Summary: We ought to have to pay the penalty of sin because we refuse to obey. But God in Christ has done what we could never do for ourselves and has given us a fresh start.
Teenage boys were always looking for something to do on a warm summer’s day, and so the clanking sounds and the laughter got to me that day. I walked across the street to where my best friend lived, and found him in the back yard, with his father, engaged in something new: they were throwing oddly-shaped pieces of metal at an iron stake a few yards away. The closer the strange looking piece got to the stake, the louder they shouted for joy. I had never seen anything quite like it.
My friend Brooke told me that the game was horseshoes. The object was to pitch the horseshoes at the post and try to get them to hang around that post, or maybe lean on it, or at least get close to it. I watched them play for a while; it
looked easy. I said, "This doesn’t look hard. Can I try?" Brooke said, "Not yet. Let me finish playing with my dad. He’s showing me how to hold the shoe and how to swing it." How to hold the shoe? For heaven’s sake, I thought, just hold it. Anywhere, anyway. How can it matter how you hold it? And as for how to swing, well, hey, I had been working all summer on my softball batting swing; just turn that around a little bit and I should be all right. I didn’t pay any attention as Mr. Griffith patiently coached his son in the art of horseshoes. I did notice that Brooke got close to the post nearly every time, and managed to throw two or three ringers. Just proved to me that it was an easy game.
Finally the waiting was over, and they invited me to throw. Mr. Griffith started to give me all the same lessons he had given his son, but I brushed them off. I could do this. Nothing to it. Just let me at it.
Wow! This thing was heavy. And with these little bumps and irregularities on it, it was a little hard to hold. But come on! The other post was only a few yards away. I gripped, I swung, I threw. The horseshoe went out about three feet and fell with a dull thud, closer to the post where I was standing than to the target. The Griffiths, father and son, both laughed, and Brooke said, "This one doesn’t count. Try again."
I could see that I needed to put more oomph on the thing, so I swung once, swung twice, swung three times, and let go. The shoe took off with a mighty whiz, arching high in the air, and curving, curving, over to the right, not very far from where Mr. Griffith was standing. He jumped back, said something not entirely right for the vocabulary of a teacher of a teenage Sunday School class, but then called out, "Whoa. You hooked it. Try again. Get it straight. That one doesn’t count either’
I was beginning to get some messages here. The first message was that the horseshoes game was not as easy as it looked. And the second message was that there were really no consequences. Nothing seemed to count. No matter how wild my pitch, they were not keeping score. What could I lose? This pitch, that pitch, didn’t count. So keep on going, full steam ahead!
One more time. I had figured out by now how I wanted to grip the shoe. Not exactly what Mr. Griffith said I ought to do, but I knew how I wanted to do it. And I had figured out the stuff about power and arc and curve and all the rest. This one would be great, this one would be a dead ringer, this one would be the pitch to end all pitches.
Well, it was. Because this time, when I let go of that stupid shoe, the next sound I heard was the sickening shattering of glass, as Mrs. Griffith’s kitchen window went to window heaven. The screams of Brooke’s mother and sisters inside the house could be heard, I was sure, all the way across the street to my house, and, very likely, to every house on the block.
Guess what? This time no one said, "This one doesn’t count." This time no one said, "Go ahead. Try one more time.’ This time they said, first, if you cannot take
instructions, you cannot play this game. And second, this one counts. This one will cost you the price of a new window!
A whole lot of us blunder through life, taking passes and collecting freebies, because we think it doesn’t count. We cheat a little on a test in school, and we don’t get caught, so we assume, "This one doesn’t count." We fudge the factors on our income taxes, and no auditor calls, so we conclude, "This one doesn’t count." We take some liberties and go beyond the bounds of morality, but no unwanted pregnancy, no AIDS diagnosis, so, we think, "This one doesn’t count." A whole lot of us blunder through life, refusing the Father’s instructions, insisting that we know how to live.. how hard could it be anyway? And if we do get into a tight spot, and maybe think to pray, the essence of our prayer is, "Does this one count?" We’d like to think it doesn’t.