Baseball’s Opening Day And The National Day Of Prayer
What in the world does Opening Day of baseball season have to do with the National Day of Prayer? Well, I’m sure that some people at the ball game were praying, especially when the Rays were down 5 to 3 in the bottom of the ninth inning; and it is true that we hold our National Day of Prayer at Brighthouse Field, where the Phillies and the Threshers play, but that’s not the connection I’m talking about.
Let’s take them one at a time. This morning (Thursday) at 11:30AM I attended a lunch/prayer meeting with about 60 pastors or ministry leaders that had gathered together at Calvary Chapel St. Pete for the upcoming annual “National Day of Prayer” gathering that we will be held at 7:00PM on Thursday, May 5 at, as I said, Brighthouse Field in Clearwater. Pastor Randy Morris of Gulf Coast church said that about 85 churches have agreed to join in this year. I think this will be the eleventh year that the churches in central Pinellas County (mostly) have come together for a time of corporate worship and prayer on the one day that our country – sort of – sets aside as a ‘National’ Day of prayer (The first Thursday of May).
As you can probably see in the photo above, at our lunch meeting there are old and young; black, white, Hispanic; and male and female. What you can’t see or determine is which folks are the Baptists, Reformed, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglican, Lutherans, or the Non-denominationals (and usually there’s a Roman Catholic in the mix). I know that you might assume that the black woman in front of me with her hands raised MUST be Pentecostal, but I’m pretty sure she’s a Methodist! Anyway, it’s always thrilling for me to be together with all of these different church leaders for this one unifying event – an event in which we forget about our theological nuances, worship styles, and historical denominational differences, and focus on the one (of many) doctrinal truths we all agree upon: Christ and Christ crucified. This point of agreement stems from the Apostle Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 2:2,
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
It is the life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through the sacrificial actions of Jesus Christ upon the cross and out of the grave into the Father’s presence that unites all Christians. That’s what we all focus on. It was one of Jesus’ deepest desires that His Body – all believers – the Church universal – would be united, unified in the faith that we all share in Christ. In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer found in John 17 Jesus said this about ‘being one in Him’ in verses twenty through twenty-three:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will
believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that
You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You
gave Me, that they may be one as We are one – I in them
and You in Me – so that they may be brought to complete
unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have
loved them even as You have loved Me.”
We here at Grace Christian Fellowship may have some different theological views than my friend Pastor Randy Morris and his church – Gulf Coast Church – have, as we both do with some of the views of Pastor Willie Rice and his church – Calvary Baptist has. BUT I believe that both Pastor Randy and Pastor Willie would have me stand in their pulpit and preach on a Sunday, just as I would be honored to have them preach in my pulpit if invited and/or necessary. The three of us would not ‘abuse’ the privilege by expounding on some of our subtle differences (unless specifically asked to), but rather, the three of us would honor the Lord, God’s Word, and each other, by preaching on Christ and Christ crucified, which is the Gospel – the message that brings sinners into the family of God in the first place.
This unity and love, which is exemplified during our National Day of Prayer rally, is what King David, Jesus, and the apostles Peter, Paul, and John said would show the world that the Spirit of Christ was truly within us, and would enable all of us as Christians to reach a place of maturity – a maturity that the Lord desires for all of us (Psalm 133:1; Matthew 12:25; 1 Peter 3:8; Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 John 4:12).
Okay, so I’ve told you about the National Day of Prayer and the beautiful display of Christian unity that surrounds the event and the times leading up to it, but what in the world is the connection with Opening Day of baseball season. Well, let’s now talk a little baseball.
This past Sunday afternoon, Becky and I had the joyous privilege to be at Tropicana Field for the Major League Baseball home opener between our Tampa Bay Rays and the American League Eastern Division Champions of 2015 – Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays have had nineteen home openers at Tropicana and I’ve been to eighteen of them. The only one I didn’t get to was the very first game, March 31, 1998, against the Detroit Tigers. Because it was our first game in our inaugural season, those tickets were sold out months before.
BUT I did get to the second game that first season, and THAT was the first game they ever won! From that point on, I’ve been to all of the home opening games (and just in case you’re wondering, the Rays opening day record is 9-10). For many of us baseball fans the winter months are way too long. It reminds me of what Hall of Famer Roger Hornsby said about his anticipation of another season of baseball:
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.
