The NFL vs. the Living God

October 22, 2011

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.”

Matthew 22.37

  • 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.

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  1. Not all of us are going to the games. This 14 year season ticket holder has sold both the Thanksgivig and the Christmas Eve game tickets. There still are many people who value Church and Family above football. There is no reason you have to miss Mass on any Sunday becasue of a game or tailgate. Just change the time you go to Mass and it all works. If not sell the tickets.

    The TV will be on in our house, but the people will be together in the same room.

  2. Thanks for including the 3 centers of our selfhood. A wonderful way to put it, and something to really reflect on this week, as well as pleasures as a counterfeit god.

  3. This one really hit home with me. I had arranged my work schedule (RN) to be off this year for TG to to as a family to NYC to enjoy the parade and dinner in the big apple. However, it quickly was brought to my attention that neither my husband or sons were interested in the NYC trip. I considered going with just my daughters but that kind of defeated the purpose. I now have changed to actually work on TG since we can’t do a family thing….however, I am an Oncology RN and I will enjoy spending the holidays with some of my patients. My husband will enjoy a quick meal with his family I’m sure and then scurry off to the game with one of my son’s. I will be forwarding this to the three men in my family!

  4. Thanks for this great reminder! God is greater than all of our hobbies and pleasures. I am a Ravens fan and have found it very tempting to work my worship schedule on the weekends around my love of football. Thanks for pointing this out and encouraging us on to greater holiness!

  5. This article is a very thought provoking argument. I personally am not into sports, but it touched my soul in another way. It’s causing me to rethink the way I think when I am in bad situations. Others may not see that same way I do, but you have a good message.

    Regards, Anon
    God Bless

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