19 January 2014
1 Cor 1:1-3
Today is what’s known as a big football day. You may have heard of Pastor Tim, a Lutheran minister in in Butte, Montana, and a big 49ers fan. Last Sunday, he announced an abbreviated service so people could watch the game. “You’ll find bread and wine on the altar, so help yourself.” You’ve probably seen the video. What it doesn’t show is that after the sham service, he led a normal Sunday worship service. I’m not sure a lot of people got the point he was making. For many Americans, and in their own way, people around the world, football or its equivalent is pretty much their religion.
One news commentator recently confessed that his religion was the Philadelphia Eagles. Now that’s a little strange. The Chicago Bears, well, that’s different. Or the Cubs… Some years ago the pastor of a parish I was helping in told me that several members of the congregation had suggested that a shorter homily would not go amiss because they didn’t want to miss the opening of the Bears game.
There’s going to be a new billion dollar stadium in Minneapolis for the Vikings (the football team, that is, not the natives), to replace the Metrodome now being torn down. That may seem like a lot of money in a struggling economy, but it is really just the tip of the iceberg – almost literally, given the weather up there. And remember that the Superdome cost $185 million to repair and refurbish after Hurricane Katrina. To repair the stadium, FEMA put up $115 million, the state spent $13 million, the Louisiana Stadium & Expedition District refinanced a bond package to secure $41 million, and the NFL contributed $15 million. But lots of homes and small businesses in the 9th ward still haven’t recerived the money they were promised to help them rebuild.
There’s a lot of money in professional sports. Even for the players. Some of them, anyway, do very well. Last week Clayton Kershaw signed a $215 million dollar, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which makes him baseball’s first player with a $30 million average salary. [http://www.bnd.com/2014/01/15/3006481/ap-source-kershaw-dodgers-agree.html#storylink=cpy]
Overseas, soccer player Samuel Eto’o’s $28.8 million dollar per season contract comes close, and tops the salary of the next highest player, Cristiano Ronaldo, by $11.5 million. Then there’s Drew Brees’ $100 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. His $20 million per year average salary is the highest in the history of the NFL. Alex Rodriquez’ 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million, or $27.5 million per season, at least till he was sacked for a season for what some consider unsportsmanlike conduct.
The cumulative worth of the top 50 professional athletes in the world, almost all of whom play American sports, comes to a whopping $7,601,000,000. Spread over ten years, that’s approximately $760 billion per year. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_sports_contracts] That about the same as the Gross Domestic Product of Turkey or the Netherlands, and three times that of Ireland.
The profit earned last year by the NFL, by the way, was in excess of $9 billion, on which it paid no taxes, because it is officially a not-for-profit organization. Sweet, as the kids say. [http://sportsfans.org/2012/03/why-is-the-national-football-league-given-tax-exempt-status/]
In case you’re wondering what any of this has to do with today’s readings, let me suggest that Pastor Tim was on to something. If, as Jesus says, where a person’s treasure there heart will be also, it’s probably just as true that where their heart is you’ll find their treasure [Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34].
When someone’s heart is in the Gospel of Jesus, things really can get out of hand. Tomorrow we will observe the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was one of those. I’m not sure what his favorite football team was, but I know where his heart was. And now, 46 years after his martyrdom, so does the world.
Today’s readings continue the story of another such figure, John the Baptist, although after today the focus on Sundays will shift to the teachings of Jesus. But John mattered, especially to Jesus. His heart was in the right place. And he paid for that.
The first two readings remind us that God has lifted up Israel and then the New Israel, the community of Jesus Christ throughout the world, to be a light to the nations. Sometimes that light seems to falter and even to fail, but it will not be extinguished. Whether we will add to its brightness and light up the world, as Dr. King did, or forget the gospel in our enthusiasm for amusements and entertainment is up to us. As King reminded us, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
It’s hard to light up the world. It’s even hard to combine religion and football. Tim Tebow did that pretty successfully for a couple of seasons, and Tebowing became an international fad for a while, but at the end of the day, not even praying on the gridiron could save Tebow’s football career. I haven’t seen anyone tebowing lately, either. As for Drew Brees, Clayton Kershaw and the other millionaire players, I’m not at all sure where their hearts are, but I have an inkling about their treasure.
We have two weeks left. I hope when Jesus comes again in glory with his angels to judge the living and dead, it isn’t on SuperBowl Sunday, or he may find it hard to compete for attention. Or as he said in a moment of discouragement, “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Luke 18:8] If I’m watching television, I hope it will be the Puppybowl.