In American society, religion is demonstrably practiced on the courts and fields of professional sports, often when players point to heaven thanking God for that home run, touchdown, basket, or knockout. This has been brought home to us exponentially this football season, as the world has seen how faith has been publicly shared, demonstrated, and lived through the Philadelphia Eagles, both on the field and off. Everything from Carson Wentz who publicly shares about his faith, to his special relationship with the Dutch Destroyer, to the team fully acknowledging that Christianity is the binding force for the team’s cohesiveness, to defensive end Chris Long donating his entire salary to education initiatives, to the unbelievable NFC championship victory led by (of all people) Nick Foles! So IS God involved in who’s going to win Sunday’s game?
Scripture is full of references to athletic victory. In First Corinthians, the apostle Paul says : “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” So does that mean if you’re more religious, you’ll strike out more people? If you’re more devout will you win the Super Bowl?
Rev. Ed Cipot, a Roman Catholic priest says, “to say that God has a direct role in determining the victor, is to say that we as human beings are not free. It’s like saying you are a puppet and your only hope is to be considered a good puppet.” Sit with that for a minute. Seriously. This is what I refer to as the ‘vending-machine God.’ You are saying that because you do something for God, God will do something for you by helping you hit the ball out of the park, get that touchdown; win that Super Bowl. Anyone remember Tim Tebow?
Still, when a professional athlete uses his or her excess time to be introspective, self-aware,
faith-full, and worry about the state of his/her soul, the meaning of existence, and serving others – this is a powerful example. It changes lives and entire teams. It changes the entire playing field.
John Love, a pastor who used to lead the New York Knicks in prayer and worship said, “I learned long ago that praying for victory won’t get you one. That’s not how it works. God is not predominantly a Knick Fan or a Toronto Fan [or –my words - an Eagles fan; but I seriously can’t bring myself to believe God is a Patriots fan... I digress]. I’d like to think that those who pray are always winners, but it just doesn’t happen.”
Yet this Sunday’s scripture demonstrably shows us that God through Jesus, is consistently on the side of the underdog. As soon as Jesus emerges from the wilderness, he immediately goes through the synagogue and the countryside of Galilee, exorcising demons and evil spirits and healing people – people who were considered the ‘underdogs’ of the day. Providing personal victory in the midst of troubling, no-way-out, hopeless circumstances.
Evander Holyfield says this: “I grew up in Atlanta, where skin color made a difference. I lived in a project and I didn’t have money and I didn’t have a good education and I realized when I was young that I was not equipped for life. But my mother and grandmother used to make me go to church. And I’d listen to the preacher, who said that God would show me the way.” This thought, with its sense of hope and opportunity for new beginnings, is what Mr. Holyfield credits for his victories, his career, and his life.
Does God have any active interest in the outcome of a game? I really can’t say - but isn’t there just something so remarkable and beautiful about a victory that no one dared to think would ever happen?
Fly Eagles Fly!!
In His Service,