By Bob Hiller –
When the Rt. Rev. Koch asked me to bring contributions from the wide world of sports to The Jagged Word I must admit I was quite honored…and a bit overwhelmed. This blog offers exceptional theological analysis, penetrating cultural insight, not to mention the pictures demonstrate an excellent taste in spirits. So, I’m not quite sure how my sports takes will fit in. I mean, The Jagged Word is serving from the top shelf and I show up with a six-pack of Coors Original and an under-educated opinion on last night’s game. But, since I’ve never been one to turn down a seat (or drink) at the bar; I’m glad for the chair.
There is another reason I am a bit hesitant to start blogging about sports and theology: the two have very little in common. Ever since Rev. Koch’s invitation, I’ve been wrestling with this question: What does Cooperstown have to do with Jerusalem? How can sports be related to theology, if at all? Certainly issues on and off the field can lead to some interesting conversations about theology and culture, and that is what I hope to do here. Yet, the temptation to draw too strong of a correlation between the two has become quite overplayed and can prove to be dangerous.
The contemporary American church seems to have become quite comfortable, if not enamored, with sports. Think about it: In which section of the bookstore do you put a Tony Dungy book? Christian Living or Sports Biography? Who cares if it is good theology, a famous coach wrote it! He is a successful Christian, so it must be good. If he can break down opposing defenses, he must have something edifying to say for my faith!
In sports, similar virtues and principles can be found at work in the church, at least on the surface. Principles like teamwork, loyalty, and dedication to your vocational craft are all things the Christian and the athlete have in common. Sports can offer an insightful perspective on how such virtues can play out in real life. Even St. Paul will talk about finishing races and receiving the victor’s crown (Philippians 3:14).
Unfortunately, as with every aspect of culture that the church globs on to, a lot of corruption can arise in the conversation.
This is especially true when the church, in her ever-present lust for glory, starts to identify with the end goal of sports: winning. As St. Vince Lombardi opined, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And Christians eat this stuff up. The view of the Christian life as “victorious living” is quite seductive, but also quite deadly. Victorious Christian living means old demons are defeated, broken relationships are fully restored, sinful habits are successfully kicked, and the life is defined by one spiritual triumph after another. Winning becomes both everything and the only thing that defines the Christian. Oh, blessed sanctification! Oh, sweet victory! Strike up Queen because with Jesus on our team, we are the champions!
The trouble with all of this is Jesus. Jesus didn’t have a victorious life. Jesus lost. Jesus died. As Gerhard Forde once said, “Jesus is portrayed for all the world like a pro football player emerging radiant and glistening from the shower after the big win…But it is all false. Jesus cannot be made over by us into a winner. By our standards he was a loser. We have to face it.”
Now, this is downright blasphemy to our victory-loving, glory-seeking ears. Who would dare call the Son of God a loser? Well, according to the passion narratives, everybody; that’s who! His disciples were hardly on the bandwagon as He was being arrested in the garden. They hid like Broncos fans after last year’s Super Bowl (I didn’t want to leave the house for a day). His cheerleaders were hopeless, weeping women. The religious leaders mocked Him in His defeat, tempting him to come off the cross. Jesus’ fans weren’t there, cheering on their naked and bleeding hero with a rousing chorus of “We Are the Champions.” Jesus died. He was defeated. What’s worse, He could have called the angels down to help Him. But He didn’t. He lost. He died. He actually chose to lose.
Yes, yes, I know my theology. There on the cross, Jesus was our victor over sin, death, and the devil. I know that. I believe that. I confess that. But, I can’t pretend like the cross was just a show Jesus was putting on for us; that Jesus was simply making it look like He was losing, but really, behind it all, He was winning. No. He really lost. He really died. His victory is His death. His winning, we might say, is hidden in His actual losing. The victory of Christ is in death for sinners. And, precisely because He lost in death God raised Him up and gave Him the name above every name. After all, God chooses the lowly things, the foolish things, the losers of this world to shame the wise. God chose to have Jesus lose. Jesus chose to lose. So, God exalted Christ. The crown goes to the Loser. Or, to lift from Forde again, the Loser takes all.
This is all good news for you because you are no victorious Christian. You are a loser. So am I. Your old demons still howl in your ears, your shaky relationships still hang by a thread, your old, sinful habits are still a means of release for you, and you still feel like crap as you wallow in your guilt. Yeah, we’re winners like Charlie Sheen in a 20/20 interview. We’ve won nothing. We’ve earned death.
This is precisely where God chooses to find us in order to give us everything. Hang on to your ball caps folks, because there is still hope! Jesus is that great Loser who took all, and He took it all for you. He took your sins, He took your shame, He took your losing and made it His own. His death, His loss, His resurrection was all for you. For God chose the foolish things of this world. He chose to save the losers of this world through the bloody loss of Jesus, so that you and I might take all that He has to give: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Your victory is in your loss because Jesus chose poor, sinful you to sit next to Him in glory!
Who needs victorious Christian living when you have Jesus? Count all your victories losses and rejoice, you loser! For Jesus has chosen to lose everything for your sake, even your sins (He can’t find them anywhere!), and His victory is yours! Loser takes all!