Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page for St Patrick's Anglican Church. Yesterday I talked about baseball hitters who lose their grip, who lose control of their bats as the wood flies off into the crowd. I also mentioned that there is a substance that helps batters keep a grip of the bat, called pine tar.
Today, let's talk about one of the most famous moments in the long history of ball players using pine tar. It was July 24, 1983. The Kansas City Royals were in New York to play the Yankees.
After 8 innings, the Yankees led the game 4-3. But in the top of the ninth, the Royals got something going. U. L. Washington, a switch-hitting infielder for the Royals, got on base. Then, with two outs, and Washington stuck on first base, Royals third-baseman George Brett stepped to the plate.
Now, Brett was quite a player. He could hit for average, he could hit for power. He had such a long and great career that he is now in the Hall of Fame. But on this day, he needed something, a base hit, anything, to keep the Royals' chances alive. They were down to their final out of the game.
Making Brett's life more difficult was the Yankees' pitcher, Goose Gossage, one of the greatest 9th-inning specialists in baseball history, and a future Hall-of-Famer himself.
But on this day, Brett got the better of the battle. He hit the ball over the fence for a two-run homer! Two runs scored, putting the Royals ahead 5-4, with a good chance to win the game. But...
Then Billy Martin, the Yankees' manager, asked the umpires to measure George Brett's bat. There is a rule, little-known before that day, that says that a bat can't have pine tar more than 18 inches up the handle. When the umps measured, sure enough, Brett's bat had a little more than 18 inches of pine tar on it. That made the bat an illegal piece of equipment, so the hit was therefore illegal.
That meant the home run was wiped out, Brett was out #3, and the game was over. The ump walked over to the Royals' dugout, pointed at George Brett and signalled “out!” The Yankees won!
Well, a livid George Brett exploded out of the dugout. Eyes bulging, spit flying, he gave the ump an earful, and had to be physically restrained by his teammates. One clever commentator described the incident as the first time in history that someone had hit a game-losing home run. Despite long and loud protests, the ump's call stood firm. Game over.
Of course, the story of doesn't end there. You'll have to read for yourself all the protests and counter-protests to reverse or uphold the ruling. But that July day in 1983, all the excitement was caused by a legalistic, to-the-letter application of the rules.
When it comes to spiritual things, sometimes followers of God can be a little over-zealous and legalistic in applying rules. We have instructions, advice and, yes, laws, from God about how to live with others and with God, and we sometimes mistakenly think that following the rules is the whole point. It's not a new thing; Jesus picked on the religious leaders of his day who stressed the rules too much. (e.g. Mt 23:23)
I think of times that people who rarely darken the door of a church ask me, “do I have to go to church to be a Christian?” or some variation of that question. I never answer 'yes' or 'no,' because by asking such a question, they show that they completely misunderstand what God is all about.
God did not write the Bible as a rule book. Sure, it has some rules, and advice, sometimes strong advice. But they are there because of God's love for us. The Bible is more a love letter from God than a book of do's and don'ts. God wants you to be involved in a local church because God is making a people. That's the main point of what God is up to. God wants you to be a part of that people, called the Church. Don't get stuck, whether looking at ourselves or others, on checklists of do's and don'ts. God is more concerned that you learn how to love God and love your neighbour alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ, other Christians. Read with them. Pray with them. Sing with them. Live and love and work and worship with them. When that is happening, you'll find you become less concerned about having a half-inch too much pine tar. For St Patrick's Church, I'm Steve Page