Radio Leicester Thought for the Day
© John Denney 12 June 2002
There’s no escaping the Football World Cup. If last Friday’s match is anything to go by, 17 million of us are watching England play Nigeria this morning. That’s one in three of the population. What the other two-thirds are up to, I don’t know. But don’t try ringing me during the match, ‘cause I won’t be answering the phone until after the final whistle!
What is it about football at this level that rouses such deep feelings for our national teams? Some people say that team sport is ritualised warfare. I suppose it’s better to hoof a bag of wind around a field for 90 minutes than to lob missiles at one another. Others see a displaced religion in the game.
Certainly there are some similarities to Christian observance.
But of course the resemblance is only superficial. Bread and wine is not the same as pies and Bovril. The adulation of our footballing heroes falls short of worship. And all our footballers can do is play football to the limit of their ability. And they give us delight when they show their skills, and satisfaction when they win on our behalf. They also bring despair and disappointment when the team loses. But our God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, our loving Father, He is without limits. He gives us delight and satisfaction. And He never brings despair and disappointment.
Before every match in the World Cup, they play the National Anthems of the countries involved. I’ve been struck by how many are hymns, asking God to bless their country.
Perhaps one of the noblest sentiments is in our own National Anthem. Listen to the third verse:
Not in this land alone,
But be God's mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world o’er.
And isn’t that what this World Cup should be all about? The brotherhood of our common humanity? Because we are all God’s children, and like every human father, God loves to see His children at play.