Leave it Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated, a.ka. America's greatest sportswriter, to make a point involving church and sports that should have been made long ago. In his "Life of Reilly" column in the April 26, 2004 50th Anniversary issue of SI he talks about youth sports encroachment on Sunday morning worship in America. He says:
Another Easter Sunday in the Cathedral. Hushed voices. Amens. People holding hands and praying. At the end, all of them rising as one and screaming "My God, it's a miracle!" Church? Hell no. Augusta National. It was Phil Mickeleson's win at the Masters.For more of his thoughts, continue reading.
Sports has nearly swallowed Sunday whole. Every pro sport plays on Sunday. The big day in pro golf and tenis is Sunday. College football started playing bowl games on Sunday. Here's March Madness: 10 NCAA tournament games were played on Sunday. Now more and more youth sports teams are playing on Sunday, when the fields are easier to get and parents are available to drive."
Priests and pastors across the country have noticed something lately: God is competing more and more with Sunday sports, and losing. Especially with youth sports.He says this is do to the "upping" of American youth sports.
For some reason overcaffeinated parents feel they have to keep up with the Joneses. They used to do it with their cars. Now they do it with their kids. Upping means putting little Justin into not one soccer league but three, not one soccer camp but four.He goes on to describe parents who force kids to play one or two levels above their age group, move them to elite teams that practice and play in other towns. John Burrill of the Massachussetts Youth Soccer Association says this of playing on Sundays:
We don't feel particularly good about it, but with today's busy schedules Sunday is the only time some of us have to do these things. And if you're going to travel two states away, it doesn't make sense not to play on Sunday too.One father told a coach that his child wouldn't be playing on Sundays and the coach looked shocked. The father told the coach that he acted like no one had ever said this to him and the coach said they hadn't. Reilly says:
I'm with the holy men. Not that I'm the Reverend Lovejoy, but I just feel sorry for these kids who get nothing but organized sports crammed down their gullets 24/7. My Lord, even God took a day off.Rick Reilly hits on a hot button for me. For years now I have witnessed men leaving church quickly to make it to a football game, kids skipping church to play on their travelling soccer teams and even my own kids playing sports for teams who scheduled games on Sundays. In another part of the column Reilly, who is Catholic, speaks of how the Pope is "hacked off" at sports encroachment on Sundays - then he says that the Pope needs to begin his crackdown on the Christians themselves.
I realize that there is debate in the Christian church about the Sabbath. Some believe that the fourth commandment is no longer binding on us because the whole of the law has been abrogated with the coming of Christ. Even those of us who believe that the moral law was not abrogated have an intramural debate on the Sabbath between the Westminster view (very strict) and the Continental view (a little freer). I think that we have to factor passages such as Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5 into our understanding of the Sabbath and I believe that those will allow for some freedom of conscience as to how one observes the Sabbath, provided they do observe it. For that reason I have never fallen completely into the strict sabbatarian camp, but at the same time I do believe that we must honor the Sabbath for the same reason we must honor our parents, refrain from murder, adultery, and covetousness. These are all a part of the moral law, which are an expression of the character of God.
Also, we often treat the Lord's day as if it is an imposition, when in fact it is a blessing, it is a gift to us. It is no imposition to me when I take my wife out on a date - it is a delight to spend that one on one time with her. Yes, I have to cease my regular activities and arrange for childcare and do a whole host of other things that mess my schedule up. But I delight to do those things because I get that one one one time with my wife. The Lord's Day is meant to be a delight for us - it is a gift to us where we can rest our tired bodies, put away our worldly cares and worship and commune with our heavenly Father. Why are we so eager to intrude on this time? How does playing soccer or watching football compare with worshipping God.
I know that I sound more legalistic than I intend in this little diatribe. I confess that I usually check the scores of the games at least once on Sunday afternoons in the fall and I frequently watch Sunday Night Football on ESPN. But I don't let those things interfere with worship. And yes, when my kids are on teams that schedule games or practices on Sundays I let the coach know up front that my kids won't be there.
This is just one more arena where the world is encroaching on the life of believers and we are welcoming them in. I wonder what would happen if all Christians would just stop letting their kids play sports on Sundays and if all Christians who coach would tell their leagues that their teams won't play or practice on Sundays. I realize that a lot of parents are counting on little Johnny to earn that scholarship to college or hoping they'll make it to the big leagues. But the fact is that not one kid in ten thousand makes it anyway, so why disrupt one of the most important and life-shaping experiences of a kid's life (worship) for one that pales in comparison (sports).
Rick Reilly has a great closing on this matter:
Hey you do what you want. Just remember, when little Shaniqua has two free throws to win or lose a game on some Sunday morning, good luck finding somebody who'll answer your prayers.