Finally! Play ball!

It was both exciting and weird watching the first Dodger game of the 2020 season last Thursday. Those cardboard cutouts of actual fans who paid at least $149 to be virtually present seemed like smiling zombies, and the artificial sounds of cheering crowds were never quite coordinated with actual events in the game, but the players seemed to really be into the moment, displaying their skills and genuinely competing against the opposing team. Here’s a photo of Joc Peterson, after scoring a Dodgers run in the seventh inning, being greeted by his safely-masked teammates.

Fast-forward one day, almost exactly twenty-four hours later, and here’s a photo of Kike Hernandez scoring a Dodgers run in the seventh inning of game two.

Same cardboard-cutout fans, but there’s a big difference. I see only one mask and virtually no attempt at social distancing. It took the Dodgers one day to get over their COVID-19 precautions!

With these images in mind, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Miami Marlins had postponed their Monday home opener against Baltimore because fourteen team members and coaches tested positive for COVID-19. Shortly afterwards, the Yankees and Phillies postponed their scheduled game at Philadelphia because the Marlins had played in that stadium a couple of days before. In my mind I said, “There goes the 2020 season!”

In a sense, the baseball players’ inability (refusal?) to follow public health protocols for more than one day parallels what all of our society is going through. We don’t want to be told what to do, but when these decisions are left to us, we can’t (won’t?) follow a safe program. It’s happening throughout the country, and we’re all suffering because of our irresponsibility.

Believe it or not, this is an introduction to our study of our next New Testament letter written during the early Church’s time of pressure-cooker persecution, the book known as First Peter. Here’s a word from the Message Bible, a modern translation of 1 Peter 1:13-16:

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

The Apostle Peter is believed to have written this letter to persecuted believers when he was about fifty years old, just a few years before his own death as a martyr. This was during the pressure-cooker persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero in the mid-60s AD. Peter seems to be saying, “There’s only one way to survive in such an intense situation; that’s to go all out, 100%, all the time.” You’d think dedicated professional athletes would understand the need for this total commitment during the COVID crisis. Well, you’d also think dedicated Christians would understand the need for their own total commitment during the daily faith challenges they’re confronted with.

Instead, Peter says, they (the Dodgers, as well as Christians who become too casual about their faith) tend to “lazily slip back into the old grooves,” “doing just what they feel like doing.” They shouldn’t be surprised when they test positive (for either COVID or Sin).

By contrast to this careless, casual approach to living out their faith, says Peter, Christians in the pressure cooker need to be “totally ready” for daily challenges, struggles, even suffering. They should “roll up their sleeves” (Do you prefer the old King James Version’s “gird up your loins”?) and “put their mind in gear.” It’s going to take that kind of concentration to live successfully in today’s pressure cooker. To make it through, the Christian’s goal should be “a life energetic and blazing with holiness.” And how can we hope to accomplish this? The translator puts it into these intriguing words: “Let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life.”

We look forward to whatever else Peter has to tell us through this Sunday’s sermon.

– Pastor George Van Alstine