180826 – A Football Faith

Yr B ~ P12 ~ Ephesians 6:10-20

Let’s talk football today – because, obviously, football is a perfect metaphor for faith. There are many different kinds of football to talk about. There’s Canadian football with 3 downs – there’s American football with 4 downs – there’s Australian Rules football which is more like rugby – and there’s what we call soccer – which is really the only game in the bunch that should logically be called “foot”-ball at all, but that’s another conversation entirely.

Football – every variety – is a real team game. While there may be individual stars the success of the team depends on the play of the whole team working in concert toward a common goal. And in many games the individual stars may not be able to work their magic if the other members of the team don’t execute their roles well. Unlike individual sports like tennis or swimming or track and field, you really can’t play football without a team.
Faith is like football – you need a team.

Guess what the number one spectator sport in the world is? – football!
You can call yourself a fan without ever having even touched a ball. You can sit at home on your couch and be a knowledgeable, devoted, passionate follower of football without ever doing more than reading the sports page and watching the hi-light shows on TV – heck, you don’t even have to sit through a whole game.

You can watch TV shows analyzing the game, reliving the best moments via replay, and second-guessing the players and coaches. If your team wins you can celebrate by dancing around your living room, and if they lose you can stare blankly at the screen, shut it off in disgust and start pointing the finger of blame. Ever notice that it’s “Hurray, WE won!” – but it’s “I can’t believe THEY lost!”?

Being a football fan like this is a safe, clean, warm, easy way to be into football. But it’s amazing how even so it still has such power that it can engender so much heat and passion among even its most casual followers. The positive parts of all this are that at least you’re following the game – thinking about the game – being moved by the game.
Faith is like football – even the fringe people get something out of it.

Now, if you’re a really big football fan – a real fan – you can actually go to the games. You can pay the ticket price and hang out with other people who share your passion and cheer on your team. You can enjoy the camaraderie of the tailgate party and high-five-ing your fellow fans when good plays are made. Because you’re actually at the game you can really feel the energy and excitement that’s generated by football and you can get swept up in it, deepening your passion for the game and your enthusiasm for seeing more.

When your team loses you probably clap for them anyway, or you might boo them if they stunk the joint out – but when your team wins you can celebrate with all the other fans and really share in the joy of being there. You’ll scream out “Wha-hoo” at the top of your lungs. You’ll hug total strangers. You’ll feel more a part of football because you actually spent the time and energy to attend. You stood in the hot sun or cold wind – you sacrificed. And while you’re there you see so much more than you get at home on TV – it’s a much fuller, richer, more satisfying experience.

Millions upon millions of dollars are spent on football each year by the fans. There’s sports memorabilia – hats, jerseys, bumper stickers, beer mugs, key chains – you name it, if they can put the logo on it fans will buy it. There’s that awesome, healthy stadium food – $7 hot dogs and $12 beers. There’s the cost of the ticket to get in. You even get to pay for parking! It’s a serious investment to be a real football fan – but it’s worth it.
Faith is like football – the more you invest, the more you receive.

All of this is well and good, but here’s the thing. This is another one of our biggest misconceptions.
Being a fan misses the point of sports.
We’re supposed to PLAY!

Yes, it’s fun and inspiring to watch people perform at an incredibly accomplished level – but at best that creates a second-hand enjoyment of the game rather than the first-hand experience that’s possible. No, many of us will never play the game at even close to the level that the professionals play at – but that’s not the point. It’s not about your ability to be great, it’s about your willingness to play. If you only ever participated in what you were great at you’d never do very much in your life.

When we were younger, we used to play – now we watch. Jesus said “you can’t inherit the kingdom unless you become like a little child” – I wonder if this is what he meant? Instead of watching life, or worrying about how well we’re doing at it we should just dive in like kids do.

Every benefit you can derive from being a fan increases exponentially if you become a player. You cannot be a “football” player on your own – you need a team. Yes, you need to do your individual training to make the team stronger, but it’s a team game – you simply cannot play it on your own. All of your understanding of the game and your analysis takes on a profoundly deeper meaning when you actually play – when you actually experience the challenges and the successes yourself.

Instead of pointing the finger of blame at others you get to point at yourself and try to see what you can personally do to help the team perform better. You get the benefits of the actual sweat. You get to feel the pain of injury first hand. The game becomes real. You can’t turn it off. You can’t look away. You’re in it.

