No strikeouts on Father’s Day

 Here’s my column that appeared today in the June 21st Sunday edition of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette.  I preached this morning at First Presbyterian Church in Champaign, where I combined some thoughts from this column with some ideas I felt the Lord gave me from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  The column was is called “No strikeouts on Father’s Day.”  My sermon was titled, “The Parable of the Generous Father.”
“No strikeouts on Father’s Day”

Without really comprehending it, on Father’s Day when I was 11 years old, I experienced one of the outstanding features extolled by the father in the story of the prodigal son – generosity.  You know the story found in Luke 15. The son convinces his father to give him his inheritance early. The boy then promptly blows everything. Nearing death and utterly desperate, the son returns home, hoping for mercy. And of course, the waiting father shows the son immediate and incredible generosity.

            The spirit of generosity first came to light for me at a Father’s Day picnic and softball game. My dad was Mr. Church, and Father’s Day was no different.  He grabbed my brother and me and a few others to help load tables and chairs into the back of a pickup to take to the park following churches services.

As important as getting the tables and chairs out to the park was, the details for the making of homemade ice cream were even more so. Dad loved ice cream, and he liked to make it.  Along with every family in America in the 1960s, we had a hand-crank ice cream maker.  Inside the blue wooden bucket you slid a metal pail containing the ice cream mixture. A hand-crank gear apparatus connected to the top of the metal pail inside of the bucket.  The hand crank turned the metal pail round and round through the icy, salty brine. Dad always wanted to make sure he had enough ice and salt and old towels. It was all part of what led to the magic – perfect homemade ice cream.

The plan that Father’s Day Sunday was to eat the potluck dinner first. Then we would play softball. After that, we would gather for homemade ice cream while we rubbed pieces of ice on the back of our necks to cool ourselves off.

Frankly, I thought Dad would tend the ice cream and be content to watch the other men and boys play softball. Besides, he was not good at softball. At least I didn’t think so. But that Father’s Day he decided to join the men and boys of the church and play in the game. 

And wouldn’t you know it? We ended up on the same team.  Dad placed himself out in center field without a glove.  My mother remembered to bring my brother’s and my glove.  But as far I knew, dad never had a glove – ever.  And you can imagine that as one of the 11-year-old little league stars in our town, I was worried and embarrassed about having my dad out in center field with just his bare hands.

            During that game, though, two remarkable things happened.  Actually three.  The first two were amazing. The third was, well, you’ll see.  Our team took the field first.  The very first batter knocked the very first pitch out into center field.    

And yes sir, my dad caught the fly ball bare handed and fired it back to the pitcher.  Pretty amazing to an 11-year-old.  But even more wonderful was when he got up to bat for the first time.  I’d never even seen dad swing a bit.  And yet, he hit a fast ground ball between left and center field and rounded the bases for a home run. A home run, for crying out loud!

The third incident occurred when a boy on the other team – a kid in my Sunday School class – struck out.  At least I thought he struck out.  After swinging 3 times at the ball and missing 3 times, my dad cupped his hands around his mouth and suddenly announced from center field, “You get to bat until you hit the ball.  No strikeouts.”  In fact, he already had conferred with a few of the other dads but not the boys.

I told dad that was not fair but he said it was Father’s Day and he and the other dads had decided to be generous on the day honoring them.  Thus, no strikeouts.  And, well, there you go.  That was my dad.  They guy was willing to give almost anyone another chance.  He didn’t like anyone to strike out at anything. I even saw dad show the men who worked for him to much generosity, sometimes to his detriment.

When I was reading “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” recently, that old childhood incident popped into my mind when dad said, “No strikeouts.”  It occurred to me that maybe this famous parable from Luke 15 should be referred to as “The Parable of the Generous Father.”

The penniless son returns to his father hoping against hope for his father’s mercy. And well, you know what happens.  The lost son, now returned, gets the robe, the family ring, sandals for his bare feet and a feast to boot.  The older son doesn’t like it, but in fact the father is generous to him, too, saying, “All I have is yours.”

Maybe this Father’s Day, fathers and mothers and children alike can practice exemplifying a kind of love and generosity by adopting a new phrase: “No strikeouts.”

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