WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
April 6, 2014
YOU GOTTA BELIEVE
I have some good news – baseball season has begun! The Nationals started the season with a sweep. The Orioles didn’t open as well, but it’s early. The Reds started a little slow but it’s okay. No need to panic. There’s almost 160 games to go.
Some of you who are baseball fans may remember the worst team in my lifetime – the 1962 New York Mets. The ’62 Mets were terrible. That season they won only 40 games and lost 120. That’s a .250 percentage. I mentioned the O’s earlier – they started off 1 and 3, and I know a lot of fans were disappointed. If they go 1 and 3 with every series the rest of the way then they’ll finish .250 – the exact same percentage. The 1962 Mets had among the worst records of all times.
There are a lot of good stories about that team and their manager, Casey Stengel. Stengel once walked out to the mound to talk to his pitcher, Bob Miller. “Casey, I’m not tired,” Miller said. Stengel’s reply? “No, but your outfielders are.” Casey’s autobiography was named for a question he once asked about this team: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
The Mets got better over time. 1962 was their first year, and as I said they won 40 games. In 1963 they won 51. In 1964 it was 53. 1965 saw them with 50 wins, and then in 1966 they took a big step forward to 66 wins. 61 in 1967, and then another big leap in 1968 – 73 wins, 89 losses.
They’re making progress aren’t they! It’s two steps forward and one step back sometimes, but 73 and 89 is a whole lot better than 40 and 120. That year they finished in 9th place out of 10 teams.
If you’re a baseball fan you already know where this story is headed. In 1969 the Mets won 100 games. They won the National League East, they beat the Atlanta Braves for the National League Championship and so they went to the World Series to face the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles back then were a great team. Those late 1960’s – early 1970’s O’s teams were really good.
I know this is painful for some of you to remember, but the Mets beat them 4 games to 1. The New York Mets, just seven years before losing three out of every four games, were the champions of the baseball world.
And the fans, the loyal Mets fans who had suffered with this team ever since that horrible season in 1962, the fans had a motto. “You gotta believe,” the Mets fans would say. “You gotta believe.”
I think that’s a pretty good motto. There have sure been times when God’s people needed to hear that motto. When the Israelites were escaping from Egypt, with Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers gaining on them from behind and the vast Red Sea in front of them, what did Moses tell them? Exodus 14:13 – “Don’t be afraid! Stand your ground, and see what the Lord will do for you today.” In other words, you gotta believe.
When the shepherd boy David faced the giant Goliath, people told him he was crazy. They told him he had no business fighting this fight. They told him there was no way he could win. What did David say? 1 Samuel 17:37 – “The Lord has saved me from lions and bears. He will save me from this Philistine.” In other words, you gotta believe.
When the Jewish leader Nicodemus went to see Jesus and asked him different questions to test him, Jesus said in John 3:16 that God loved the world so much that He sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life. In other words, you gotta believe.
That’s what Paul says in our scripture reading this morning. Paul talks about us all being spiritually dead, following the world’s evil way, and being destined to suffer punishment from God. But through the grace of God we are saved from that death. Through faith in Christ we are saved from that punishment, if only we will claim God’s grace. In other words, you gotta believe.
Rodney Smith tells a story about a ten year old girl named Stacy. Stacy’s a pretty good kid. She usually listens to her parents and she usually stays out of trouble. And Stacy loved visiting her grandmother.
Grandmother had one rule: nobody plays in the parlor. In fact, children can’t even go into the parlor without permission. The parlor was filled with rare and expensive antiques and furniture.
Stacy was a good kid, but even good kids mess up. One day Stacy went into the parlor to look around. She was fascinated by the beautiful antiques, and got so engrossed in looking at them that she didn’t notice a large vase sitting on a stand.
Suddenly there was a loud crash. The vase had hit the floor. Stacy knew that in a second her grandmother would come to see what was going on and that she, Stacy, would be in big trouble. Stacy began to tremble, and to cry, and when the grandmother looked into the forbidden parlor there was one little girl trying to pick up the pieces of the vase.
Suddenly Stacy noticed that her grandmother was on the floor next to her helping her pick up the pieces. “Oh Grandma, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll be careful next time. Do you still love me? I’m so sorry.” Her grandmother didn’t say a word. She just gave Stacy a big hug, brought out some super glue, and in 20 minutes the old vase was back up on the stand.
