By Pastor Devin Strong, Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church.
It’s football season and, in many ways, it’s my favorite time of year!
When my children were small and I was watching a game on TV, they’d tattle on me. “Mom, Dad’s using his football words again!”
I’ve been a huge fan of both college and pro football since I was a kid myself and watched the games with my father and grandfather, both of whom are gone now. And I know I’m not alone with believing this is “my” time of year!
Football continues to be the most popular sport in the United States, despite the inherent violence in the game, which is something I struggle with. We’re extremely devoted to our love of sports in America, which might not always be a good thing. Recently, a high school football player in Texas died of heat stroke and dehydration during practice. Sadly, there are a number of sports-related deaths and injuries every year, largely because of the commitment to play “no matter what.” From a fan’s perspective, we’ll pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket, drive for long distances and sit in extreme heat or freezing cold to watch a game.
Being devoted to sports at almost any cost concerns me.
It seems like sports in general have become something like “gods” in this country. A pastor friend of mine somewhat jokingly says that, in his next life, he wants to come back as a coach because coaches have much more authority and respect than pastors — and he may be right about that! Coaches can tell parents that their child will have to make a major commitment to a sport, spend a decent amount of money, attend two or three practices a week and every game, and parents will agree.
The question is, would most of us dedicate that kind time and energy to church, or any other kind of volunteer services?
When my niece, Taylor, was a high school student in Atlanta, she was an almost Olympic-level soccer player on several traveling teams. She and her parents devoted untold amounts of time and money to the game but, unfortunately, Taylor tore her ACL during her senior year and was unable to play for the last half of the season. One weekend, when the team was playing in a tournament in Jacksonville, FL, she and my sister drove six hours to the game, so Taylor could sit on the bench and support her team. That kind of devotion blows me away. I’m not sure many people would show up for church this Sunday if I told them it was going to be held six hours away!
I’m certainly not wagging my finger, because I’m somebody who loves sports and really looks forward to this particularly nostalgic time of year. Tailgate parties and stadiums full of fans with intense rivalries are fun celebrations, and watching world class athletes exhibit phenomenal skills is something I’ll always appreciate. But still, it makes me wonder: Have we made sports too much of a priority in our lives? Have they become idols instead of entertainment? Are we willing to devote that kind of time, energy and passion to our faith life, our church, our families or, honestly, anything else? Do we offer God as much enthusiasm as we do our teams? Ultimately, we all need to ask ourselves, what is it that we value most?
God loves you, and so do I