The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost: Year C

“The Good News”

A sermon by parishioner, Patrick Foster

Good morning!

Thank you for allowing me to speak here today. You know, before I was first asked to deliver a sermon here at Christ Church I attended Ginnie Glassman’s Lay Preaching classes, to better understand how to do it. One of the homework exercises we had to do was to write actual sermons for the class to critique. In one of them I related a true story about a man I used to know years ago. The story received a lot of positive remarks and I was asked to include it in an actual sermon for here in church. Since it has to do with a man who changed his ways, I’ll tell it to you today. It sort of goes with the readings.

A long time ago, in another life, I knew a man who was what you’d call a bad guy. He was a crook, one of many I knew in that life. In time he decided to change his ways and go straight. But as he tried to walk the straight and narrow path, he sometimes found himself tempted to resume his old life of crime, because when you’re known as a criminal it’s hard for people to trust you, and it’s difficult to get a job because usually your only job skill is being a crook. Well, it happened that one night he was standing outside his car in the parking lot of a shopping mall not too far from here, trying to decide whether to commit a crime or to continue trying to change his life. The economics favored the crime option. Things weren’t going well for him and he was really struggling.

Finally, in desperation he looked up at the sky and said “Okay God, it’s up to you. If you’re really out there give me a sign.” A moment later- again this is a true story- a tractor trailer pulled into the parking lot, probably to make a night delivery of goods to the stores. The trucking company’s name was spelled out on the side of the trailer- it was one of those Guaranteed Overnight Delivery trucks- remember them?

They had their initial in 10-foot-tall letters on the sides of the trailer G.O.D. My friend looked at that, then looked up to the sky and said “Okay- I got it”. Then he got in his car and drove home. He went on to completely rehabilitate himself. That was a miracle, if you think about it.

This morning’s reading about Zacchaeus the Tax Collector made me think about that, and also made me think about my favorite movie. Now, the truth is, I have several favorite movies- Casablanca, The Big Sleep, The Snake Pit, Murder, My Sweet, and the Civil War epic Glory.

But probably my favorite movie- I’ve seen it eight times or more- is The Natural. Starring Robert Redford, it’s the story of a young farm boy named Roy Hobbs, born with incredible natural abilities as a baseball player. In fact, he has the skill to become the greatest baseball player that ever lived. And when the time comes, he’s given the chance, signs on to a ball team and is soon heading for the big time. He says goodbye to his girlfriend; they have an understanding that he’ll come back someday to marry her.

On his journey he meets a mysterious and alluring young woman on the train. She flirts with him and when they get to their destination, she invites him to her hotel room. What’s going to happen once he gets there seems pretty obvious. This is what’s politely known as an assignation.

Somewhere inside himself, Roy Hobbs knows he’s doing wrong by cheating on his girlfriend. But the young lady on the train is so alluring he can’t resist her and gee- how many times does an opportunity like this come along? So, he goes to her room. But instead of a rendezvous with romance, he ends up getting shot and spends years recovering in a hospital.

The movie actually begins with Roy much older. He’s taking a train ride again, this time to join a different major league team, the New York Knights. Hobbs is now about 35 or so- old for a ball player- and his new coach doesn’t like him. Hobbs is forced to sit on the bench as the team continues a long-running losing streak. Finally, he’s given a chance and wins the game- it’s an exciting moment in the film. He goes on to become a sensation in baseball and his team advances to the pennant game- and that’s when Hobbs shady past is discovered and he learns, as he says in the movie, that some mistakes you never stop paying for. He ends up injured, and in the hospital, and his team begins to lose games.

Hobbs leaves the hospital to practice, but collapses- he can’t play. He’s even offered a bribe- just in case- to throw the game, even though it looks like he won’t even be in the game. He refuses the bribe and heads for the stadium to try to do the best he can. That’s all any man can do.

It’s a complex story with much that I left out for the sake of brevity. In the end he’s reunited with his girlfriend and his life turns out ok. It’s a happy ending.

The reason I like this movie so much is that it illustrates a basically good man who at one time made a serious error of judgement, a mistake, a sin of lust. He did it even though it went against his character. He pays for his mistake by losing years of his life recovering from the gunshot wound. He’s ashamed of what he’s done but realizes it’s his own fault. For a while it seems as if God is going to punish him forever for being a sinner, but in the end, things turn out all right.

To me, the moral of the movie is- a person can recover. Your sins can be forgiven, and you can be given a second chance. As someone who has made serious mistakes in life, and who has sinned, that message has a special appeal to me. This may surprise some of you but I don’t come to church because I’m so good; I come because I’ve been bad and at times, I continue to not live up to the standard God wants me to live to. I’m still a work in progress. I think perhaps we all are.

And that’s the bad news- we’re all sinners at some time in our life and many people still sin occasionally. Let’s face it- none of us within this sanctuary are candidates for sainthood. But the message of Zacchaeus and Roy Hobbs, the message of the New Testament, the Good News of the bible itself, is that if we repent, we can make amends, and we can return to the path that God would have us on. Our lives can have a happy ending. Thank God for that.