Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0
Last night I went to my first Premier League football match where I saw my local team, Arsenal, defeat Newcastle United. The match was scoreless for the first 82 minutes, when Nicklas Bendtner scored on a wicked header. A few minutes later Denilson, a Brazilian player, launched a hard shot past the keeper (who I’m still not sure ever saw the ball). The stadium is brand new—it’s easy to get in and out of, immaculate and comfortable. I had fish and chips and a beer for dinner—it doesn’t get too much better than that.
I loved every minute of it.
I went with Tom Barlow and Dan Passerelli, two Americans in London with their families to plant churches and share the gospel. It was a pretty good guys night out. Apart from the fun of it, being in one of the new cathedrals to the real religion of the UK showed us just how far the church has to go to get the attention of this culture. English football fans sing for almost the entire game. Some of the melodies are familiar, but the words are usually some form of either worship of their team or insults to the visitors. There were about 3000 fans from Newcastle in northern England there, and they gave almost as good as they got.
After the first goal, about 50,000 Arsenal fans stood up and chanted ‘Who are ya?’ at the visiting crowd, with fingers pointed their way. I hadn’t seen that before—it was a fairly harmless (in the occasionally vicious world of Brit football) thing, but it got me thinking. I wonder how many people in that place had a satisfactory answer to that question.
Who are you?
One nice thing about questioning someone else’s identity is that it keeps you from having to pay any attention to your own. As Christians we’ve been given a new purpose, a new life...a new identity, even, but we rarely take much time to focus on what that means. It’s easier, after all, to shout at someone else than it is to look in the mirror.
In one of the great moments of identity defining in the Bible, we read: ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have...’ (1 Peter 2:9-10)
I wonder how many of us who struggle along, trying to follow Jesus, actually think of ourselves this way. Do you? I don’t think it crosses my mind very often at all. What I like best about this passage, when it does manage to work its way past the static in my brain, is that the images are all about community: a people, a priesthood, a nation, and most importantly, people who have been shown mercy. The life of discipleship isn’t about being alone or isolated or even independent (that one ought to get your attention). The life of faith is about living the way God made us to live—in community with each other and with Jesus.
It probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to try and answer those 50,000 fans with a little homily from 1 Peter, but it has to get out there or we’ll lose (ironically) the very message that gives us our identity as Christians.
I think that’s what I like and admire about Tom, MaryAnn, Dan and Somer. They’re here in London without the structure (and mask) of the organized church, meeting people, building friendships and living the message they came to share. I want to be more like that in my church, even as I spend too much of my time on the business of running this place. As fun as our dinners and coffees have been, and a much as I enjoyed learning to be a sports fan in a new place, I think what I’m enjoying most is learning from these people how to do ministry in a new way. God is being generous with me right now, and I want to savor every minute of it.