I grew up in Chicago. Though I have now lived the majority of my life in Florida, I remain a Chicago girl in my heart. I know what a “front room” is. The tallest building in the city will always be called “Sears Tower.” I know the Empire Carpet jingle by heart, and I take my pizza very seriously. However, the thing that most distinguishes me as a Chicagoan is my unequivocal devotion to the Chicago Bears football team. The NFL is a religion in my family of origin, and we live for football season.
Therefore, imagine my delight when I met my husband-to-be and discovered his family of origin had the same faithful devotion to the sport. However, there was a rub. You see, my husband grew up in Wisconsin, so (you guessed it) he’s a diehard Green Bay Packer fan. Anyone who knows anything about NFL rivalries would understand the great angst this might cause. The tension between the Hatfields and the McCoys, Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, or Al Capone and Bugs Moran pales in comparison.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:28-35)
The Jews were confident that the Gentiles were outside of the mercy of God and, therefore, unclean. In their view, only those devoted to the Law of Moses in every aspect could be considered people of faith in relationship with God. Look like me, act like me, eat like me, and believe exactly as I believe. These were the rules for acceptance as chosen people of God.
But Jesus had something else in mind. In every aspect of his life, Jesus modeled compassion for the broken, grace for the outcast, and acceptance of the rejected. Being part of the family of faith was about relationship, and it was as personal and unique as each individual.
This is a difficult concept. There is something very human about wanting everyone to see things exactly as I see them. How can God’s family extend to those outside of my own denomination, much less to the Muslim, the Buddhist, the atheist?
When did we become the gatekeepers of grace? Why do we believe it’s dangerous to allow God to work that out—that we’re the more capable judge?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Could that “sin that so easily trips us up” be our tendency to exclude others from the family of faith, presuming God’s grace doesn’t reach further than our own understandings? Might our devotion to our own spiritual identity become idolatry and prevent us from the greatest commandment of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves? If so, keeping our eyes on Jesus would most certainly be the best way to avoid such distractions.
Our families and friends don’t understand how we manage it, but as devoted as we continue to be to our own NFL teams, we have found harmony and joy in respecting (and even on occasion cheering on) each other’s teams. This is especially important as our son and his wife are Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, and our daughter shares her husband’s love of the Atlanta Falcons. Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed football season so much.
Tami Cinquemani is Worship Pastor at Florida Hospital Church.
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