The better prize

Football doesn’t matter. It’s just a game. Try telling that to those young lads who gave their all last night and finished the game, exhausted, drained, on the floor with disappointment.  Try telling it to Sanchez and Saka who must carry the emotional scars of having missed penalties in a major tournament final and perhaps even more so  Marcus Rashford (no I still don’t know what he thought he was doing the morning after).  Try telling it to all the fans who couldn’t play an active part but who experienced the highs of an early lead and the crushing lows of a bundled equaliser and this morning are waking with the adrenalin drained and still dreaming of what could have been.

So, a couple of reflections this morning.  Yes, of course these things matter.  There’s something about a shared journey together, of taking pride, of a collective identity.  Football is a beautiful game and so for many reasons it rightly evokes passion, joy and tears.  We are Christians not Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed that physical matter and life here didn’t matter much at all, in fact it and earth were something to escape.  Christians believe in a world that matters because it was created by God. We believe in humanity made in God’s image and that includes the desire to create things of beauty too including art, culture and yes football.  Our belief in eternity and in the God who made this world does not devalue things here but invests them with true value and meaning.

BUT yes, that value has to be seen in context. Was I disappointed last night? Yes. Did I wake up this morning with a little less energy than I did after the late night watching the semi-final?  Of course. However, and perhaps its partly an age thing, partly a getting used to what to expect but also I think the perspective of 25 more years in Christ and all he gives, it doesn’t have that overwhelming crushing feeling of that Wembley defeat in 1996. Football matters but not that much. We have a greater hope, a greater joy.

So, some final reflections on the Euros.  First of all, I put on twitter last night “If your team weren’t on the pitch, then you don’t get gloating rights.” I’ve mentioned before that there are some people who seemed just a little too obsessed with England losing who didn’t have a stake in the game supporting neither England or Italy but rather anyone but England. Of course, there’s banter in football but if it goes beyond that into an obsessive bitterness. If you find greater joy in seeing your rivals disappointed than in your own team winning you’ve got the problem not them.  So, what about in the far more important arena of Christian faith? I’ve observed before that social media can be the place where believers who have put their all into serving Christ and know their inadequacies and failures go  to have others confirm those inadequacies and failures.  It is easy to sit back and criticise others but unless you are active in the battle yourself then you have very little to say. 

Secondly, at the end of the game did you watch the players going to collect their medals and what they did with them? The England players respectfully received their medals and then quite a few took them straight off again. Sarah turned to me and said “why are they doing that?”  I think it became clearer why when the Italians received their medals. They received them joyfully and then went straight to the camera to show them off.  For the England players the medals were a reminder that they still had a stage further to go. 2nd place in the Euros was good but they wanted more and their eyes will now be on the World Cup in Qatar next year.  There is a reminder for us.  Paul says:

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:5)

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

Peter says

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:4)

The crown in the imagery may well be a reference to the victor’s crown received in ancient athletics, the precursor to the winner’s medal. Those England players long for a greater prize and will press on now. They’ll work hard, train and press on in that search for glory.

We have a better prize to press on for. The Christian message talks both about our assurance in Christ of victory already won and the call to press on so that we finish the race well (to mix my sporting metaphors). 

My conclusion on twitter at the end of a long day was this.

I have a hope that does not disappoint. A joy that replaces and does not end in tears. I love the beautiful game but my heart belongs to a greater king