When you win you get to celebrate with the other players – knowing that your contribution really mattered – whether any of the fans noticed it or not. And when you lose, you lose as a team. You support each other. You cry together. You commit to improving. You learn from your mistakes and grow as a person and as a team.
Faith is like football – you gotta play to really get it.

Sadly, too many “Christians” are content being fans rather than players.
Some will sit at home and say “I can be faithful without going to church”.
Can you?
Can you be a Christian and not go to church?
I think not! By definition being Christian means being in community.

You hear many folks say “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”.
What does that really mean? What are they really saying?
To be spiritual but not believe in religion is like saying you like learning but don’t believe in education. Now, I suppose it’s true that you could grow up and read a million books and become really knowledgeable without ever going to school – but come on, how many people could actually do that? You only really learn in community with other learners – and with a teacher.

To be honest with you, I think many people don’t go to church because they see that too often well-meaning church attenders are spectators and not players. Some come and go from Sunday morning worship and aren’t really transformed – haven’t been really deeply touched by the Holy Spirit – never really opened their hearts to the incredible, indescribable, uncontainable power of God’s love and acceptance and grace.

And until we accept God’s gifts ourselves we can’t really expect to be able to share them with all those desperately hungry “spiritual” people out there – and entice them to join us to “get some of what we got” – if we don’t got it!

It’s entirely possible to be around a church your whole life and never really suit up and play. That may be hard to hear, but I’m convinced it’s true.
Jesus calls us to be players – not just fans.
He calls us to get in the game – and that doesn’t mean just “doing our time” on a committee or something. Jesus calls us to live our faith out of gratitude and joy, not obligation and guilt.

Soren Kirkegaard once wrote about the “Theatre of Worship” in which he explained that if worship were a drama that most congregations would understand themselves to be the audience, and the minister and musicians to be the performers. But Kirkegaard argued that we’re not supposed to be the audience – God is. And if God is the audience then the congregations (that’s you!) are the performers offering praise and thanksgiving to God with the leadership functioning as “directors”.

I’m just extending Kirkegaard’s concept beyond Sunday morning to our entire life of faith. We’re not called by God to sit and watch.
Faith is unlike football – it is not a spectator sport.
If we’re not working up a sweat in our day-to-day walk with God we’re simply doing it wrong.
Folks, we are not the fans in the stands – we’re players.
It’s time to turn off the TV and get in the game.

This is not a new idea.
Paul wrote something very similar to this in his letter to the Ephesians. Here’s a summary of Ephesians in one complex sentence…

God has blessed and is blessing you – you (not the church) are the temple God lives in – so embrace the fullness of God this awareness brings – live in unity as the body of Christ growing to maturity through service – imitate the Way Jesus lived and draw others to faith by your example – and live every moment steeped in the presence of God, worshipping without ceasing.

And then he closes with the metaphor of gearing up for a battle. He’s talked about blessedness, the indwelling Spirit, the fullness of God, unity, imitating Christ, and being steeped in the holy – and he concludes with a message about how – with prayer – and prayer is vital here – each believer is expected to suit up and get in the game.

Every game needs equipment of some kind. What gear does Paul say we need? He talks about putting on the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; shoes so we can spread the Good News; taking the shield of faith to protect us; and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God.
Faith is like football – you can’t play if you’re not geared up.

Ephesians 6 urges us to “Stand strong in your faith – suit up and take on whatever the world throws at you” – and pray – for yourself, for others, and for those whose calling it is “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Mother Teresa – serve anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Billy Graham – inspire anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t pray long, beautiful, eloquent prayers – pray anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t studied theology – read the Bible anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you have lots of questions or doubts – proclaim anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing like a pop star – lift your voice and sing praise to God anyway.

Allow yourself to be transformed by the love of God.
Allow yourself to be really, deeply touched by the Holy Spirit.
Open your heart to the incredible, indescribable, uncontainable power of God’s grace and acceptance and peace.

You’re blessed.
You’re God’s temple.
You’re filled with the fullness of God.
You’re part of the body of Christ.
You’re an example.
You’re steeped in worship.

Now, put down the remote control.
Accept God’s gifts.
Suit up.
And hit the field.

There is an audience waiting to cheer you on.
An audience of one!