Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bringing Justice to Baseball (And I'm not talking about Dave)

I don’t believe I’m going too far out on a theological limb when I write that God cares about baseball. Now understand, I’m not saying God waits anxiously on His golden porch for a celestial paper carrier so he can fervently study the box scores. Not saying the heavenly cries of “Holy, holy, holy” are muffled when an ump shouts “Play ball!”

But He does care.

There was a time in America when pigmentation along with talent was a part of the criteria for playing professional baseball. And I know God was not pleased.

All of Scripture proclaims that our God is a God of Justice. And the rules that barred black players from baseball were not just. Therefore, God’s people shouldn’t have been pleased with the situation either.

Sadly, many Christians didn’t give the matter a thought. After all, it’s just a game.
And when there are people starving and souls to be saved, why bother with a silly game? Anyway, there was a Negro League, so why not just let things go as they were, “separate but equal”?

Writer/director Brian Helgeland’s film, 42, tells the history of two Christian men who sought to bring God’s justice, a bit of His Kingdom, to the world of baseball.

Branch Rickey (played by Indiana… sorry, by Harrison Ford) believed it was his duty as the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (sorry to you, Giants fans) to field the best team possible to take his club to the World Series. He also believed that his beloved sport being segregated by race was an affront to God’s justice and needed to end. In Jackie Robinson, Rickey saw an opportunity to pursue both of these goals.

Robinson (a breakthrough role for Chadwick Boseman) had felt the brunt of racism throughout his life. (He was court-martialed in the army for refusing to go to the back of a bus and other fraudulent charges, but was acquitted.) He was excited to take the opportunity to join the big leagues, partly because the money was much better than in the Negro Leagues. He wanted to play at what was seen as the highest level.

But he wondered why Rickey had chosen him. In the film, Rickey tells Robinson, “You’re a Methodist, I’m a Methodist, God’s a Methodist.” Rickey knew that to face the bureaucratic obstacles, petty inconveniences, and outright hate that integration would bring their way, their faith would be essential – as would be the knowledge and practice of Jesus’ teaching.

Rickey told Robinson that if they were to succeed, Robinson would need to have the courage and strength to put into practice “our Lord’s” command to turn the other cheek. He asked Robinson to take the curses, the spitting, the bean balls -- even being spiked by cleats -- and not strike back.

It was Jackie Robinson’s faithful obedience to Christ’s words that brought a relatively quick and peaceful end to the abomination of segregated baseball.

God does care about baseball, because people He loves care about the game.

He cares about the work and play of all of His people.

As Martin Luther wrote, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn while she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

In your part of the world, in your work or play, is there a way that you can bring God’s justice and love where it is missing? If so, God may well be calling you to wear “42” on your back as well.

(42 is rated PG-13, primarily for harsh language including racial epithets.)

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