You’re Grounded

Grounded, a photo essay by Tommie Marshell commissioned by Grace UMC

A lot has changed, and it has changed quickly. At first we thought this was just a bad flu, then we thought we could just wash our hands more, then we thought we could flatten the curve by shutting down for a couple weeks. Then it got really serious really fast. A lot has changed, and it has changed quickly. 

But this week felt different. This week, at least for me, it hit me that this isn’t getting easier yet, and that it’s not going away soon.  What were at first adrenaline-packed decisions to change plans so we could separate, isolate, and hunker down, this week they are long-term life-changes that are adrenaline-resistant and instead demand long-suffering endurance. It feels like there’s been a shift in the last week from “do what you have to do to make it through today, it’ll be over soon,” to, “okay, it’s time to think about what this means for these changes to last a long while.” 

Every individual, family, and business has gone through this in real time. If you’ve felt it too on Facebook, drop a relevant emoji or an Amen. In the church world a friend put it well saying “first it was a scramble to figure out how to get everything online, then it was a scramble to make Holy Week and Easter happen, and now, we have to figure out how to be the church in exile from now until Christmas.”

That’s what I told the staff this week, by the way, so I might as well tell you too. While we are monitoring everything very closely and would love to be wrong about this, right now we do not expect business or church-as-usual to return until Christmas at the earliest.

Yeah. It stinks. It’s sad. It feels like everything has changed, there’s not much we can do about it. 

Grounded, a photo essay by Tommie Marshell commissioned by Grace UMC

We are not the first to feel this way you know. This is what the early Christians thought was happening to them, only they were expecting a drastic positive change. Right after Christ’s resurrection, the word spread about him and about how his resurrection was the first of many. That if you were baptized into him, you would find forgiveness of sins and be taken up with him. That the Good News of Jesus Christ meant recovery of sight to the blind and the liberation of the oppressed and the healing of all ailments. That all of the sorrow would be changed to joy, any day now.

But by the year 75 or so, while the movement had grown, people were starting to get anxious. I mean, they had given their lives up for this. They had willingly changed so much of their behavior, where they shopped, what groups they joined, what they did for money, what they did with money. They had changed everything based on this promise of change and often sacrificed based on this promised change leaving them socially isolated and more vulnerable than they had imagined they’d be. They were losing faith and growing in fear. 

They needed to hear something to convince them not to give up and run out on this Christ who had so radically changed their lives. They needed some assurance. They needed a pep talk. That’s why the Apostle Peter wrote them this letter in which he basically sounds like a 1st century Coach Taylor. 

Coach Taylor is the fictional football coach of the Dillon Panthers of Dillon High School in Dillon, Texas from the TV show Friday Night Lights.

Recently the writers from dozens of hit shows were asked to imagine their characters in a Coronavirus episode. Everyone from the writers of All in the Family to Larry David to Elmo got to weigh in, but the Friday Night Lights entry, a speech from Coach Taylor, reminded me of today’s passage from 1st Peter. 

Read the full Friday Night Lights speech here.

The scene opens in the Panther’s Locker Room just after news of Coronavirus closures was coming in. It’s an emergency team meeting. The team takes a knee and Coach Taylor begins. 

The district announced schools will be closed starting tomorrow,” he said,
“so this is the last time we’ll be meeting for a while. Maybe a long while. The least important thing right now is football. However. It’s still damn important. You’re still on this team. You still have football responsibilities. We’re lucky enough to live in Texas. There’s tons of empty spaces. Go find one and do your running, do your stretches, do your conditioning. If you’re a quarterback, hang a truck tire in your yard and throw a football through it an hour every day. Is that understood?
TEAM:  “Yes, sir.”

