From the pastor…
There are three teams on the field at every game of the National Football League. There are the two teams of combatants who are dressed in distinctive uniforms – the home team and the visiting team. They have come to the field to engage in a physical conflict that will entertain the spectators – who seem to like that sort of thing. This conflict, if left on its own, would turn into chaos.
So, there is a third team on the field. That is the team of officials, who wear their own distinctive uniforms and have titles like referee, umpire and field judge. Unlike the combatants, they don’t represent any city and they don’t have a partisan interest in the combat that is about to unfold. But they are important and they carry great authority. They represent the league office and their word is truth and their judgment is final.
The players on the football teams have attributes of speed, strength, stamina, power and skill. Most of them are in peak physical condition and what they’re prepared to do is to “fight” over the placement of the football and impose their will over their opponents. They will knock down people who get in their way and they will show no remorse when they tackle someone trying to advance the ball into their territory.
The team of officials is not prepared to engage in that kind of physical battle. They are mostly older, slower, weaker and less skilled than the players around them. But they are exactly where they belong in the fray. They speak words of order. They impose fairness on the playing field. They resolve conflicts and give meaning to the rules of the game. Even though the teams and the spectators will object to some of their decisions, their participation allows beauty to emerge from the chaos.
But these officials don’t impose their own will on the game. No matter what their own personal opinions might be, they serve a higher power. They are league officials and they impose the wisdom of a book – the rulebook of the National Football League. They are trained to interpret the rulebook during the heat of the game. If they ever deviate from the book they will be rightly censured for failing to uphold the code and the authority of the league office. The game of combat on the field will suddenly become illegitimate if it loses its loyalty to the fair play ideals of the book.
By now you’ve probably figured out that this “kingdom” of the NFL is an analogy of the kingdom of God’s Church on earth. The Church represents God, who reigns in heaven – the “league office.” Only He can bring the pointless struggles of earthly life into order. Only His Word can bring beauty into the angry conflict that sin has caused.
All sorts of scrimmages between combatants are raging on earth. Left unregulated, they bring us into chaos. Neighbor opposes neighbor, political groups are in conflict, even families are engaged in strife that seems to have no end. But the Church exists to bring peace and harmony and beauty to the field of human combat. Our principles come from above.
And the Church does more than represent God. We are the body of Christ on earth. Jesus gave His life to ransom us from sin. We are in the midst of mortal warfare, but we’re not of the chaos that swirls around us. We have the order of God’s Word – the book that not only gives rules for proper engagement on the field of battle, it forgives our fouls and infractions, redeems us from the death and destruction around us and gives us life everlasting.
In the end, our authority comes from God alone. His Word is the ultimate judge and the ultimate hope for life. We are His proclaimers, trained in His Word to speak truth with the authority of the “League office.”
This analogy, like any analogy, has its limits, though. What if God’s Word were to prevail in the hearts of the combatants to the point where they decided to love one another instead of fighting to advance their positions against each other? I guess that would give rise to another type of game – a cooperative game where heaven – and not earth – is the illustration of the life we long to live forever.
Under the authority of the Good Book,