Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Compare and contrast. . .

Nearly half of all Americans tuned in to all or part of the Great Superbowl Extravaganza.  How many more looked up small snippets of the halftime show or commercials?  It is an amazing thing.  People are oriented toward this competition almost from the start of the season.  They pay attention to the wins and losses over the weeks.  They have favorite players and know the important statistics of the game.  They have the sage and honored commentators to guide them through the weeks until finally it comes.
Then the preparations begin in earnest for the party that among some has replaced the neighborhood picnics and family gatherings of old.  When the pregame show comes on, it all gets pretty serious -- though not without its comic relief and nervous laughter along the way.

So contrast this with how people prepare for Church on Sunday morning.  The fasting disciplines of the past are lost to us and we do not know the day or the season or the appointed lections until we show up -- if we show up.  The vast majority of self-proclaimed Christians do not show up -- perhaps 2/3 of all Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc.  The anticipation that leads up to Superbowl Sunday is met with the big sigh that hopes worship will not be too painful, too boring, or too long.  Even in the Church's superbowl of Christmas and Easter, time is of the essence and many judge success by the 59 1/2 minutes in and out.  By the way, how many Christians talk about worship with the same enthusiasm they talk about their teams on the way to the big game?

The stores are full of game day duds -- the costly official team logos that we don in order to let people know how important it all is to us.  On the other hand, how many Christians dress down for worship  -- putting on what feels most comfortable no matter how it looks (to anybody!)?  There are not as many things that have taken root in our people as the whole “Come as you are” idea.

I read that more than 75% of the tickets at the Superbowl go to corporations because nobody else can afford them.  Add up the cost of the sponsored parties -- $25,000 per person or more!  But we will gladly spend money on the biggest screens and the right providers to make sure we get the best view of the game.  In contrast, Christians sometimes balk at the very idea of giving -- much less giving sacrificially -- and seem to fight over the seats as far away from the "action" as possible.  Where folks arrive early at the stadium to find good parking and to be there before the pregame stuff starts, Christians tend to slip in sometime before the sermon and may ditch the whole things before the benediction.

People love to talk about the Super Bowl – the game, the shows, the entertainment, the commercials.  And they are not shy about their opinions.  But if you are a pastor, you can look into the faces of people who appear dazed and confused, bored and apathetic, or exhausted and weary -- or all of the above at the same time.  Where is the joy that Scripture talks so much about?  In the arenas of America people join in the songs played, with the singers in the show, but in Church they suddenly seem to have developed laryngitis or forgotten how to sing or cannot read the music or the words on the page.

The Superbowl event spanned hours before and after the official time on the field.  Sure there are bathroom breaks and commercial breaks and time to dive into the buffet of snack food but nobody is concerned about the clock.  At Church time is not quite such an indifferent thing.  Who wants the worship service to go into overtime?

On the field, the spectators and fans pay attention to the rules.  They get downright testy when they seem not to be followed and are outraged when penalties are called against their teams.  On the other hand, in Church Christian resent the idea of rules -- the need to be baptized, who should commune, instruction before membership, regular attendance as condition of membership.  People in the pews and those who sit at home watching online delight in breaking the rules and making sure people know they do not support or honor everything about their home churches.  

I read this year where fans were asked to scoop themselves out of a snowstorm to make their way to the stadium in order to, yes, scoop out the field so that the game can go on.  In freezing cold and snow and wind and rain the seats are full.  Every pastor will tell you of the litany of complaints people tend to make about worship -- church too cold or hot, organ too loud, choir off key, pastor dull, building in need of repair, restroom out of paper, coffee not up to Starbucks, and parking too far from the door -- among other things.

You probably think I am a spoil sport.  Maybe I am.  But I will say this.  The stadiums are always full but the Church is full once or twice a year.  People never lose their love for the game and their teams no matter how often they lose but if one little thing goes wrong at church they will walk out the door and never come back.  Do you suppose Jesus ever wishes He were as valuable to us as a ball?  I do not write this to anger or shame anyone but to ask Christians across America to get back in the game. 

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