But first, my friends…
It’s a day still vividly etched in my memory. It was a cool, but brightly sunny January day in west Florida. It was the 26th of January, 1986 to be exact. Being a real sports fan from Chicago, I had waited a long, long time for this celebration. The Chicago Bears were finally playing in the Super Bowl, and were favored to boot!
And I was unsaved, lost as a snake, living in sin with another women, drinking and carrying on as any good pagan might be expected to do.
Of course, the Bears clobbered the Patriots by 36 points in Super Bowl XX, and I was ecstatic. My unsaved father and I were reveling as “fanatics” of the NFL.
A couple months later in the early spring of 1987, the Lord Jesus got through to my prideful, stubborn heart, and I was gloriously saved. The pearl of great price was a reality, and all things became new.
A couple years after the Bears victory, I was sitting in a little Baptist church in west Florida in the AM service. It was Super Bowl Sunday that day in January 1988, and I was all set to watch Washington play Denver that evening. But I’d been troubled about all this sports stuff for some time as the Holy Spirit was revealing idols in my life week by week.
An older saint from Virginia, I believe, who wintered in Florida, and whom I had come to deeply respect, was making the announcements. When he came to the part about the Sunday night service, his words pierced my heart. “You can watch the game if you want,” he declared, “but I’ll be here to worship Jesus and serve Him. You all need to decide what’s most important to you.”
It was a lightning bolt through my body. I can still remember his voice, his words, and where I sat, which was a few feet behind him in a chair in the tiny choir area behind the pulpit where he spoke that admonishment. The Holy Spirit spoke plainly and clearly. “Marc, what’s most important to you? Do you know what’s most important to Me?” I made my decision in the next minute. I was back there that night, and skipped the game.
It’s been 20+ years without Super Bowls so far. Or any other sports for that matter.
How do we know what’s an idol in our culture? We can look no further than our newspapers. What are the specialty sections? Three main ones. Family: that’s healthy, if it doesn’t override Him. Money: a necessary tool for commerce, but an idol of greed for certain for most in our culture. And sports. Need we say more?
Be forewarned. If you wisely choose to give up this pagan idolatry, you will be vilified. Called a legalist. Ridiculed at church behind your back. Shunned by almost all men, often ignored by your own children and family as they follow the crowd.
“Do not think that I (Jesus) came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be members of his own household. (quoting Micah 7:6). Matthew 10:34-36
But you are greatly appreciated by Jesus for the persecution for His names sake.
The words of our Master bring needed enCOURAGEment and comfort for our toil in a carnal culture like America:
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. “Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. Luke 6:22-23
Lest you think we’re over the top….
Let’s look at what our early Christian brothers had to endure, the ridicule, the tortures, being persecuted unmercifully, and ostracized from their culture as they “came out from among them.” This was written by one of their enemies at the time:
See, many of you – in fact, by your own admission, the majority of you – are in want, are cold, are hungry, and are laboring in hard work. Yet, your god allows it….Take notice! For you there are threats, punishments, tortures and crosses…
In the meantime, living in suspense and anxiety, you abstain from respectable pleasures. You do not attend sporting events. You have no interest in public amusements. You reject the public banquets, and abhor the sacred games.
M. Felix, Octavius, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, chapters 8, 12
Here’s the published piece by Price:
More Than a Game – by Joseph L. Price, from SIGHTINGS – 2/10/05
More than any other single event in American sports culture, the Super Bowl enjoys the sanction of the government as a high holiday (Marc: Holy Day) for American civil religion. In the final sequence of pre-game ceremonies last Sunday, two previous presidents, identified as former Commanders-in-Chief, consecrated the event. At the same time, World War II heroes — represented by the Band of Brothers, Tuskegee Airmen, and Navy Waves — were honored for preserving freedom and democracy. Alltel Stadium’s giant video screen and television sets across the world flashed images of groups of U.S. soldiers gathered to watch the game from their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby intensifying connections between football and the Armed Forces.
The field itself was also hallowed by the National Anthem, performed by the combined choirs of the service academies, and accompanied by the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets. The political sanctification concluded with a stadium fly-over by a squadron of fighter jets, validating the event in a visibly transcendent manner.
Much more than a mere sporting episode, then, the Super Bowl constitutes a religious phenomenon, providing a prominent public ceremony for patriotic display, while blending several symbol systems that shape the worldviews of many Americans. The football game and surrounding events celebrate America’s devotion to sports, its fascination with entertainment, and its practice of consumerism.
For example, throughout last week, parties were held at the Landing along the waterfront for the influx of 100,000 pilgrims who had journeyed to Jacksonville, Florida. The celebratory atmosphere extended to the stadium, where executives and their guests enjoyed additional festivities in corporate hospitality tents, and to the field itself, where pre-game performances were capped by a tribute to Ray Charles, with Alicia Keys singing “America the Beautiful” and students from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind providing vocal and signed accompaniment.
The party spirit spread well beyond north Florida. The National Retail Federation estimates that nationwide about 45 million people attended 7.5 million Super Bowl parties, at which more food was consumed than on any day other than Thanksgiving. For many, this participation in Super Bowl festivities was authenticated and intensified by their use of officially licensed decorations and supplies displaying the Super Bowl XXXIX logo.
To be sure, the Super Bowl’s consumerist spirit was manifest in these parties, as well as in the economic impact on the city of Jacksonville, which expected to enjoy a $300 million boost to its economy. Of course, the keenest expression of consumerism appeared in the television advertisements, which cost $2.4 million for a thirty-second spot, and were viewed by 150 million Americans.
Two ads are worth noting because of their cross-referencing with other symbol systems of the festival. One beer ad blended politics with product, devoting 90 percent of its airtime to a video clip of an audience applauding the return of soldiers in camouflage uniforms. Another set of ads also achieved cross-market appeal. A fusion of entertainment and merchandising, Paul McCartney’s performance headlined the half-time show, which bore the emblem of its corporate sponsor. Singing “Drive My Car” as the stage’s four video-runways displayed vehicles in motion, McCartney subtly seconded the truckload of automotive advertisements interspersed throughout the telecast.
Of course, at the heart of the Super Bowl hoopla lies the game itself, which provides the power to engage and shape the world for millions of football enthusiasts. It enables participants (including fans) to explore levels of selfhood, identity, and self-transcendence that would otherwise remain inaccessible, while establishing a means for developing communal relations with other devotees. It models ways to deal with contingencies and fate, providing the prospect for experiencing a final victory — and thus sampling, at least in an anticipatory way, abundant life — or for rehearsing the lasting defeat of death.
Fusing sporting, economic, entertainment, and political values and beliefs, the Super Bowl thus functions as a devotional festival for the practitioners of American civil religion. In the distinct ways I have noted, last Sunday’s Super Bowl facilitated a MOMENTOUS SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE for 100,000 pilgrims to Jacksonville and for 150 million other Americans who made a mediated pilgrimage to the game.
Joseph L. Price is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Whittier College and President of the University of Chicago Divinity School’s Alumni Council.
Joshua 24:15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
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Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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