On Baseball and Loving Our Neighbor During COVID-19

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After a Zoom meeting yesterday, I read this story about Bob Muzikowski (it’s from a number of years ago)—on his way to work one day he saw a baseball field in one of the poor neighborhoods of Chicago. Remembering his own days of growing up and playing baseball he thought, “these kids could really use a little league.” Bob teamed up with a friend to create the Near North Little League. In a short amount of time 250 boys, filled with enthusiasm but knowing little about baseball, were practicing and playing the game. Each game began with prayer and cursing was strictly forbidden. Bob said about the whole deal, “While I had no illusions that I would change the world, I had no doubt God wanted me to play baseball with these kids. My faith has taught me that being a Christian means truly believing what Jesus said about loving my neighbor.”

Bob is leaving an imprint on the lives of a lot of kids. That’s really what we want—we want to leave our imprint on the lives of people, we want to leave an imprint on this world.

As I hear of churches trying to decide if they should open for worship a number of questions swirl around in my mind after reading about Bob:

  1. What is the imprint we are making on our neighborhood when we open, in this case I believe we really do want to be concerned about “what the neighbors think.”
  2. What does it mean to love our neighbors and our neighborhoods in this moment? Does loving our neighbors mean asking them when we should open? Does loving our neighborhood mean honoring the fears and concerns our neighbors may have of large groups of people gathering close to them?
  3. How do we live out the reality that Bob speaks, “My faith has taught me that being a Christian means truly believing what Jesus said about loving my neighbor.”

Finally, a Jesus story sticks in my mind from Matthew 12: “He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” (Matt. 12:9–14 NRSV)

In Jesus day there is an argument about what is the second greatest commandment. Is it “keep the sabbath” or is it “love your neighbor”? Jesus always comes down on the side of “love your neighbor.” In this passage Jesus is not only saying that healing a human being is worth more than rescuing a sheep he seems to be saying that healing a human being is worth more than the sabbath.

If humans are more important than sabbath, what does that say in this time of COVID-19 about opening our churches for worship? This is a question not only because of the possible danger to our own congregational members, but also because of the danger of spreading COVID-19 out to our neighbors. If I’ve read this right and a healing a human is more important than keeping the Sabbath laws how does that speak into our choices and what do our choices reveal about our values?

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Thanks for your thoughts, Larry.  I appreciate you helping us grapple with this issue.  I may be reading it wrong, but I feel as if you are saying that it is not loving your neighbor to open worship on Sundays again.  People need people.  Living in isolation is now how God designed us to function.  I think in many cases there must be a loving way to open corporate worship while still trying to maintain practices that promote public health and safety.