He was wearing a black and gold James Harrison No. 92 sweater. We bonded right away. He couldn’t have been much older than 12, but when I passed him and said, “Go Steelers!” he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Although we had never met before, we shared something very special. We were both part of Steelers’ Nation.
He turned to his father and said, “That man loves the Steelers too!” I smiled as I sat down in my chair and thought that being a fan of a sports team is something very special. If you’re a fan, it doesn’t matter how old you are, what color you are, where you live, or how much money you make. You share something very unique with untold others. When you run into each other on the street, in a restaurant or at a game, you immediately become friends.
Ask any Boston Red Sox fan about 1978 or 2004 and you will see tears welling up. Ask any New York Jets fan about Willie Joe Namath and you’ll get a smile. Ask a New England Patriot Fan, “Who’s Better Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?” and you get an ear. Fans know who they believe in and are pretty clear about who their enemy is. It is always the man from the other team who loses.
I’ve heard Yankee fans argue about who was better, Jeter or Scooter, and then laugh and agree that they were both great in their day. The fans of the New York Giants can argue over which quarterback, Phil Simms or Eli Manning, is more talented. But when the screaming stops, they both cheer, “Go Giants.” That’s the beauty of sports. It’s our team against the rest of the world.
As I sat there eating my grinder, a sadness came over me. I wondered why it isn’t always the same with Jesus’ followers. I have seen Christians get caught up in angry disputes with other Christians. What may have started as a disagreement about how we interpret Scripture quickly turns into a battle of wills. Instead of celebrating our common faith, they walk away bitterly divided. No wonder the world seems to be turning away from the church.
Didn’t Jesus say that by our love they will know that we are in him? Is not the distinguishing mark of one who believes in Christ love for God and love for neighbor? It seems to me that instead of looking for the things that divide us, we should spend more time celebrating the One we have in common.
When I see a teenager in a Christian shirt, I smile and thumbs up. When I pass a car with a fish logo on the trunk, I honk and wave. I don’t care what church they go to. I don’t care if they’re conservative or liberal. If they believe in Jesus, then we rely on the same team. So let’s find ways to come together and celebrate our faith so that the world may know that we are one in Christ.
The Rev Cal Lord is pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Westerly.