Are you a football fan? I am. I grew up watching NFL games on Sundays. Where I lived in North Carolina, most of the people were Washington Redskins fans. I remember sitting in the floor pulling so hard for the Redskins – especially when they were playing the Cowboys. I remember being at my grandfather’s house on some fall Sunday afternoons as we watched the Redskins game through the thin haze of his cigar smoke. With childhood memories like that, it would be hard for me to shift allegiances.
When I went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I discovered the thrill of college football. Home games on Saturdays were incredible. It was so easy to get caught up in the energy. I enjoyed it so much that i wanted to share the experience with my father. I’d get him tickets, and he would drive up after the high school game on Saturday, use one of the bunk beds in my room, and we’d go make a day of it on Saturday. My early adult memories of games in Kenan Stadium created deep grooves in my mind and my emotions.
I’m a little older now, but my allegiance to my favorite teams has not waned. I don’t get to watch every game and I don’t get to attend very many at all, but you can believe I know the scores. If I get the chance, I’ll plop down and watch or at least listen to the broadcasts. My emotions take a roller-coaster ride until the final score is on the board. My dear wife should receive sainthood for putting up with me.
This past weekend, both my teams lost. One loss was lopsided and created wave after wave of frustration through all four quarters. The other loss was close, but no less disappointing. Even if my head didn’t expect to win, my heart holds out hope until the last tick of the clock. I’m a fan. If “my team” is playing, I’m fully engaged. Perhaps some of you understand…
Is being a fan foolish? Well, perhaps investing so much in a game is a bit silly, but consider these these verses found in Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
A great cloud of witnesses – what does the writer of Hebrews have in mind here? The imagery is of a sporting event – not football but a foot race – and the setting is likely a large stadium with seats all around like a modern arena. The great cloud of witnesses would be filling those seats as intensely interested in what was taking place as you or I might be at a football game. But what are they watching? What sport has their attention?
It is no sport. It is life. These are not players decked out in shoulder pads and helmets, but you and I living out our Christian lives. Are those in the stands merely passive bystanders unemotionally observing what is taking place? Hardly. That’s not what people do who sit in the stands. They are involved with the action. They groan at the bad plays and cheer for the good ones. They are intensely interested and fully engaged. They want you to run the race of your life with all your heart and strength for the glory of God until the end of your days and they’ll be cheering until the final horn sounds sounds.
Maybe my out-of-proportion allegiance to my teams and my over-the-top intensity when they’re on the field is not exactly rational, but at least it can help me understand the intensity with which heavenly eyes are fixed on my life as I “play the game” called life.