The date- Wednesday, October 3, 1951. The Place- The old Polo Grounds in New York City. The setting- Game 3 of a 3-game playoff between the then New York Giants and the then Brooklyn Dodgers to decide the National League Pennant. The game was, ironically, the first ever nationally televised baseball game. Therefore, it was seen by millions of people and heard on radio by millions more. Going into the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers were leading 4-1. All they had to do was get three outs and they were headed to the World Series.
Giants shortstop Alvin Dark singled off Dodgers starting pitcher Don Newcombe to start the bottom of the 9th. Right fielder Don Mueller then hit a single, moving Dark over the 3rd. Left fielder Monte Irvin then fouled out. Next up was 1st baseman Whitey Lockman, who stroked a double down the left field line, driving in Dark and advancing Mueller to third. The score then stood at 4-2 with one out.
Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen pulled an exhausted Newcombe, replacing him with relief pitcher Ralph Branca. Next up to bat was 3rd baseman Bobby Thomson, with then-Rookie of the Year Willie Mays due up next. As Thomson left the on-deck circle, Giants manager Leo Durocher said, “If you ever hit one, hit it now.” Branca’s first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second pitch was a fastball high and inside, intended as a setup for his next pitch- a breaking ball down and away. But that 3rd pitch never happened. Instead, Thomson pulled the fastball down the left field line. The ball disappeared into the left field stands for a game-ending, walk-off three-run homer and a stunning, come-from-behind 5-4 pennant-winning victory for the home-field Giants. The stunned Dodgers began the long walk toward the visitors’ clubhouse while the Giants celebrated one of the most amazing comebacks in Major League Baseball history. In fact, that home run is STILL referred to as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.
Today, we continue our current sermon series- Your Comeback. Based on the book by Tony Evans, this series focuses on fear- fear that you’ve fallen too far to be used by God. We are focusing on epic comebacks of sports teams who seemingly had no shot at victory and coupling them with Biblical heroes with scandalous pasts to show that God can turn things around for anybody—including you! Week 1, we started with began with the notion that we are called to think different. Week 2, we took the word “different” to the next level as we talked about embracing the unusual! Last week, we looked at what it means to not stay down. Today, we will spend some time focusing on the fact that we need to keep moving forward.
2Kings 5:19b-27 After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’” “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.
Back in Week 1 of this series, we met Naaman and Elisha. Naaman had come to Elisha looking to be cured of the leprosy that plagued him. And through Elisha, God did just that. Naaman offered payment, but Elisha turned him down, saying that was not necessary- it was God Who carried out the healing.
What we DIDN’T notice was Elisha’s servant Gehazi (gee-HAY-zai) lurking in the background, watching it all unfold. He felt Naaman, this foreign interloper, should pay for what was done. So, he takes it upon himself to go after Naaman and extract some “blood money”. He catches up with Naaman, who says, “Hey! Is everything OK?” Gehazi (gee-HAY-zai) says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah- everything’s fine. Listen…Elisha changed his mind. He would like a talent of silver and one…no, TWO…sets of clothing as payment for the awesome thing he did for you.” Naaman says, “Sure, sure! In fact, here are TWO talents of silver and two sets of clothes.” Gehazi gladly accepts the gifts…and then promptly takes them home and hides them!
He then goes to see Elisha, who says, “Where YOU been?” Gehazi says, “Who…ME? NOWHERE! Been here all along.” But he forgot- his boss was a prophet! Elisha responds, “Oh come on…REALLY? Wasn’t my spirit with you when you went to Naaman, asking for AND accepting those gifts?” Elisha then asks the most important question of all, “Is this REALLY the time to be accepting gifts?’ His point was simple- God’s miracles can’t be bought. God’s power and presence in our lives isn’t intended for personal gain and we shouldn’t be doing ministry simply for the sake of earthly rewards. Naaman needed to see the God’s grace displayed in the free and abundant blessing he received. Gehazi tried to destroy that grace by demanding payment for it.
In this story, Naaman moves forward- heading home with a new lease on life. But Gehazi moves BACKWARD, trying to receive payment for something that he had nothing to do with. He’s trying to profit from what God did through Elisha. That backward movement is what got him in trouble. The second he set out to catch up with Naaman and profit from God’s miracle, Gehazi started living outside of God’s blessing. He was thinking only of himself and how he could profit from this. And, as we heard in the passage, he paid dearly for that decision. There ARE consequences to our choices and actions.
My gut tells me that lots of Christians try to justify not coming to church regularly, not reading and studying the Word, not praying regularly by convincing themselves they’re simply “taking a break”. “I’m not moving forward- I’m just resting, standing still for a bit. I’ll get back to it.” But my experience is there’s no “standing still” in your spiritual life- you’re either moving forward…or sliding backward. Period.
And let me be clear- how FAST you’re moving forward isn’t always that important. THAT you’re moving forward is what matters. Some days, your spiritual growth can be measured in moments- you feel like you’re growing SO fast. Other days, you feel like your spiritual growth could be best measured by the movement of glaciers! That’s OK. Don’t SETTLE for glacial movement as the norm. But accept that some days, it’s the best you are going to get.
But the SECOND, the absolute instant, you stop trying to push forward in your spiritual growth, you start that “sliding backward” reality. A little “Oh, it won’t hurt if I DON’T do this or I DO that” quickly becomes “Gosh, I haven’t been to church in…how long?!” NOT moving forward is the path of least resistance. Therefore, human nature dictates, almost demands, that’s the path we default to. We have to be intentional to NOT give in and let that be our reality. We have to demand more than that out of ourselves. If you’re tired of living outside of God’s blessings of goodness and power, invite God to show you where you’ve failed and how you can move forward.