There’s a reason why we got a football team and that’s not just to win games. It’s so in difficult times we have each other. Well, this is about as difficult of a time as any of us could imagine. I want you to use each other. Stay in touch as a community. Be there for each other on your phones, on Twitter, on FaceTime or whatever other kind of crap you use. And you all got my number. Call me. I know I usually tell you knuckleheads not to call me on my cell unless it’s an emergency, but right now everything is an emergency. You feeling a little sick, call me. Feeling a little down, call me. Is that understood?
TEAM, “Yes, sir.”

We may not be on the field together right now, but we are all in this together. Together, we are going to stay strong. We are going to stay united. We are going to stay healthy. And anyone who thinks that we’re not going to beat this, they don’t know this town, they don’t know this nation, and they sure as hell don’t know this team. I’ll miss you all. Tell your families that Tami and I are thinking of them. Tell them you’re all in our prayers. Stay healthy. Stay safe. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Read the full Friday Night Lights speech by Jason Katims here.

It’s great stuff. Do you hear what Coach Taylor does? Addressing the situation with honesty but reminding the team who they are, what they know, and who they’re called to be. It’s exactly what Peter does too. 

The Apostle Peter by Giuseppe Nogari, 1743

Peter writes to them and says, “yeah, we are going to suffer for a while. A long while. But there’s one thing that all that suffering cannot change. If you are overwhelmed and longing for a God who is powerful enough to handle this stuff, guess what? You already know this God.” 

Peter tells the church, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ who was destined before the foundation of the world. You have been purchased. You have been claimed. You have been chosen. In other words, You’re already on this team. You were drafted permanently by Jesus Christ who was and is and is to come.

Through Christ you have come to trust in God, It was his Spirit that brought you to your knees and opened your heart to the good news that the God of judgment that was worthy of your fear is in fact the God of Grace that is worthy of your trust. Now is not the time to stop trusting. 

Now is the time to dig in and trust that your faith and hope are set on God. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Coach Taylor told his team. “There’s a reason why we got a football team and that’s not just to win games.” Peter tells the church, “There’s a reason why we got a savior and a church, and it’s not just to feel good about ourselves or so we can get to heaven when we die.” It’s so in difficult times we have each other, we have someone to coach us. It’s so when it seems that everything has changed we have someone to remind us of the Good News that as far as the Gospel is concerned, nothing has changed.  

So quarterbacks, hang a truck tire in your yard and throw a football through it for an hour every day. Okay, no, Peter didn’t write those words. But they’re not far off. Here, let me try. Let me channel my inner Coach Taylor and Apostle Peter.

People of Grace, we may not be in this building together right now to deal with it, but we are all together in this, and by this I mean grace. We already Grounded in Grace, in Christ together. We were grounded by grace before this, we will be grounded by Grace after this. In Christ, Grace is the one thing that will not change.  

To paraphrase Coach Taylor, together in Christ, we are going to stay strong. We are going to stay united. And anyone who thinks that we’re not going to get through this, they don’t know this congregation, they don’t know this Gospel, and they sure as hell don’t know this God. Is that understood? 

These changes might not be going anywhere for a while, and that’s going to be hard, but before we turn away, and definitely before we rush back to get to the way things were, let us hear again the Good News that when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nothing has changed. Your sins are already forgiven, your death is already defeated, you are already grounded by grace and chosen to be the church that lives in hope, and reflects the Light of Christ wherever you go… or don’t go.

So one last thing. There is nothing you must do for this to be true. It is already true, because it is the Word of God. It is what God has already done. But, because we’re already Grounded by this Grace, because we’ve already been drafted by God onto this team, that means that now, even now, we’ve still got team responsibilities. 

Grounded, a photo essay by Tommie Marshell commissioned by Grace UMC

So, you heard your coaches, if you’re a quarterback, hang a truck tire in your yard and throw a football through it an hour every day. If you’re still working, work like a Christian. If you’re grounded at home or quarantined, quarantine like a Christian. Quarantine like someone who knows they’ve already been already grounded.Pray, worship, study, stay connected, reach out, be generous, trust God. 

Remember, you’re already Grounded by Grace. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Risen Lord. Can’t lose. Amen.

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