The two most sacred holidays on the entire calendar are Christmas and Thanksgiving. This year the Ravens have home games on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving evening. Nice. And families I know are casting aside family commitments and revered traditions to attend those games. Really nice. A dad I know got a ticket for the Thanksgiving game and promptly announced to his wife and kids they’re on their own for the holiday, he’ll be at the game. Excellent.
The game trumps the holiday, no question about it. Sports, especially Ravens football, wins out over everything including church, of course. On game days when the Ravens are home, or the game coincides with Mass time, attendance plummets. (I will say that at our church, there is more of a shift in Mass attendance, depending on the time of the game, rather than a big decline and that’s a good thing and a sign of church health). However, in some parishes around town, they just lose out entirely on game days. They might as well save themselves the trouble because no one goes.
But it isn’t just that football replaces church and sometimes family, it replaces God. While there was still the threat of a lock out, lots of people were quoted as more or less saying, without the NFL their lives have no purpose
Rather than the living God, it is football that gives meaning, value and purpose to people’s lives. Instead of the living God, it is football that is the center and highlight of people’s whole week. And on Sundays they flock to their football cathedral where they “worship” their football god. It is true and genuine worship because it includes a (substantial) financial offering and enthusiastic, boisterous, over the top expressions of awe, wonder, thanksgiving and joy (none of which they would ever dream of sharing in a real church). It is there in their worship that they find “fellowship” among other uniformly attired “believers,” grow in their commitment as true “disciples,” and enjoy “communion” in something bigger than themselves. The NFL has successfully figured out how to completely replace God. Wow.
This weekend we’re offering the third of our current message series all about counterfeit gods. And we’re discussing the gods of pleasure. There are many, many gods of pleasure, especially in affluent communities like ours. This could be a series all its own, so obviously we won’t be doing more than scratching the surface. But perhaps the most challenging part of this message is going to be about sports, because it really is in a class of it’s own. And within that topic is the NFL which is in a class all its own. I am sure I will annoy and irritate some people this weekend, but that is not my only purpose in sharing this message.
When we take a football, and a football team by extension, and we worship it, that does damage to our spirit. It will atrophy our soul; our souls waste away when we wholly and entirely devote ourselves to such an ultimately inconsequential thing.
In true worship and service of the living God, not just our emotions but our souls can soar because we are united to the eternal things.
Sports are entertainment, and there is nothing wrong with entertainment. But it is an appetite which must be disciplined. If all we do is feed it, it grows and becomes something more in our life than it should be…like a god. If it is disciplined, it will remain simply what it is, a recreation, a pastime. Try this. Take off just one Ravens game, don’t go, don’t watch it. And instead, prayerfully do something for someone else. Help someone out, give some time in ministry here at church, take some quiet time and read Scripture or just talk to God. It can be an antidote to idolatry.
When asked what was most important of all, here’s what Jesus said:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
- Our mind holds our thoughts and directs our feelings.
- Our heart holds our feelings and directs our life.
- Our soul holds our life, and directs its destiny.
These three centers of our selfhood are to be absorbed in the love of God…not as a discipline, not as an afterthought, not as a Sunday morning exercise when the Ravens have a bye week, but as a value, as a gift, as an increasing reality in our life. Know who you worship.