College football begins tonight: Duke has a game with Tulane (I understand there is another game this evening also that some of you may watch). And that has led my thinking down a path.
I have been thinking about attending football games and the nature of the event. Typically, I am sitting near strangers, people I’ve never seen before and am not likely to see again apart from that setting. We will talk, share the experience of the game, cheer and groan together. We may even “high five” each other when something goes particularly well.
The thing is I do all of that with strangers and I never once ask them about their political affiliation or what they believe about certain “hot button” issues or if they agree with me on the state of the world. I don’t wonder about their socioeconomic status, though it may be somewhat assumed if they can afford to be at the game. I don’t inquire about their lifestyles or their moral choices. I am not troubled by their ethnicity or place of origin. For all I know they may be on parole or they may be some of the wealthiest people in North Carolina. For all I know they may be a Baptist or a Presbyterian! All I do know is that for three to four hours we are bound by a common affection for Duke football. Nothing else really matters.
Which causes me to wonder why it is that when we come to church, we don’t make the same claim. Why isn’t it the case that all that matters for one or two hours a week is a common affection for Jesus, a common bond around Christ? Why is that in church we worry about the very things that we don’t worry about anywhere else – belief systems, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, political affiliation? Why are we willing to be distinguished from one another here by opinion when we aren’t anywhere else? Shouldn’t this be the one place where the common affection for some thing (or in this case some One) greater takes precedence over all other considerations?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together suggests that Christian community can only exist in Jesus Christ. Anything else is counterfeit and not true Christian community. John Wesley strolled along this path as well. In one of his more famous sermons, “On a Catholic Spirit,” Wesley shrugs off the suggestion that “opinions” or rituals determine who we are as a community. Rather, appealing to oneness in Christ (catholic spirit) he quotes scripture and says, “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.”
What might a church look like that valued relationship and welcome over opinions and “being right?” What might a community look like that made room at the table for the people Jesus sat at the table with? What might we look like if we treated our common affection for Jesus with the same level of regard that we do for our alma maters?
Just wondering. I’ll be wondering aloud some more on Sunday as consider “fellowship” by reading a story of Jesus “as he sat at dinner” in Matthew 9:10-13. I hope you’ll join me in wondering, too.
Grace and peace.