I’ll tell you what I do – I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
And then there’s a similar quote from the famous baseball team owner Bill Veeck: “There are only two seasons – winter and baseball.” “Okay, okay….GET TO YOUR POINT RANDY!!”
Alright, so what I’m trying to say is this: I noticed something very strange at the home opener that you definitely won’t see near the end of the season, let’s say by the third week of September. Since there are a good number of Canadians who live in the Tampa Bay area (the Toronto Blue Jays have their spring training facilities in Dunedin) there were a good number of Blue Jays fans at this opening game. Of course, the Trop is sold out – people are everywhere – and there were many more Rays fans present, but it almost seemed like nobody cared who was rooting for who. Blue Jay fans were walking in and sitting with Rays fans, and everyone was just laughing, smiling, and high-fiving each other.
And then I realized what was going on. Nobody cared that we were rooting for different teams – we were all unified under the banner of Baseball – the Great American Pastime. EVERYBODY belted out the Star Spangled Banner; and EVERYBODY belted out O Canada; and then EVERYBODY got teary-eyed when we sang GOD BLESS AMERICA (Okay, I know that I did); and finally EVERYBODY joined in together to sing TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME during the Seventh Inning Stretch. Oh sure, we Rays fans were cheering for the Rays, and the Blue Jays fans screamed when their short stop – Troy Tulowitzki – hit a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning – but we were ALL happy and celebrating for the same reason – BASEBALL was back in motion.
Look here below at this photo taken at my 40th high school reunion in 2013. Here we have me (I’m the one with the Rays jersey on) my friend since kindergarten – Kathy Gruber (Sharpless), who lives in Boston (I’m sure you can notice the Red Sox cap on her head!). But look at the love and admiration shared between us! We both love baseball, and we both root hard for our own teams, but what brings us together? Well, one thing we DON’T share is that we both appeared to have aged much differently! Kathy looks just as lovely as she did in high school! But what we do share is that we both were born and raised in Dover, New Jersey; we’ve been friends for fifty-five years, and we both proudly belong to the much beloved Dover High School Class of ’73. What we share as friends and schoolmates goes much deeper than the teams we root for during baseball season. Oh, you must remember that 99% of my other classmates were Yankee fans, and they refused to don their jerseys and share a photo opt with a Rays and Red Sox fan!
Now, of course, I am not trying to compare perfectly the jubilant unity that is shared between baseball fans on Opening Day with the triumphant unity that believers of all Christian denominations share because of our mystical union with the crucified and risen Christ Jesus, but it does show us the joy that a shared experience can and should have between people with the same roots.
The sad reality though, is that once the Opening Day excitement wears off, baseball fans will find it very unpleasant to sit near the ‘bad guys’ rooting for the ‘other’ team. But the sadder reality is that after the National Day of Prayer many Christians who were unified under the Christian banner of ‘Christ and Christ Crucified’ will push that unity by the wayside and become critical of that “new booming seeker-sensitive church” down the street, or quietly rejoice in our hearts when we see a ‘competitor church’ (Who ever heard of such a thing?!!) begin to crumble, or the church we left in order to go to the one we’re at now is ‘stumbling without us’. That’s not the unity that Christ wants for HIS BODY – HIS CHURCH. It should break our heart when a fellow believer – of any Christian denomination – struggles or falls – or when another Christian Church crumbles or goes through a particularly stressful trial.
The Christian unity that Jesus aches to see begins in the local church. We at Grace Christian Fellowship need to be unified with our understanding of our mission: Repurposing lives by sharing God’s refreshing grace; and purpose – to get as many people together to share in the Thanksgiving Feast that we share with Christ and our family. And then that unity should overflow to and with our relationships with other believers from other churches. Don’t brag about your church to other believers, and please don’t try to convince other believers to leave their church and come to ours. The only reason you should do so is if they are asking because they are not being fed the Gospel, or there is a glaring doctrinal concern, AND they have done everything they could to rectify the issues, or to be reconciled with the leadership of the church.
And finally, let us encourage each other in our shared faith – first, right here at Grace Christian Fellowship, and then by loving and encouraging and praying for other Christians, other pastors, and other Gospel preaching churches. When we begin to love the Church as Christ loves the Church, then we will begin to see amazing things happen in the Church universal, our local churches in Pinellas County, our own church, and then in our own lives as well.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35