One of the best things about sports is rivalries. They are full of history, excitement, and can create a boat load of emotion. We just finished the NCAA tournament and my wife works for a very large company who’s headquartered in Kentucky. When Kentucky played Louisville the entire building was wearing either red or blue! I hope there were no reviews for raises that week. I live in Green Bay Wisconsin and it could be argued that one of the biggest rivalries in all sports is the Bear – Packer rivalry. When Lovie Smith took over the Bears in 2004 after Dick Jauron, one of the first things he was quoted saying is that he was hired to beat the Green Bay Packers. In Green Bay, during Bear/Packer week, you can’t avoid hearing “The Bears Still Suck!” song. And in baseball we have so many great rivalries. New York and Boston is one that even came with a “curse” when the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to New York and didn’t win the World Series for 86 years (2018 to 2004). I think the “curse” has been lifted.
But no matter how spirited the rivalry there is no doubt or confusion what sport you are watching. Yes, when you look down on the field your team may be wearing green and gold (Packers) or blue and orange (Bears), but there is no doubt that they are both playing football. They follow the same rules, and have the same goals. In fact even though they have their differences during the game, when it is all finished they get together and congratulate one another, shake hands and sometimes even embrace. They are all part of the same NFL family. You can apply this to any other sport as well. Even though there is all the emotion, hype, battles and sometimes pain there is no doubt, from an outsider looking in, that these athletes are playing the same sport. What happens when a player goes down in an injury? There is silence, prayer, and concern for that player by ALL the other players. At this moment the rivalries don’t matter. They are all members of the same sport and they all are brothers or sisters banding together. They are part of a bigger picture than the team.
What if every team in the MLB decided to play the game by their own interpretation of the rule book? Let’s say the Brewers wanted 4 strikes and the Cubs wanted to only play 7 innings and the Mets wouldn’t allow walks because that was their interpretation. The Yankees may have bad pitching one year, so they will now call a home-run an out and the Angles will only allow right-handed players on the field on Tuesday’s. Would the MLB have the same success that they enjoy today? Would they even be able to play together or would they be so focused on their differences that you may lose the true meaning of the game? In fact they may take rivalry to a whole new level that goes beyond team verses team. They may blur what baseball really is supposed to be. What would that do to the fans? Fans may dwindle and start to look at something else to follow because there would be confusion and lack of unity. They would no longer want anything to do with the MLB.
This is what Christianity faces today. We are all so bent on focusing on our denominational differences that we lose the true beauty of the “game” that Jesus provided for us when He died on the cross. Instead of celebrating the fact that we are Christian, we focus on what team we belong too and scoff at people because they may be the “wrong brand” of Christian! Isn’t our playbook the same? Isn’t the Bible pretty clear, Mark 3:25 “25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Oh, that church is too this, or that one is too that. The only thing wrong with the church is that it’s full of people! Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” We are trying to make the perfect church, but God has given us flawed people to work with, and that is the way it should be. If we were perfect we wouldn’t need a savior. Matthew 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…”Don’t you think God is looking down and saying, “Can’t they read? It’s in the book!” Instead we focus on the rivalry. I’m Catholic so I don’t like (blank)… I’m Baptist, I’m Lutheran, Pentecostal, and on and on and on… and “I can’t stand them” or “get along with them”… What about the golden rule? Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” In my Bible it doesn’t have an asterisk (*unless they’re this denomination or that!). So, what game are you playing? Is your faith about your belief that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and the only way to heaven is through Him, or is it focused on the denominational “jersey” that you wear? I challenge us all to get together with believers (yes even THOSE ones) and dive into the play book together. Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another…” Because together is the only way we are going to win this game.