Today, 300 days after the final game of the 2019 season and 120 days later than originally scheduled, is Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. Much of what we experienced as sports fans in September will be different tonight: there will be a new field manager (Alex Cora was ‘let go’ after his ties to Houston’s cheating scandal), a new general manager (Dave Dombrowski was ‘let go’ after a lackluster season), new pitchers (3 of the 5 top starters from 2019 are either injured or gone) and a new center fielder (MVP winner Mookie Betts is now a Dodger). Off-field, things will be different as well: no fans in the stands, commentators broadcasting from off-sight studios, piped-in crowd noise, and a ban on player celebrations and arguing with umpires. Still, our national pastime is resuming and I, for one, am delighted that some things are getting back to (a new) normal.
I was asked, the other day, if I would watch the Red Sox this year, knowing that there are no reasonable expectations of a post-season and little hope of a winning season, even in its abbreviated form. I responded that I would watch and hope for the best. After all, anything can happen. The team could over-perform or one of the prospects could catch fire. Perhaps by Labor Day my optimism will wane, but for now I am anticipating big things.
In a way, what is happening at Fenway is playing out every Sunday morning at many churches around the world. Some of the players have changed (having moved to other teams), the product on the field is a little different (with less personal interaction) and most, if not all, of the seats are empty. The pandemic has changed the way we ‘do church’ and experience church: most of us are participating through the filter of digital distance, surrounded by the comforts of home with the ability to pause, mute and multitask. Like watching professional baseball, where we might be tempted to consume a product and drop out if we are dissatisfied with the outcome, sometimes our digital participation with worship is more about our available options than our openness to the Spirit.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)
Whether it is viewing the new baseball season or streaming a worship service or having a romantic date night, no one knows when this current reality will return to the ways of the past. What we can do, in this present circumstance, is elevate our digital activities to reflect some pre-March practices. Dress up for the experience before you turn on the device, turn off your phone and commit fully to what you are experiencing. If you were going to Fenway, the movies or the church, what would you do to prepare? Do that. What would you bring? Bring them. When would you leave the event? Don’t leave until then. Treat the new patterns as you would normally, for they are the new normal.
I would love to go to Fenway this summer. I would love to go to the movies with my wife. I would love to see the church full on a Sunday morning. God, today, seems to have other plans. However, whatever we do, we can do what we can to glorify God by the way we do it.
I have written before that when my family is on vacation we make it a practice to visit a church wherever our plans take us (it is a good opportunity for me to hear a sermon and for us to see how others worship). This past Sunday was no exception. I have to admit that the style and substance of the service was not my cup of tea – the time of praise was too long for my liking and the sermon was less about the scripture and more about the speaker – but I did learn at least one thing: the kingdom of God is made up of a vast variety of people, most of whom are not like me.
While I like the style or our home church, I realized as I stood there singing on Sunday that most of the brothers and sisters in the faith that were gathered around me would not fully enjoy the worship at Calvary. I assume they would feel that our singing was too brief to be effective, our message was not as easily applicable and our spiritual fervor was not as expressive. God has truly blessed His people by developing each local body of Christ with great diversity and uniqueness. Because we as individuals are all different, it makes sense that every church is different, too.
Every fellowship of believers differs in many ways, depending upon the preferences and proclivities of those in attendance. Yet, despite these differences, there are important similarities, described in such verses as this:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
All churches ought to be a gathering of people who express love, service, fellowship and encouragement. While we may not perform all these practices in similar ways, we can all prepare for Heaven by engaging in them together.
We gather together for corporate worship to express love – for God and for one another through times of praise or prayer, whether it take six minutes or sixty. We gather together for corporate worship to provoke service – expressing gratitude for God’s blessing by giving our time, talents and treasures to benefit others in response to God’s grace. We gather together for corporate worship to share in fellowship – meeting together and sharing life together, mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice. We gather together to express encouragement – sharing the hope and truth of God’s word as we anticipate the return of our Savior. That is why, even though it was not what I would choose to consistently participate in, I was glad to gather with the saints last Sunday.
With the heart of a pastor I write that I hope that everyone reading these words has a spiritual home that enables you to express your love for God, your service for others, your fellowship with the faithful and your encouragement in the Bible’s truth. If that home is not Calvary, perhaps one day while vacationing our paths will cross and we can worship together.