Super Bowl Theology
Philippians 2: 5-11 Feb 4, 2018
I don’t know if it’s divine coincidence or not, but the lectionary reading for today is from Isaiah chapter 40: “They shall mount up with wings as Eagles.”
This afternoon at 4:30 pm 6 pm the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots for the championship of the entire universe. Well, not exactly the entire universe but pretty close.
The Super Bowl is the single biggest event in America in any given year. No other sporting event, political event, or cultural event compares to the size of the audience that will watch this game today, at least 110 million people. The game will be broadcast to 225 countries. And it will be held in Minneapolis where 1 million people have flocked this week to take in the Super Bowl parties, events, and for a fortune few, the game itself.
Alas, even though the Super Bowl will be held in Minnesota, the woeful Minnesota Vikings failed yet again to make the big game.
The Super Bowl is the high holy day of American sports, the most sacred sporting event of a nation obsessed with sports, and all that sports represents: competition, money, and winning….at all costs.
Now I know that not all of you are football fans. But football fans or not, I contend that there is something about Super Bowl mania that deserves our reflection. I call it Super Bowl Theology. Let me tell you what I’m getting at.
Two years ago the Seahawks snatched an improbable victory from the Packers in the NFC championship. The Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson, was just awful for nearly all of the game. But in the last five minutes he came to life, and led his team to two touchdowns. He was in tears when he was interviewed just as the final whistle blew. “God is so good, man,” he cried, “God is so good all the time.”
A few years ago in a playoff game the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback informed a sideline reporter that God was responsible for the Jags victory. Not coaches, player, recruiters, trainers or owners. No, God was responsible. And how does the QB account for his team’s success? “Thanks be to God,” he says. “There’s a bunch of guys on this team who really love the Lord.” (I take it that the other team didn’t love the Lord as much as the Jags.)
Now, all this would be mildly amusing were it not for the fact that a lot of people take this stuff seriously, and swallow a big dose of Super Bowl theology. Children and young people, in particular, are influenced by the set of rules that goes along with it.
I personally don’t think God cares very much about who wins the Super Bowl today–or any game for that matter. With car bombings in Afghanistan and a civil war going in Syria, God has more important business than the point spread of today’s game.
I like what Coach Bill Parcels had to say before a big game between his team and the Pittsburgh Steelers. When asked whether God would favor one side or another, he said, “No disrespect to anyone, but it usually works better when the players are good and fast.”
That makes sense. You could take eleven of the finest, most dedicated Christian pastors in this country, and pit them against eleven nail spitting, big, fast, tough, heathen atheist football players, and the Christians would get smeared.
If you think all this is a little ridiculous I agree, but I have to tell you this kind of thinking slips over into ordinary life. A man doesn’t get a promotion, and he feels that God didn’t want him to have it. A woman fails in her marriage, and feels like God’s hand was somehow in that defeat. A young mother miscarries, and feels like she didn’t do something right.
Let me just say that God is never in the sending of misfortune and suffering, only in the ending of it. Misfortune and suffering first pass through God’s hands before coming to rest in our hands. Super Bowl theology promotes a distorted view of God and promotes bad religion.
Another aspect of Super Bowl theology is how we have distorted the competitive aspect of sports. In every sport, someone wins, someone loses. Winners get an ego-boost. Losers crawl away on their belly. Thus, we have a society of winners and losers. Look at it this way: “Do you want to be called “A winner” or “A loser.”
It’s rare when we think of sports in a non-competitive way. You go out on the field. You give it your best. You may win, or you may lose, but your satisfaction comes from the joy of the sport itself, and the opportunity of pitting all that you have against all that someone else has.
The reason I’ve enjoyed climbing as an adult is that it is a non-competitive sport. Some climbers compete with others for the most peaks climbed, but I have found joy and satisfaction by being with a group of climbing buddies and cooperating with each other, with helping each other. It doesn’t matter who makes the summit first….what does matter is that everyone makes it, that we’ve been together, that we’ve been tested by the mountain, and have managed, on this day, to climb to the top.
When I first climbed the Grand Teton my buddy who was in the lead waited for the other three of us, and we joined hands and stepped on the rocky summit together. In climbing, we all win together, or if we don’t make it, in a sense we lose together, but we come back to climb another day.
And there is one other matter we should note as we sit down today at 4:30 pm with our popcorn and sodas to watch the big game. And that is something we never see in this spectacle. What we never see and are only beginning to realize is what happens to these players after their careers come to an end.
`According to the NFL Players Association the average career length is about 3.3 years. — 3.3 years, a very short career followed by a life-time of devastating consequences.
Why do they do it.Well, certainly the love of the game and a chance to make some big bucks. The average career earning of an NFL player is 6.1 million dollars. It’s very hard not to be tempted by such a staggering pay-out– especially if you are good.
In 2015 there were 271 concussions in practices, preseason games and regular games.
And as regards other injuries–knees blown out, Achilles tendons ruptured, bones broken and other injuries too numerous to mention. Our AZ cardinals at the end of this past e season had only 25 players left on its roster from the 53 who made the club opening day.
96 per cent of ex NFL players have some form of brain disease. They used to call it getting your bell rung. If you want to see a chilling movie rent “Concussion” starring Denzel Washington as the doctor who brought the concussion cover up by the NFL to light.
Ken Stabler. …
Tyler Sash. …
Frank Gifford. …
Mike Webster. …
Dave Duerson. …
Chris Henry. …
Now in interest of full disclosure I’m going to watch the Super Bowl today in hopes that the evil empire headed by Bill Bellichek and Tom Brady get humiliated by the high flying Eagles. But I watch with mixed feelings because I know that some of the players on the field today whose names are unknown by the public, have a frightening prognosis 20 or 30 years down the road. It’s no wonder that more and more parents are saying, “I will never let my son play football.”
Think for a moment about Super Bowl theology and contrast that with the spirit of Jesus. What was he like? Paul says that though he was in the form of God, he did not grasp equality with God as something to be grasped. Instead he was humble, obedient, and accepted death on the Cross.
Jesus never once tore anybody down, never once said a mean thing against another human being. He said hard things, spoke hard truths against the hypocrisy of his day, but he was never mean. He lived life lightly. All he ever owned could have been carried in a little backpack. He was easy on the earth, and not a conspicuous consumer. He never cared whether his clothes were in fashion, or whether he associated with the right people. Instead he associated with all the wrong people. He was particularly drawn to the outcasts and the losers of the world–to women, and children, and lepers, tax collectors and sinners. He never competed with anybody for anything, and he if had anything at all to give, he gave it, without reservation. He never claimed that God was on his side. He said that God was on the side of all who knew what it was like to kneel in the dust and beg God for mercy and cleansing. And at the end of his life, he did something that we ponder in awe and to this day do not fully understand: he chose to go to the Cross.
Consider Jesus. Consider the fact that we worship a loser, a failure, a disgrace, one who died the death of a shameful criminal.
Have this mind among you, Paul says. Have this mind. All of us are a million miles away from that kind of life, but to that kind of life the whole future belongs.