Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trading Places

The National Hockey League trading deadline was very busy for goalie Jaroslav Halak. Players who are traded move from one team to another. In Halak's case, he was moved twice: once from the St. Louis Blues to the Buffalo Sabres, then, less than a week later, from the Sabres to the Washington Capitals.

Someone who thought about these trades in terms of their impact on Halak would have contemplated an emotional swing. Halak was moved from the Blues, a playoff team with a very good chance to contend for the Stanley Cup. It must have been disappointing to go to the Sabres, a team that was one of the bottom feeders in the 2013-2014 season. Disappointment would then have given way to a better hope, when Halak was traded to the Capitals, a team that has struggled this season to find its identity but might be poised to make a run after shoring up its goaltending.

Someone who thought about these trades in terms of their impact on the teams involved would have thought very differently about these trades. Each team orchestrated a trade in an effort to improve itself and better their chances for the future. The Blues believed that they needed to upgrade their goaltending in order to win, so they went after the one goalie (Ryan Miller, acquired from the Sabres) whom they believed would improve the team. 

The Sabres, in return, were focused on rebuilding their team and wanted to move an asset (Miller) at the right time, when they could extract the most for him from another team. In return for this trade, the Sabres received Halak, a forward, and a prospect. But they weren't finished. To continue upgrading the team for the future, the Sabres flipped Halak less a week later, without him even playing a game for them. They traded him to the Capitals in exchange for another goaltender and a young defenseman.

For the Capitals, acquiring Halak was meant to be the last piece of a puzzle designed to push them into a playoff run.

One player, three teams. Each team moved or received the same player in an effort to upgrade and improve their team. Halak's story is perhaps the most interesting of all the trade stories that happened at this year's trading deadline. There were many moving pieces as teams worked hard to improve before making that final rush to the playoffs. And yet, of all the teams involved in trades, including the three that were involved with Halak, there is only one team that can win the Stanely Cup at the end of the playoffs. The rest will fail to reach this goal.

At the end of the season, despite all the work, all the effort, all the maneuvering and all the attempts to improve, almost every team will fail to win the prize.

The letter to the Romans is a fascinating letter. In this letter, Paul writes to a church that is a blend of Jewish and Gentile believers. There is tension within this group. There is jealousy. There is competition. The Jewish believers thought the Gentiles were depraved johnny-come-latelys who had all the opportunity to know God but arrived late to the party. They were too corrupt to observe the law properly. Yet, the same Jewish believers, Paul said, were unnable to keep the law themselves, showing themselves to be corrupt when they judged others for not observing.

Both groups proved the rule Paul established: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Despite our own efforts to improve, to play by the rules, to observe the law, we find ourselves in the same position. God's glory is in front of us, but we are all sinners. We are enemies of God (Romans 3:23; 5:8, 10). We try to improve, we try to get better, but ultimately, like hockey teams maneuvering in the last hours of the trading deadline, only to come up short in the playoffs, we still fail.

Our attempts to improve our standing before God are futile. We are made right with God not because we earned it, played the hardest, or made the best move. We are made right with God through the gospel. We are justified by faith. As Paul wrote, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (5:8). Later, he added, "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (5:10).

God showed his love for us through the death of Jesus. We were reconciled to him by the death of Jesus. Our efforts to improve our lives before God are futile apart from his love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (5:5). 

God's gospel saves us and teaches us about God's love for us apart from our own ability to earn it. God loves us and saves us. Let us stand firm in that.

Jeremy Hoover is the minister at the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan. His website is at www.jeremyhoover.com. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys biographies about athletes and books by coaches. His favorite sports are hockey, where he roots for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and football, where he pulls for the New England Patriots.

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