’ reality on the night He was betrayed.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world.”
Isn’t it a tempting thought to be taken out of the world? Out of the game? Isn’t it a tempting thought to not roll out of bed in the morning and go to work or go to school, especially on those days that you know it’s going to be tough. It was a tempting thought for me that night game to say “coach, I don’t care who you get, but I can’t catch tonight – send me to the dugout.”
It’s tough for a lot of us who got up and rolled out of bed this morning to come here. We roll out of our beds on Sunday mornings and feel the pain of the sleep debt, the pain of the other things that we could use our Sunday morning to do. We feel pain during our daily walks, as we go about telling people who we are and what we believe. And we get stung, we feel the pain of rejection and laughter.
We go to our homes and the end of the day and pray all night with angry prayers that say “God, it’s not fair! I’m on your team! Why does it hurt so bad?” But that’s not the end of it. Coming here is just like filing into the dugout on the morning of the game day, going out into the world is just practicing for the greatest game of our life.
The game is still ahead of us, and it will demand much from us. It demands that we put ourselves behind the ball, a place where we could be struck and bruised. It also promises that we could do great things.
It is easy to arrive and expect a grand God to take everything for us, to pull us out of the world and all of the difficulties and pains. We expect that we can show up to the game and, for some reason or the other, sit and watch from the dugout.
We don’t have that kind of God. We have a God who knows not only the pain of being struck, over and over again – but a God who holds the joy of the victory over those hurts and the bruises. We have a God who tells us that “we’re going into the game.” When Jesus prays His prayer, He is staring down the cross like we stare down a pitcher in the game. He knows what is coming, He knows that the ball that is going to hit Him is the ball of the pure HELL of God turning His head from the Son. He asks for protection for us from that, that we might never experience that, that He might experience that for us.