I went to Wembley Stadium this week to see the Atlanta Falcons play the Detroit Lions in an NFL game. It was exciting and ended on a nail biting field goal. The atmosphere was friendly and jovial with lots of laughter and people experiencing their first ever game of a sport they have admired from afar. It was a first for my son who was almost vibrating with excitement as he devoured every detail and colour and sound.
Apart from those who were actual fans of either of the teams, no one in the stadium really cared who won. What was important was being there celebrating something we all loved and sharing it with thousands of other people who loved it too. Of course, we hoped the two teams would put on a worthy display.
There was a lot of drinking but no fighting. I’ve never seen such a low key police presence at a stadium filled with 80,000 people. There was no fan segregation. There was good natured ribbing between people wearing rival shirts but there was no malice. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in the other fans around them and their experiences of football.
The old lags happily explained to new converts about why a particular play was stopped or why the punt returner was waving his hand in the air. There was no telling people to shut up, no one was treated like a distraction.
In short, it was less of a sporting event and more of a festival of people celebrating something they really loved with loads of others who loved the same thing.
I’ve thought about this over the week and I’ve been struck by how much I wish the Church was like this. We, the Wembley crowd, were a diverse group of men and women united by our love of football. We all came with different views on football, different favourites, different doctrines about how the game should be played and who should play it. Yet none of that got in the way of celebrating what we loved and sharing a sort of fellowship. No one was told they couldn’t come in because they were Cincinnati Bengals fans or because their all time favourite player was John Elway. No one refused to talk to their neighbour because they preferred teams with a running game.
In short, our starting point was the thing we loved and celebrating that love a with loads of others who loved the same thing. And that really should be the church’s starting point too. When we are part of a church because we love Jesus and his way and revel in being with others who love him and his way too, all the other stuff falls into place.