Many years later, when Stacy was in her forties, she remembered that day in the parlor. She said, “I found out that I was the family treasure that day, not some old vase. Better yet, I found out that my grandmother loved me not because I was always good; she loved me because I was me.”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God. It is by grace you are saved. You gotta believe.
There are times in our lives when we feel dead. At least there are times like that for me. There are times I feel that I have no energy, no vision, no hope, no plans, no nothing. And of course there are other times when I feel like I’m in trouble. I’ve made a mistake or missed an appointment or forgotten something, and I just have this sense of dread hanging over me, and I feel like, “Man I am dead.”
But I gotta believe. I gotta believe that God is with me. I gotta believe that God will help me find a way. I gotta believe that with God’s help I’ll get through it. Often over the years when we have been going through difficult times Julia will tell me or I will tell her that God did not bring us to this place just to leave us behind. God didn’t bring us here to forget about us. God is still with us. We gotta believe. And we do. And we make it through.
I could say the same for any of you. Whatever stresses or worries or troubles you are facing, I know they’re tough. I know you may feel like you’re going under. I know you may feel like you can’t make it. But you gotta believe.
Maybe your life is going okay but you’re worried about your relationship with God. Maybe you’ve been involved in something that you now you shouldn’t. Maybe you’ve let your prayer life drift. Maybe you just feel far away from God.
You gotta believe. In Ephesians 2:4 Paul says, “God’s mercy is so abundant, and God’s love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved.” It is by God’s grace that you have been saved, but you gotta claim it. You gotta accept Christ. You gotta believe.
God has not brought you this far just to drop you. God has not seen you through all that you’ve faced in your life so that he could abandon you now. God has not walked this long and this far with you just to watch you struggle and suffer.
Most of you have probably seen a little poem or poster called “Footprints in the Sand.” It talks about someone looking back on their life’s journey and seeing two pairs of footprints in the sand, where they were walking with God. At some points, though, there is only one pair of footprints. The person says to God, “God – where were you where there is only one set of footprints? Why did you abandon me?” God says, “My child, where you see one set of footprints is where I had to carry you.”
Lately I’ve seen on Facebook a little cartoon about that poem. It’s just two panels. The first panel shows God talking to the person saying, “My child, where you see one set of footprints is where I had to carry you.” The second panel shows God pointing and saying, “And those deep grooves over there? That’s where I had to drag you kicking and screaming.”
New life will come. God’s grace will save you. It’s true for us as individuals, and it’s true for us as a congregation. You gotta believe.
You gotta believe in the God who parted the Red Sea, the God who strengthened David to defeat Goliath. You gotta believe in the God who loved us enough to sacrifice his son Jesus, the God who Paul says saves us by his grace alone and rescues us from death.
There are a lot of different words we use in the church from time to time. Repent – confess your sins and turn away. Pray – reach out to listen to and talk with God. Meditate – on the lordship of Christ in your life and in the world around you.
The word “believe” ties all those other three together. Repentance doesn’t mean much if you don’t believe there’s a God who holds you accountable. Remembering to pray isn’t helpful if you don’t believe in God or if you don’t believe that God will answer your prayers. Meditation is a waste if you don’t believe that God will speak to you in one way or another. You gotta hope. You gotta believe. Hope in Christ, believe in God’s grace. This time of Lent is a time to move us towards Easter. The move towards Easter isn’t always easy. We may stumble or fall. We may have to go through hard, lonely places. We may not be sure what path to take.
God may have to carry us. God may have to drag us. Either way, we know where we’re headed. Toward Easter. Toward resurrection. Toward new life and new hope. Toward a new awareness of Christ in our lives and of our role in Christ’s kingdom. That’s what Easter’s about.
We’re going to find that new life. We’re going to claim that new strength. We’re going to feel that new hope. We’re going to fulfill the new ministries and new calls God has for us as individuals and as a church. Because God promises that’s what happens. Paul tells us all about the grace of God in our lives, the grace that Jesus bought with his life, the grace that is the foundation of our faith and our hope.
The new life is ours. With one another, and with Christ. But you gotta believe. You gotta believe. Amen.