Dr. RB McFee
Full disclosure, I have been known to ask the Almighty to lend a hand to my favorite football team when the score was close. In my defense, I do acknowledge He probably doesn’t pick favorites, given God loves all His children. Plus I am certain there is a devout Christian out there who is praying almost as ardently for his or her team.
Now before I get voted off the CCUMC Island for asking the Lord to join me in the cheering section, especially recognizing the serious prayers that we offer up to Him on behalf of fellow congregants, friends and family, you gotta admit God must enjoy the levity, not to mention inclusion in the happier times of our lives.
Too often we relegate God to our most painful times when our Heavenly Father might just like to hang out during the good ones, too.
Rest assured, out of respect for God’s all Loving, impartial ways, I will refrain from asking His help for my team tomorrow, home team though it is.
That said, Super Bowl Sunday has taken a life of its own. It is a phenomenon watched by more people than occupy many nations. It is the secular Thanksgiving, attracting friends from far and wide to attend what have become ‘football family’ gatherings.
For those who don’t know a flag route from a flag pole, that’s ok, even though sports truly is a microcosm of the greater community, and contains life lessons applicable to the non athlete working through life.
Moreover football in general has become enormously popular. Because of that, good things associated with the game can have enormous impact on society beyond the stadiums.
Now at this point you might be wondering what on earth does the football, let alone the Super Bowl have to do with God or growing on my faith journey.
In a few words – prayer and finding common ground
Let me offer another answer by asking this question ….
What do you think would bring people together in prayer from coast to coast? Oh and these aren’t necessarily Christian, or people of a particular denomination.
If your answer included a popular televangelist, terrorist event, political request or national challenge, you might want to ‘phone a friend.’
Here’s a clue….
Football fan or not, more than likely you are aware of the miraculous events surrounding the near tragedy during a Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals; capturing national attention, it was catapulted from the Sports Section to the front page of many newspapers.
For those unfamiliar with the events that transpired, here’s a brief overview….a young “Bills” defensemen – Damar Hamlin -- took a hit to the chest during a passing play. Both players hit the ground hard. Both stood up. One then staggered and collapsed. Some thought the wind had gotten knocked out of him; a not unfamiliar occurrence in football.
When trainers and medical personnel arrived, the player was lifeless, suffering a cardiac arrest. Commotio cordis was deemed to be the diagnosis. It is a rare and potentially fatal phenomenon, which is more often observed in baseball, lacrosse or soccer games when someone takes a hard hit to the chest.
At that moment, when everyone – players, coaches and fans – saw how dire the situation was, and learned of the severity, the possible death or brain damage that could have resulted, as the defibrillator was applied and the ambulance arrived, and more medical personnel surrounded this young man, something powerful started to happen….
People began to pray. Players bowed their heads, joined hands, prayed. Texts and Instagram ® prayers started flooding the airwaves.
Over the course of hours clergy were sought, more prayers were encouraged from sports announcers to team members.
Fast forward to the hospital grounds – candles and vigils by perfect strangers joining in prayer for someone they never met, and were likely never to meet, started to occur. The prayers spread nationwide. They spread to football fields and public events. Churches, including ours – Patriots Territory – prayed.
Players from the Bengals went over to the Bills locker room, and joined in prayer that night before leaving the stadium.
Was God a football fan that night? Was God watching the game? Was God watching over that young man – Damar Hamlin?
If you had asked anyone the night of the game, before the first whistle blew, would Americans come together and pray – forgetting their differences, their politics, their partisanship, their team affiliations, their life situation – and join together over concern for a young man, you would likely have received some strange looks.
And yet that is precisely what happened.
What was amazing – in spite of the many other issues that had occupied the public sensibility, let alone the airwaves and front pages of newspapers, for the week following that Monday night game, Americans focused more on the life, health, and recovery journey of a young football player…..a man who prior to that week few even knew outside of Buffalo, or football.
And a man who by all accounts is a decent guy trying to do a difficult profession, and set up a foundation to help others.
Was God a football fan? I think it is safe to say He was much more than that. And I am sure God smiled seeing His children can play nice together. We can put our differences aside for something bigger than ourselves.
Sadly, as is often said, why does it take a tragedy to bring us together?
Trillion dollar question! As Christians, the answer is right in front of us.
And yet even in our daily discourse as Christians we draw up dividing lines – we all but wear our team t shirts on one side or another.
That’s fine in football, but in the game of life, we are all in this together. That is the bigger game after all.
People may disagree on issues, or approaches to problems, but does that mean their hearts are not focused on the same outcomes? Though our routes may differ, our destination is the same – making a difference with love. And yet we find the sidelines, wear the t shirts and prepare for battle, when maybe we should toss the jersey, and find common ground.
And on one cold Monday Night on a football field people did find common ground.
To be sure politics and other partisan issues or more difficult to overcome than being a team fan, albeit for fans hailing from some cities it is a birthright blood sport passion. Nevertheless, passionate Bills fans and devoted Bengals loyalists came together. You could have heard a pin drop in a stadium full of thousands. Prayers were offered. Concern was shared. The jerseys ignored.
It is on those occasions God is a fan of football. Not because He will take sides, but because we didn’t.
Football, like all sports is a microcosm of life. It can teach us, inspire us, and even make us healthier. And it can remind us of the laudable characteristics of the human spirit that God imbued us with.
At a time when prayer and collaboration seem to have been relegated to the sidelines, that changed for a brief time.
God’s people came together and prayed. And America saw what prayer can do. Damar Hamlin survived, and is recovering well. His foundation received an outpouring of generosity. Lots of people will be helped because of it.
So tomorrow when you cheer on either the Eagles or the Chiefs, sitting with friends, watching the game, take a moment to think how so many people – diverse in language, fan loyalty, political persuasions, financial means, ethnic backgrounds, and regions came together, and did what has seemed so out of fashion, so marginalized in contemporary society – they prayed for a stranger, a fellow human being.
If we all take a moment to reflect, to pray, to enjoy fellowship tomorrow as God’s children - kids who can play nicely together, I have every confidence God will be watching the Super Bowl, almost as much as He is watching over you and me.
Enjoy the game and God bless