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The following is Part I of a sermon I preached at Glendale Baptist Church the first Sunday of Lent, the day following a memorial service for a beloved child of our congregation. Although it is particular to our context and situation on that day, the sermon also has something to say beyond that day. Part II of the sermon will be posted on Saturday.

“On Practice”

My father-in-law John has a saying:

“How you practice is how you play.”

Lynn says he heard it a thousand times growing up.

Whenever Lynn and his brother and sister were practicing their throwing, catching, fielding or batting, and one of them put on a half-hearted attempt, or swung without any gumption, or forgot to hustle to the ball, they would hear it: “How you practice is how you play.”

Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week for the majors. The practicing begins. “How you practice is how you play.”

When game time came along, Lynn the little-leaguer had to play for real. Play for keeps. His Dad was right. How he’d practiced was pretty much how he played.

When the majors gear up in six weeks, they’ll have to play for real. Play for keeps. Play for millions. Of fans and dollars. How they practice is how they’ll play. They might bring all their best practice into play at once. But it is not likely that they will play any better than they’ve practiced.

This week the time came. We had to play for real. We had to play for keeps.

But we had been practicing together – for months, years, decades.

Several people commented how amazing it was that children actually led in our service yesterday. They have been practicing. Children and youth lead worship every week at this church. They were ready to lead in prayer. How you practice is how you play.

The Roosters were ready to lead Room in the Inn. And because they didn’t even have to think about that, they also picked up on ushering, chair arranging, crowd control and hosting more than 500 people in this house of prayer and worship. The Choir has been practicing their singing. Someone near me as we walked in and overheard their rehearsal, said, “Oh, I’d forgotten how good they are.” They were just practicing downstairs in fellowship hall. How you practice is how you play.

Everyone had tasks of care and prayer that they had been practicing for years, so in the last four days we simply did them. For real. For keeps. We weren’t starting from scratch. We’ve done it all before.

Day by day. Week by week. Season by season and year by year. We practice our faith and hope. We practice praying for each other. We practice worshiping together. We practice equality and grace.

We practice loving each other so when it really matters it is easy. Nothing to it. Just cook the meals, clean the house, park the cars, move the chairs, organize the volunteers, bake the cookies, mix the lemonade, respond to the media, pour the coffee, run the copier, say the prayers, welcome the stranger, and mourn the dead.

Oh. Yeah. It’s not quite that easy.

But you and we made it look possible, if not easy, because “How you practice is how you play.”

Many lines spoken yesterday bear repeating. Here’s one. In the welcome and greeting we said, “In this hour, dear friends, we will practice faith and hope. For these are not things to be grasped or owned, but to be practiced in community.”

Over the past four days we’ve been practicing our faith and hope together. Over these days as a community of faith, we have embodied grace for each other, in a million ways. In more ways than anyone but God could ever know. And yesterday when we gathered, together we led the larger community carefully, gracefully through worship, celebration, grief and hope. How we’d practiced was how we played.

But Friends, know this, the long season of grief is just beginning. I’ve found myself saying, to many of you, this feels like a sprint, and it has been. But dear ones, it is also a marathon. We have some digging in to do. Some practice to take us deeper. The road of grief ahead demands our practice. We must not just focus on grief, anymore than Lynn the little leaguer or any of the major leaguers could just practice catching. We also need to hear the call to practice our worship (here we are), our praying (that’s next), our celebrations (pie supper tonight), and our hope, because . . .

“How you practice is how you play.”