Today was opening day. A new beginning. If you haven’t met me in person, or perhaps the last time we spoke was when I was 16, you might not know this, but I am OBSESSED with sports. I spend a lot of my free time watching, playing and investing in sports and sports related activities. Baseball is high on that list. Today was the day that the 2020 season was set to kick off, with my beloved Milwaukee Brewers facing their arch-rival Chicago Cubs. It was going to be a good day.
My brother and I usually meet up at our favorite local restaurant to grab some pizza and a drink and watch the game. We order this bacon cheeseburger pizza that is really good, but not really good for you. We, like all sport loving middle aged men do, eagerly anticipate this occasion, and stuff ourselves full, eating the entire pizza no matter what. It’s not a great way to watch your waistline, but it definitely feels like the right thing to do in the moment. It’s one of my absolute favorite days of the year – and right now it’s not happening.
Someday, someone will look back and be reading this post, and wonder what was going on. Why isn’t there opening day? Why didn’t you go to the restaurant? What could possibly have kept you from doing the things that you love so much? Someday this will all be an afterthought or an asterisk in a record book. That day is not today.
Today, the majority of the world is doing the very thing I spend my life trying to convince them they should not. Isolating. Withdrawing themselves from society and the physical presence of others. We are doing so, because there is a threat, an illness, a virus, that challenges almost everything about our current way of life. Because of this sickness, we have closed schools and churches, called off concerts and ballgames, shut down restaurants and places of work – and replaced them with sitting in our homes thinking about all that we’re missing and wishing for. Life is better when we live it in community, when we do it together – but instead today, we do something else together, and stay in.
As a pastor, and more importantly a Christian – there are a multitude of reasons I am staying in. True, I don’t WANT to get sick, but I am not really afraid of having it happen to me. Most people my age, in my current state of health, are able to fend off the symptoms without too much suffering – some don’t even know they’ve had it – so that’s not real high on my list. If I’m being honest, there’s a lot of peer pressure to stay in as well. Well-meaning people, meaning for others to remain well – many of whom I don’t want to make angry. But the real reason I am primarily staying in, is because I do not want to contribute to endangering another. My 65 year old mother has diminished lungs, and I don’t want to put her at risk. Many members of my congregation are at an age, or facing health concerns that also place them in the “danger zone” – and so I stay inside and away, in an effort to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. It really does seem like the least I can do.
But if I am being honest, it’s taking all of my effort and energy to (not) do it. In moments like these, everything inside of me wants to be out DOING something to help people face and defeat the situations that they are in. It’s who I am and what I believe in. When a tornado or hurricane blows through someplace, destroying everything in its path, and leaving chaos in its wake – we come together, and help each other pick up the pieces of our lives. When addiction has taken over the life of someone we value – we gather and tell them that although they have many changes to make, they will not have to make them alone. When cancer, heart disease, and other health issues take the lives of those we love – all those that care come together and mourn TOGETHER – because their is power in the speaking and sharing of grief. It’s who we are. It’s what we were made for.
There are a lot of things that are threatening to divide us today, both the most and least of which is toilet paper. People are hoarding it, because they are afraid they will run out. Grocery and department store shelves, normally bursting at the seams, are empty, revealing much about our care and concern about our fellow man. Truth be told though, that with which we cleanse our behinds, will be the least of worries soon enough. Most people are probably more concerned about our “daily bread.” The money we need to live, and the food we need to survive. When or if those things actually become scarce, I fear we will see an entire other level of human depravity that I have to admit, I’m just not ready for. Sad and scary times to be sure.
But they (we), are not without hope. SO MANY people have come together to do good for one another. People packing and delivering meals and supplies to those less fortunate or at risk in our communities. People buying and eating take out to keep those whose jobs depend on it gainfully employed. People continuing to work in an effort, and with resolve to keep our economy functioning. People using what they have or have access to to create what is needed for those who are on the front lines fighting the fight for our very lives. These are the signs that something about us is redeemed and redeeming. When the rubber meets the road, many of us are willing to lay down pieces and parts of ourselves to make things happen for other people. This has made today better, and brighter to be sure.
There are those who would ask; “where is God in the midst of all of this? Why is He silent? Why would He allow such suffering? When will He make it all end?” I think those questions have answers, though not especially easy ones. I believe God IS in the midst of all this. No He did not CAUSE this. This virus is not His way of bringing judgment on our world. Instead, He is in the hearts and spirits of each doctor and nurse, each grocery store worker, each first responder, food packer and person who calls Him Lord. He is helping us to walk through and weather the storm – and bring hope and healing in the middle of it. God is NOT silent. He just might not be speaking through those you’d expect Him to. He won’t be holding nationally covered news conferences or putting out a press release. He’ll just continue to speak through those who know and love Him, and are dedicated to doing His work in this ever-changing world. Through them (us), God wants to and IS putting an end to the suffering we face, which He only is “allowing” because in many ways, we brought it on ourselves. Sin is the bigger issue at hand here, and to eliminate it, He would have to eliminate us – and THAT is something He will NEVER be willing to do.
And so we come to “the end.” When will it all be over? Soon enough, I believe. Schools and churches will once again be filled. Concert halls and stadiums will overflow. Restaurants and businesses will be busy again. Baseball will have an opening day. Of this I am sure. But I hope for more than that. I hope for a day when the fear we now face is overcome by the faith we are capable of having – and the One we can have it in. I pray for the day when our initial reaction in times of uncertainty is to be more concerned about the PERSON next door than the PAPER with which we wipe. I believe that a day is coming when believing in something bigger, means BEING something different than what we have demonstrated ourselves to be up to this point. One nation – not an earthly one but His – under the God who gave us life both now and forever. A people called by His name, and creating a place He will let us call home. A fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. Opening Day. Perhaps it really is today.