taking the words of Jesus seriously


People say that professional sports fuel what is worst in us. Our greed, our impatience, our willingness to ruin our bodies for the sake of fame. Our glorification of the worst human impulses, our blindness to the crimes these athletes sometimes commit.


Many a minister has lamented the confirmation student absent again for basketball practice or baseball practice; the Sunday School student whose hockey practice always comes before Sunday worship; the church member who watches their ESPN Gamecast during the sermon.


It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall.


Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl.


But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields.


Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.


Jesus was King like the Royals are King. He was a small-market franchise, loved by a small but devoted group of followers who took a risk on a long shot because We Believe.


Being a fan of the Royals is different than being a fan of the Yankees or the Dodgers. Most of the time, it’s worse. You lose and lose and lose again, and players never want to stay.


Being a follower of Jesus is different than being a follower of consumerism or fame. Most of the time, it’s worse. You’re compelled to give your money away, you have to forgive people even when they do terrible things. Even though you follow the Savior of the world, you and your loved ones still die.


Sometimes, though–and ultimately–being a fan of the Royals is better. On Sept. 30, 2014, being a Royals fan was better. They won with heart, with tenacity. When they were down they were really down, but when they were up they brought their city up with them, and this flyover cow town was filled with immense pride. All of a sudden people were hugging and thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is a God and good really will win in the end.


Sometimes–and ultimately–being a follower of Jesus is better. At the cross, Jesus won with truth, with love. When he was down, he was really down. When he died, the dream died with him…  for three days. But then he got up again, and when he rose he brought the whole world up with him. And we were filled with faith and hope and love. All of a sudden, people were saying Grace and hugging and thinking that maybe, just maybe, He really is God and good really will win in the end.


Maybe sports are America’s religion right now. And maybe sometimes Jesus takes on sports and uses America’s religion to remind us that We Believe.


Most of us, especially those of us in states the news forgets, will never be royals like the song says. But Jesus says that, in the end, we will all be a Royal Priesthood.


In the meantime, maybe he gives us the Royals to remind us We Believe.


About The Author


Angela Denker is a Lutheran pastor and veteran journalist. She's written for many publications, including Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Sojourners. She is the author of "Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump" (Fortress Press).

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