Saturday, January 31, 2009

February 1- Calvin and the Super Bowl

February 1

God, Calvin, Football, and Joy

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weap and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

Calvin: “The third part of Christian freedom lies in this: regarding outward things that are themselves indifferent. We are not bound before God by any religious obligation preventing us from sometimes using them and other times not using them, indifferently. And the knowledge of this freedom is very necessary for us, for if it is lacking , our consciences will have not repose and there will be no end to superstitions..To sum up, we see where this freedom goes: namely that we should use God’s gifts for the purpose for which he gave them to us, with no scruple of conscience, no trouble of mind. (III.19.7,8).

Today is a great day for American sports- the Super Bowl. How does the Bible or Calvin view things like play and sports?
John Leith once preached a great sermon entitled “Christian Faith and the Common Pleasures of Life.” He spoke of the idea that Christians have often had a poor view of fun and simple pleasures.
One reason Christians have done this is because sometimes a zealousy for sports can take the place of faith. I have heard announcers on ESPN and seen writers of Sports Illustrated speak of sports arenas being places of worship, and bowing down to players as if they were demi-gods (we pay them money and attention as if they were). Sometimes indifferent or even good things are abused- any kind of media can turn into pornography; songs can turn to profanity; card playing can turn into gambling addiction; dancing can turn into sexual foreplay. When good things are abused, then they are immoral. Sometimes Christians go too far in banning the things that can be abused (I remember Christian pronouncements against movies, rock and roll, card playing). But this is the kind of asceticism that Calvin condemned. Calvin gets conflated with the strict Puritans, but he was a lot freer. Another reason sports have been condemned in the past is that they sometimes trivialize life. Augustine said that sin is the extraordinary love of ordinary things. T.S. Eliot said, “Here were decent godless people: Their only monument the asphalt road/and a thousand lost golf balls.”
But God has given us freedom to laugh, run, play, use our skills. If we use them properly, they can be witnesses for Him. Like when a player points to heaven when they make a touchdown. I remember the words of Eric Little, Olympic sprint Champion about whom the movie “Chariots of Fire” was written: When I run I feel his pleasure.”
The other thing is that God has created laughter, joy, the ability to run, jump, catch, be coordinated. In some ways athletics is a rejoicing in God’s creation- when used right.
If we abuse such things- or overindulge (certainly the Super Bowl is full of overindulging), then it can be wrong. But such indifferent things can also be used to transform the world. I like what Brad Scott, Presbyterian minister in Columbia did with the Super Bowl. He turned it into a “Souper Bowl Offering” for food pantries around the country. It raises tens of millions of dollars each year- and uses a game as a great advertising ploy in churches and communities.
C.S. Lewis said that our world lives in a “windowless universe.” The joy is found in that there is a window to another (spiritual) world- we can pull back the curtain and see the light! There is joy shining into the darkness of our lives. For Lewis, we come close to spiritual experiences when we have good, clean play. Not selfish play when we want to “crush” or demoralize and dehumanize the other team. But play that is full of joy. Lewis had the children in his Narnia novels playing in the closet when they discovered their other world. When we play and are joyful, we rub up against the kind of joy God wants for us. God delights in us, and has given us Himself to delight in. Joy is not just limited to our youth when we could sing, dance, have energy and less worries about mundane things. There is a joy in the Lord.
Friday, January 30, was the funeral for Kay Yow, longtime womans basketball coach for N.C. State. She taped her own farewell. One of the striking things she said was, “And now I say farewell, and its been a wonderful journey, especially since the time I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior.” She taped this while suffering with cancer. Play can, if we will let it, point us to a deeper joy- the joy of the Lord that no cancer, no job loss, no death can take away.
Christ has set us free- so there is a time to dance and to laugh as well as to weep and mourn. He has given us good things to enjoy, and the freedom to enjoy them! Enjoy the Super Bowl (in a Calvinistic, balanced way- of course!)!

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