One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Self-Congratulation Sunday?

Photo Credit
This Sunday is the Super Bowl. I don’t need to tell you that it will be one of the biggest events of the year. It’s a part of the fabric of the American culture.

Unlike most of my fellow Americans, I have only seen one Super Bowl live from beginning to end. In the majority of those instances, I have missed the Super Bowl because of Sunday evening church. I'm not writing to complain that I'm deprived or anything like that. I’m also not going to say it’s stupid to have church on a night when most of the people there would rather be home or at a party. I wouldn’t waste your time with such topics.

What I am writing about is the often-unstated assumptions that go with church on Super Sunday night. These assumptions center around the idea that we are somehow more pleasing to God because we are at church on a particular night of the year. In many churches I have been a part of or a visitor in, Super Bowl Sunday becomes “Prove How Much We Love Jesus” Sunday.

Here’s the first problem as I see it: Sunday night church in the fundamental/conservative evangelical circles I grew up in (and am still a part of) is hardly sacrosanct. We'll cancel church for anything: holidays like Memorial Day or July 4th, Christmas and Easter (the fact that many F/CE’s go to church less often during the seasons of Christmas and Easter is certainly full of irony, but that is another topic for another time), bad weather and more. But come blizzard or flood, we're going to have church on Super Bowl Sunday night. Why? Because that's the way it's always been done, and it feels good to be doing something so “spiritual.” 

And that leads me to a second, more insidious problem: the faulty belief that we are proving something to God or to the world by being at church. I know this is real because I have experienced it. Super Bowl Sunday night services are never normal. There is a charge in the air. 

In the worst cases, I have seen the whole service be about how wonderful it is that we are better than the church down the road that canceled services or, even worse, is showing the game and invited the community to a watch party. Other times the message may be about how shameful it is that some of the members are here but would rather be watching the game. I’ve seen the song leader make sure to sing all 5 verses of each song (to an audible chorus of groans), and the pastor making jokes about preaching an extra long sermon. I haven’t yet been to a service where the prayer went, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The fact is that God can’t love us any more. He sent His only Son to die and pay the penalty for our sins because He wanted to have a relationship with us. How much more love do you need? Our acts of piety don’t bring us any closer to God. We draw closer to God through obedience. Samuel told Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice,” and Jesus quotes Hosea when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” 

Does that obedience include church attendance? Yes it does. But if we are meeting to congratulate ourselves or to lay a guilt trip on people who are there but would rather be watching the game, we are not fulfilling the purpose of the church. 

Am I telling you not to go to church this Sunday evening? No, I’m not. Maybe you don’t like pro football, or maybe you don’t really care about either team in the game. There could be as many legitimate reasons to go to church as there are believers in whatever churches are having services. My plea to my fellow believers is not to be pharisaical about it. Don’t judge others who aren’t there. Don’t be proud of yourself because you are there. Don’t think going to church will give God opportunity to favor your team. And, if I may say so, if you really want to see the game, do it. And don’t lie to your pastor next week about the kids being sick or something. 

A picture of the game-saving tackle on the last play of Super
Bowl 34. Photo Credit
Sixteen years ago I skipped church to watch St. Louis in the Super Bowl. As football fans know, it was one of the best Super Bowl games ever. It was a thrilling victory, and given how extremely unlikely it will be for St. Louis to ever be in the Super Bowl again, it is a memory I will cherish forever. Makes me wish I had skipped church two years later. Maybe St. Louis would have won again. I’m joking, of course, but I am serious about not regretting not going to church. This principle applies in many areas where others might condemn us for a personal choice. Paul tells us, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” In other words, if you have a clear conscience before God about your decision, don’t let others' judgmental attitudes keep you away from doing what you want to do.

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