Audio Sermon click HERE
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and as Pastor Susan mentioned last week – we have learned not to compete with your Super Bowl parties.
And how could we?
Compared to church, the Super Bowl offers:
- Well, to begin with – food. (Do you remember the last time someone offered you chicken wings and beer during worship? Me neither)
- Better seating. (Wooden pews are not meant for stretching out and getting comfortable)
- And, some might say a reason to deeply and desperately pray! We pray in church, for sure. But usually not so hard that we break into a cold sweat from holding our breath while twisting in agony or exultation, when our team is on the 1-yard line about to score.
Whether you dislike sports or never miss a game, there is something to learn by looking at the Super Bowl through the lens of church.
Now, I will freely confess here – I am not a football fan, I do not have a pony in today’s race, nor do I have any legitimate predictions about who might win.
Maybe you do….
- How many of you are pulling for the 49’ers?
- Who would like to see the Kansas City Chief’s win?
- How many of you are like me, you just don’t care?
Still, I plan to watch. And I plan to root for the Chief’s. Not because I really care or know anything about the team. But because for the past 7-years that my neighbors have lived next door to me – I have low key made fun of the Kansas City Chiefs flag they fly on their front stoop. Every time I walk past their house with my dogs I think – “Oh bless their hearts – the Kansas City Chiefs…” And it turns out they’ve got an impressive team showing up to the Super Bowl. So, I am rooting for the Chiefs by way of making amends to my lovely neighbors.
How about you? Do you all have plans to watch the Super Bowl?
What is it about the Super Bowl that draws both sports fanatics, and whatever the opposite of a fanatic is…. the indifferent? Is it:
- Humans violently crashing into each other?
- Tormenting suspense?
- The possibility of a shocking half-time wardrobe malfunction?
Rayna, my source for all things football and a SUPER fan – she has a familial loyalty to the LA Raiders, but is a Green Bay Packers fan by choice.
When I put this question to her, “Rayna, what is so special about the Super Bowl?” she effortlessly responded, “The Super Bowl is special because it has something for everyone:
- football super fans who are ALL IN for the game (even if your team isn’t playing)
- pop culture fans who watch for the commercials
- entertainment enthusiasts are there for the half-time show (JLo and Shakira!)
- and even if none of that appeals to you there is simply to joy of gathering with family and friends, people you like.
I agree with her assessment – I can find myself on that list.
Ultimately the Super Bowl machine is driven by all of the above AND fans with intense dedication to their teams. The more invested you are, the more exciting it is.
Say the words, “Super Bowl” to any random person on the street, and even the ones least interested in sports will be able to tell you that this is professional football’s pinnacle of excellence.
But, the MOST devoted fans are the ones that feel so connected to the glory of a Super Bowl title, that they stand in front of the television screaming, “RUN!”, “GET HIM!”, “THROW IT!” as if the player can actually hear these commands! We may think our fandom makes a difference in the way our team plays; we can enter the stadium backwards or wear the same pair of socks each game. We can wear the “right” gear and chant the “right” cheers, but deep down we know those things don’t really matter. Because ultimately, it’s not about getting the win – It’s about being a part of something bigger than ourselves, together. That sentiment is so effectively demonstrated by the fans of the English, Liverpool Football Club.
At my house we pronounce football – Futbal because we are soccer fans. Of course, by their very nature, both US football fans and soccer fans in the UK really love their favorite sport. However, when it comes to fan dynamics, there is a world of difference – the most prominent being, the stadium atmosphere. From the starting whistle to the end of the game, fans will be chanting, singing and banging drums. It is not unusual for the crowd to break out singing, You’ll Never Walk Alone – in unison.
Yes, the 1945 song from Rodgers and Hammersteins – Broadway show, Carousel.
The song was an instant hit because of its war time message of hope, in times of adversity. The piece remained popular throughout the 50’s and in 1963, a recording by a prominent English band, Gerry and the Pacemakers brought it to the doorstep of the Liverpool Football Club. Legend has it that the organization had just installed a new PA system which they used to hype crowds with popular music of the day. You’ll Never Walk Alone was both a fan and a player favorite.
The song took on a much deeper and more tragic meaning after the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, when a human crush at the gate of the stadium injured hundreds and 96 fans lost their lives. Those who perished are, to this day, known as the Hillsborough 96.
We belong to something much bigger AND we never walk alone. Jesus’ whole ministry was dedicated to teaching us that lesson!
That is what is at the heart of the scripture Rayna read from the book of Romans.
Jesus didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, rather he jumped right in and got involved. He takes on the troubles of the troubled, and encourages them – encourages us – today, to do the same – in order that we may help each other grow and become one in the Spirit for the glory of God.
Eugene Peterson says it this way, “May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to God!”.
When Liverpool fans break out into song they are lifting up the team as much as each other and it is a stunning anthem to God.
The analogies of professional sports versus church aren’t perfect. Church isn’t made up of opposing teams in which we root against each other!
So, please don’t take me to task after worship by running that play too far down the line. But, there are parallels – don’t you think?
Here’s another one, the more games you watch, the more you care about the players, coaches and the franchise. Partly because of the time (and in some cases money) you’ve invested and the memories that have been generated. Isn’t that the same with church? Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
So, if worship does not have you on the edge of your pew, ready to leap into action, maybe you need to get more involved. Maybe it’s time for you volunteer to work with the children that sometimes distract you during worship. Maybe it’s finally time to embrace the vulnerability of authentic leadership and offer to lead that Sunday morning Spiritual Formation group you’ve been wanting for yourself. Or maybe it’s just time to reach out and ask that person you admire from afar if they would accompany you through something difficult in your life right now.
We are a team! And if the Super Bowl teaches us anything it’s that there is joy in the journey that we travel together. As a process person, what I believe and what I want you to know is that how we get to where we’re going is equally as important as where were going! The strong don’t leave the weak behind. We build each other up with encouragement and enthusiasm.
Church is not a spectator sport. It takes more than just showing up with painted faces and cheering for the other players to do their jobs. We are team mates and we are all in it together! Win or lose, a team supports each other no matter what. Just like players in the Super Bowl hold out a hand to their teammates (and in the best of examples, their opponents) when they are down, just as players encourage each other on the sidelines when they are losing, or celebrate with them when they are winning, so are we called to endure and encourage one another as the body of Christ.
Whether you plan to watch the game this afternoon or not, make this day a Super Sunday! Why not:
- Have a conversation with someone you have struggled to agree with in the past.
- Compliment someone you have judged or dismissed, and tell them what you love and admire about them
- Invite someone who feels awkward in new situations, to sit with you at lunch or to join you in a Spiritual Formation group
- Take a hot bubble bath and forgive yourself for loving your friends and family but not the Super Bowl!
Church is the place where we train and practice our game, the place we work hard to develop our courage muscles so we are ready to move the ball of justice and love down to the end zone. And we want to do that with the same kind of enthusiasm and joy as those who show up for the Super Bowl whether their team is in it or not!
For God so loved the world. Not some, not this group or that one – the WORLD! That’s the win! So, no matter what happens today, tomorrow or in the upcoming year – whether you feel like a winner or a loser – you are irrevocably loved and called to share that good news with others, enthusiastically and with joy.