VOLUME 74 - NO. 11 

November 2003


We Mever Nake Misteaks

Every fan’s dream: to catch a ball during a big league baseball game.  A keepsake to treasure forever...to pass down through the generations.  Look!  You see the ball coming!  Right to your section!  What you’ve always dreamed about.  You put out your hands to snatch it...

And you end up deflecting it from the waiting glove of Cub fielder Moises Alou.

A dream come true turned into a nightmare for a hapless Cub fan in game 6 of the National League Championship series.  Many fans blame him with the loss of the championship.  The volume of hateful e-mail he received at work crashed his company’s website.  He may well have to move away from Chicago.  As a Cubs fan myself, I think it’s foolish to blame the fan--the eight runs scored after his mistake were allowed by highly paid professionals, and if there is blame, that’s where it belongs.

The irony is that the Cub fan could have been any one of us--because everyone, in moments of carelessness and poor judgment, has made mistakes.

Some embarrassingly public mistakes that come to mind:

--A presidential candidate (later elected president) waving enthusiastically across a room to Stevie Wonder.  (Stevie Wonder is, of course, blind)

--A legendary country singer performing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the national convention of a major political party--and leaving out all the words from “o’er the ramparts we watch” to “the bombs bursting in air”.

--An excruciatingly wrong note by a French horn player during the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a live recording from the Bayreuth festival under Wilhelm Furtwaengler (the recording as a whole is considered one of the greatest performances of all time; it will never go out of print, and thus the horn player’s clam will be preserved to all eternity).

Even pastors make mistakes.  At my mother’s funeral, the pastor (who knew her quite well) several times referred to her as “Ruth” instead of “Rose” in his sermon.  In my very first sermon at St. Paul’s, I spoke of the “three chaplains” who died on the USS Dorchester in World War II (not realizing that, at the former VFW hall only a few hundred yards from the church, there is a memorial to the four chaplains who perished on that vessel).  My biggest mistake came, however, in a prior parish, when I talked about Communism as Christianity’s major 20th century competitor.  I sketched the career of American communist John Reed, and I intended to say, “He is the only American buried in the Kremlin.”  After church, a lady asked me: “Why would they bury some communist guy in the Vatican?”  To my horror, I realized that I had said “Vatican” when I meant “Kremlin”. 

Most of the mistakes I’ve mentioned are relatively minor; but mistakes can sometimes have devastating consequences.  We recall the young Mexican girl who received a transplanted heart incompatible with her blood-type--and it cost her life.  We remember the numerous soldiers in our wars who were killed by “friendly fire”.  Mistakes can be costly.

Is a mistake the same thing as a sin?  The word “sin” suggests something intentional, while mistakes are accidental.   Perhaps mistakes are sins, not of commission, but omission--had I been more careful, more vigilant, better-prepared, then I wouldn’t have made the mistake.

In any case, we deal with our mistakes in the same way we deal with our sins:

First: confess the mistake and take responsibility for it.  Don’t minimize the mistake or make excuses for it, but honestly admit it.  Garrison Keillor once told the story of a young woman on a softball team who went to the plate and struck out.  Strikeouts are so rare in softball that the team expected the young woman to apologize profusely for her performance.  Instead, she laughed.  And the team was deeply offended--not at her strike-out, but at her attempt to minimize the mistake.  It’s best, not to evade our mistakes, but to confess them.

Second: realize that Jesus Christ paid the price for all our sins and all our mistakes.  No mistake is fatal if we take it to the cross.  The Bible says that everything we’ve ever done wrong has been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). That includes every boneheaded error we’ve ever committed.  The God we encounter in the crucified and risen Christ is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, forgiving” (Exodus 34:6)--He will not hold our mistakes against us.

Third: realize that God can turn even our mistakes into a blessing--as that beloved Bible verse says, “God works in everything for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:25).

Fourth: learn from your mistakes.  Grow from your mistakes.  Recovering from a mistake makes us wiser and stronger.   We move forward resolved never to make that mistake again.

One of my favorite Bible verses  says, “Though he stumble he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” (Psalm 37:24).   My life is not going to be mistake-free; on the contrary, I am a flawed, sinful human being.  But the Lord will hold my hand so that, even in my mistakes, I don’t fall flat on my face.

God loves you and so do I!


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