Many years ago, back in the heyday of college, some friends and I traveled to South Bend, Ind., to see the campus of Notre Dame, and hopefully catch a peek of the Fighting Irish's football stadium. After sweet-talking the groundskeeper, he generously allowed us to run through the hallowed tunnel from the movie “Rudy,” and burst out onto the field.
Squealing and delighted to have accomplished our covert mission, we pretended to throw footballs and run plays until we caught sight of the mural of Jesus, just to the left and behind the scoreboard.There it was… Touchdown Jesus!
A hush fell over our group. Though I knew little of God at the time, the sacredness of the space caused a chill down my spine. I felt like Moses standing on Holy ground, in awe of what my spirit perceived, but did not yet know. Our antics ceased as we soberly exited the venerated field.
I had no idea at the time how much the two realms of football and Jesus would intersect in my own life. Years later, my 12-year-old son is now a gifted athlete playing football for a nationall- ranked team, heading for the West Coast Conference and then, Lord willing, on to Florida to play in the Pop Warner Football National competition. My husband, a pastor, will be accompanying him. It is a strange fusion, God and football, and yet for us, it has become our new normal.
While football has many critics, and negative attention has more recently dominated the news because of concerns about concussions and their long-term affects; that which is uplifting and noble cannot be overlooked. And, while few would debate that brute force is a large part of the game, there is much more beyond the obvious testosterone and aggression than meets the eye.
In many ways, a great football team is a metaphor for the spiritual battle we face in the fight against good and evil. Not unlike Christian, in Pilgrim's Progress, my son and his team-mates pursue football greatness with the same determination as Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.
My son’s team, the RSM Pee Wee Titans, train relentlessly. They are well disciplined and wear the appropriate uniform, or what I like to call “armour” for the battle. They study film intently, and play by play, make corrections and adjustments. They diligently research and know their opponents long before the game.
Their coaches are not only well-versed in strategy, but loving mentors and teachers, leading the boys with both grace and truth. They live, eat, and breathe, the game. The team is placed higher than the individual, and all sacrifice one for each other. There is a deep sense of respect among the boys and coaches, as they continually push one another to new levels of performance.
Watching the boys is like viewing an intricate dance. It is harmony in motion. The angels sing and the trumpets play. These are the moments in life, far and few between, when heaven and earth intersect. When athletes play the way God intended, when a team moves in a cadence and rhythm distinct from the pack, and football in its purest form-is revealed.
Last week, before the League Championship, the boys knelt down and prayed. They did it on their own cognizance, no adult around, just a group of eleven and twelve year old boys simply praying for courage and honor, and that God would be with them through the blood, sweat and tears.
And so Touchdown Jesus has become a part of our vernacular…God and football, prayers and the O Line, a blend of the sacred and the secular, and a beautiful picture of little warriors gearing up for a spiritual battle.
Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV) … Therefore put on the full amour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.