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Footy Fever and Faith

Published 26 October 2010

The siren sounded but the score board was locked on equal scores and as if struck by a massive tazer-gun the noisy crowd was stunned into silence.

In the acclaimed sporting capital of the world, the world actually stopped for a moment or two when the climax of the footy season was unexpectedly aborted. The A.F.L Grand final in Melbourne this year had just refused to be finalised!! The adrenaline rush was cruelly interrupted as the crowd adjusted to the thought of a second play-off the following Saturday.

One lad was noticed crying his eyes out. When asked if he was O.K. between his sobbing he explained there was nothing wrong with game, the problem centred on his sister. "My sister is getting married next Saturday and now I will miss her wedding"!! Over the next week the media churned out pictures, prophecies and gossip so that like a pressure cooker under steam the hype built again until another 100,000 fans dressed and painted in ceremonial colours like two tribes ready for battle, filled the M.C.G. for the second time.

What is this strange compelling mania that grips people to pay more than $100 each for the privilege of yelling and going bananas? Nothing else in this part of the world seems to affect us like football. What is it about football that moves powerful media executives to tears and hardened footballers to duck their heads and cry under the cover of their footy guernseys? Is it a tribal instinct, perhaps a pack mentality? Is the power of competition and a deep desire to win so strong that we passionately surrender ourselves to a corporate identity for a while? When our team kicks a goal, we actually kick a goal. When they loose, we loose.

After asking myself questions like this I would normally put them aside and get on with things but this year the footy season was followed by the Commonwealth Games and then thousands trekked off to Rome to celebrate Saint Mary McKillop's Canonisation. The question remained, "What is this zeal that drives people to do extra ordinary things?"

Our Church could be commended for dividing into groups last Sunday to discuss future mission plans but the excitement of contesting for Christ or of grasping the vision was hardly evident. A church down the road held a "Commitment Sunday", a day of thanksgiving and sacrificial giving but it hardly raised a stir!! Perhaps the media in portraying the Church as an austere, irrelevant institution are closer to the mark than we like to admit? If knowing and following Christ is more than a bonding ritual or idealism built on human aspiration where is the passion? Perhaps we are restrained because we fear the public scrutiny linked to anything that may be seen as religious extremism. It could be said that this is all the more reason for fostering a different sort of passion that clearly stands in contrast to the hype of self-focused footy fever. Today we need to rediscover a passion for Christ that sacrificially gives itself to the wholeness and welfare of others, a felt passion that quickens our breath as well as our step.

Rather than a mass public gathering in a stadium, if passionate Christians infiltrated the community through a network based in local churches and if every Christian seriously trained to goal or score for Christ or ran the race to win, then to be Christian would be just as radical as a "switched on" footy fan, but in a different way.

Paul the apostle saw his own death taking place when Christ died. He was changed from a zealous Pharisee to a passionate Christian, from being self conscious he became Christ conscious. He understood his life and identity as being an inseparable extension of Christ and his resurrection. He could not write, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal 1.20) or "For me to live is Christ" or "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" (2Tim.1.8) without expressing a deep soul- gripping passion that moved him emotionally and intellectually to make a difference.

Rather than the frenzy of the footy fan, Paul's passion expressed itself in sacrifice and doggered perseverance against a litany of odds. He was passionate about life and his calling. He was passionate about Christ, the pastoral well-being of the church and the love of God that reaches out to all people, even those in our sport culture.

Paul urged Timothy to stir up the gift of God that dwelt within him. Far from it being a mere uncontrolled emotion, God resources us with a radical gift that is described as a gift of love, power and self-control.(2 Tim 1.7). Footy fever may be fun but in its intensity it challenges Christians to wake up, and to stir up the gift they have been given in order to make a real difference in the real world..

Ted (E. A) Curnow
October 2010

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