The Big Day is almost here again: another weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It’s not the only victory that’s interesting, exciting, or important. But it’s the one that determines your identity and destiny forever.
In spite of the loss to the Patriots, Denver QB Tim Tebow is still the subject of headlines (and spoofs) for his public recognition of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Focus on the Family joined in by placing an ad with children quoting John 3:16. All of this celebration of Jesus is intriguing for a show that competes every week (during season) for his ministry to the world. It would seem that the image of a celebrity saluting Jesus on stage is more significant these days than the reality of being gathered as his body to receive Jesus Christ himself.
A quick Google search reveals that the church world is abuzz with this “high holy day.” You may recall that many churches suspended regular services for this past Christmas (since it had the misfortune to fall on a Sunday, traditionally known by Christians as the Lord’s Day). However, the doors are wide open in many churches for the upcoming Super Bowl Sunday. Only it’s not going to be a regular service of “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), but big-screen gridiron action. Undaunted by NFL suits for violating copyright laws by charging admission fees to watch the show on giant screens, many churches are giddy over Super Bowl-themed parties that will replace worship. Or, perhaps, will offer a different object of worship.
I know, I know. Low blow, as if that benevolent and benign past time of sports—especially football—could be compared with Baal. In fact, God and football (baseball has fallen a bit) block and tackle for each other in American civil religion these days. Typically, in the reports I scanned, pastors were justifying their decision by appealing to the mission opportunity. Somehow, having the building full with people who want to be there for a game, but not for God’s saving service to sinners, is “missional.” In any case, the evening service has fallen by the wayside in many churches anyway—no conflict there. Yet even where there are such services, many sympathize with one pastor who said that it’s “a bit of a luxury,” especially “when it falls on a legal holy day [you read that right: holy day] like Super Bowl Sunday.”
Evangelicals are absolutely sure when liberal Protestants are falling over themselves to curry the favor of the world in the name of mission. Academic faddishness, more-tolerant-than-thou displays of self-righteousness, a craving for the acceptance of cultural elites. Evangelical leaders are not likely to be offering the invocation at Gay Rights marches or texting “Jesus is Lord” at a Sunday opera. But football? It’s clean and manly (at least when there aren’t “wardrobe malfunctions” during the half-time show). So take off the robe, Pastor, and put on a jersey. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and your job today at least is not to represent Christ to us, but us to ourselves.
I don’t want to go after Tim Tebow. I admire his willingness to confess Christ openly. My concern is with an American evangelical audience that seems more excited about Jesus when he’s wearing a jersey on a winning-streak, and “Tebowing” players acknowledging Jesus for a touchdown during the hours when God opens the doors to his feast.
Where is God present in power and grace? Is it on the big screen, for a game? Where is the authentic site of God’s promised presence to judge and forgive? All week long we are at liberty to share in the common life of our neighbors, but the Lord’s Day is the one day of the week when the powers of the age to come are breaking into this passing age. Which age do we believe is more real: the one that Scripture says is “fading away” or the one “with foundations whose builder and maker is God”? As fun as a game might be, is it “tasting the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come”? Is being a spectator of an ephemeral game more significant than being actually swept into God’s unfolding drama, “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken”? And are we more tantalized by the words and sacraments of Game Day than those of the Lord’s Day?
Now that football (along with soccer and the mall) has swallowed Sunday whole, Christians have to make a choice. Whatever “Super Bowl Sunday” has become in our culture, it is not “missional” to tell the world that what happens on that field is more game-changing than what happened at an empty tomb and what happens every time sinners gather to be made recipients of that inheritance of the saints.