Close Doesn’t Count

Based on: Luke 13:22-30

Do you follow baseball? I heard the Twins are doing well. The Texas Rangers are also doing well. When we lived in Texas we used to watch the Rangers play. Three years in a row while we lived in Texas the Rangers made it to the playoffs, but they always played the Yankees first and, well, let’s just say that a few times they came close to winning a playoff game. But close doesn’t count, does it? To continue the baseball theme, do you know the poem, “Casey at the Bat”? Let me tell you about it and then I will tell you how it fits with these words of Jesus.

As the poem begins it is the ninth inning and the home team of Mudville was losing 2-4. The hometown crowd was losing hope as the first two batters were thrown out at first. But with one out left, the next two batters got on base. Then the crowd really got excited when they saw the mighty Casey, their favorite player, carry his bat up to the plate with calm confidence. Listen!

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place; There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there. Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped- “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

With the same calm confidence Casey lets the second strike go by. Casey doesn’t care about those first two. It’s the third pitch he is after and he is confident he will make it count. Here are the last two verses of the poem.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate; He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate. And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

Casey thought the day was his. He was so sure he was going to hit a home run to win the game that he let the first two strikes go by without even the smallest effort. But his confidence was misplaced and when the third pitch came, he struck out.

Don’t be like Casey! Do you see the connection with what Jesus is saying? So many are so confident about their spiritual life that they don’t even make an effort. Today Jesus is warning us – don’t be like that! Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.

He doesn’t tell us to worry or get stressed out over salvation. He simply says, “make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” That doesn’t mean be good, obey the rules and God will let you into heaven. No, Jesus is saying, take every opportunity to draw closer to God through his Word. Jesus is the narrow door through which we must pass and he wants each one of us to get to know him better through his Word.

But that door does not remain open for everyone. There will be many who think they are going to heaven, but will not. There will be many who claim to have a relationship with Jesus – “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say to them, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”

A person might claim to have a relationship with God, but would God claim that same relationship with him? Or will he say, “Who are you?” A recent survey questioned people who claimed to believe in the Bible and found that 50% of them couldn’t name the first four books of the New Testament. The Bible is the most widely distributed book in the world, but how few people really read it? Many people claim, “Yes, I believe in God. I still believe.”, but do you really think the door will be open for them if they are not willing to take the time to know what he says?

I know the attitude is out there that as long as I belong to the church or as long as I am buried in the church, then I will be OK. Not true! Is God bound by our membership list? If you do not come to hear God’s Word, if you ignore the opportunities God gives you to draw closer to him, your faith will die and you will suffer in hell. It doesn’t matter if your name is on the membership list or not. What do you think. Will there be members of St. John’s who find themselves on the outside when the narrow door is shut? Shouldn’t we warn them?

There are many who in one way or another seem close to God. We might even say they are “almost saved”, but being “almost saved” is really the same as “altogether lost.” Being close doesn’t count in eternity. They are like Casey the baseball player – confident to the point of losing. Don’t be like Casey.

Jesus pleads with you for your own sake to draw closer to him and I will plead the same. Come to church often. Come to Bible class. No matter how strong you think your relationship with God is, work to make it stronger. Don’t just assume you’re OK – that you will be fine – but do what Jesus says and make every effort to hear about the narrow door. Make every effort to strengthen your relationship with your Savior.

But do not let this warning turn into worry. Certainly for those who are confident that their faith is good enough, God gives this warning and others such as, “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12)

But Jesus also comforts those who are unsure or uncertain. If anyone is plagued by doubts Jesus wants them to know, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)

We are in the hands of a loving God and we are safe, perfectly safe. God picked us up in his hands with baptism and through the blood of Christ we continue to be safe there. There, in the protecting hand of the Almighty God, we hear how he rescued us from evil, how he came to this earth, how he made every effort to save us, how he continued to struggle against sin for us even to the point at which our sin nailed him to the cross. In God’s protecting hands he tells us about the resurrection. In Christ’s resurrection we see the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that is the narrow door of salvation through which we pass.

From the beginning of creation God pursued our salvation for us. Now he tells us, “Make every effort to make your hold on salvation stronger and stronger.

If your confidence is such that you think you are OK, that you don’t see a need to hear more of God’s Word, then your confidence is misplaced. Be careful or you will strike out like the mighty Casey. But as you make every effort to learn about your Savior, God will comfort you with the assurance that you will be on inside with all the other believers when the narrow door closes.

Amen.

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