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” Approaching God through sport and leisure. A sermon preached by Helen Wright 4.3.2012 at Everton, St Neots.

On March 4th 2012 Helen Wright, who is the East of England ” More Than Gold” co-ordinator preached at St Mary’s Everton on the theme of ” Approaching God through Sport and Leisure”. Helen  has kindly allowed me to include her sermon on my blog for which I am very grateful.

Do take time to read Helen’s thoughts and perhaps explore for the first time the links between sport, leisure  and our life with God.

Approaching God through Sport and Leisure.

A Sermon given by Helen Wright at Everton Church, St Neots Deanery on Sunday March 4th  2012.

 Readings

 Genesis 1 v 26 – 2 v 3

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Matt 11 v 28 – 30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

May my words be a blessing to all who hear them, Amen.

Thank you for this invitation and thereby prompting me to think rather differently about ‘sport’ and about ‘leisure’ that is my usual approach.

Being an active toddler, child, then sporting teenager led to an early working life as a PE teacher until recently when an arthritic knee and an interest in Personal Development for teenagers caused a change of direction.

The decision to pursue a teaching life came before the decision to follow Jesus Christ. I am so glad that my discipleship route was clearly to continue in and through my already chosen work and did not require a change to the mission field or ordination – yet!

I think it entirely possible to approach and to fins God through sport and leisure – though you might be hard-pressed to find scriptures specifically to back this up!

Try as I might I can find no reference to Synchronised swimming, Hockey or Rambling in either Old or New Testaments and the only reference to anything resembling a javelin – that is the spear thrown in anger by Saul at David – isn’t exactly positive is it?

So, as you heard read, I chose to take as a launch and reference point, for approaching God through sport and leisure, the idea of rest.

In a small, but in my opinion, significant booklet titled ‘Rhythm of Life’ by Don Egan we are recommended to think of rest in a very different way.

Egan points out that God rested after all His work, His final creative act having resulted in human beings, man and woman.

For Adam and Eve, in contrast, their first complete day of life was a day of rest – from which they proceeded to work and live.

This way of looking at that scripture reading may be quite new and revelatory of God’s intentions for us that I will take a further moment for consideration – Egan suggests that rest is to be seen differently. We work from rest not rest from work.

This perspective, this way of thinking has not quite revolutionised my life but I do have a perceptibly changed sense of life-rhythm. Having burnt out 8 years ago I have a changed perspective on how to work, rest and play!

From offering that thought about resting on the first day and working from rest I now turn to some thoughts about how we might use the rest time that we have, on our rest day and at other times of the week. I turn to my provided title and look at sport and leisure.

Is God interested in the way we rest? Take our leisure? Compete in sport? Yes He is!

The leader of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Mark Greene, likens life to a peach and not an orange. On the Institute’s ‘Toolbox’ course I heard Mark say that we need to perceive our lives as a whole ‘peach’ with a stone at the centre, not as a segmented, fragmented ‘orange’.

Jesus desire is to be at the centre of our lives and, with Him at the centre, we can then enjoy every aspect of our lives with His interest in and approval of every activity and each opportunity.

I can say with certainty that God intends every one of His created beings to be whole, though for some that may be lived out within disability and associated restrictions. Wholeness of spirit is available for every single person.

We all know that whoever we are we should be aware of physical fitness as far as we are able to achieve that. For many of us that is reached through active sport and leisure pursuits, some competitive and some recreational. The endorphin hormones released create the ‘feel-good’ factor afterwards.

Can sport and leisure pursuits lead us to worship and through that reveal more about God?

You may be of an age to remember the film Chariots of Fire, the story of Eric Liddell, Christian athlete and later missionary, who famously refused the opportunity to win a gold medal in the 100m race at the 1924 Olympic Games – because his race was on a Sunday.

Sport as worship of God is well encapsulated in the scene from the film Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddell‘s thoughts as he runs are, ‘God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.‘ More and more Christians have come to see sport, played with the right attitude, as something that can bring pleasure to God. It is a shame that the line was actually written by Colin Welland, and that there is no indicator that it was ever spoken by Eric Liddell.

The church has had an interesting relationship with sport and leisure over the centuries.

One of the earliest references to a Christian view of sport came in 1364 when the Synod of Ely forbade its clergy to play games, and some years later the Prior of Lilleshall, issuing moral guidance, urged parish priests not to cast stones or ‘axle’ trees and to banish games from their churchyards.

Later in the 18th century Rev Samuel Ashe an English clergyman clearly saw the need for interaction between church and sport. He used to spend his Sunday afternoons hiding in the trees by the local sports field. He would bide his time till the football came near him when he would catch the ball and pierce it with a pin1. He could then go home rejoicing that he had stopped his parishioners from sinning!

The Bishop of Manchester, in 1902 blamed the decline in Sunday observance on three things: ‘…carelessness and athleticism, and particularly on the invention of the bicycle!’

Puritan opposition to sport might be summarized under three points:

1 Sport was not the best use of time;

2 Sport often took place on Sunday;

3 Sport was often associated with drinking, gambling and bad company

However some of today’s Premier League Football Clubs began as clubs started by churches: Aston Villa, QPR, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton, possibly to keep lads off the streets and out of drinking premises, particularly on Sundays.

There has been, arguably, more Catholic thinking about sport than you would find in evangelical circles. Pope Pius X who was Pope 1903-14 declared: ‘Young people should perform physical exercises. Performed in moderation they will not only promote the health of the body, but also the salvation of the soul.’

Pope John Paul II once said, ‘Athletic activity can help every man and woman to recall that moment when God the Creator gave origin to the human person, the masterpiece of his creative work.’

Author Stuart Weir, of Christians in Sport, to whom I give credit for researching many of these pieces of information, declares that any theology of sport should recognise that sport is:

  • a gift from God
  • part of God‘s creation
  • an opportunity for worship
  • an opportunity to love one‘s neighbour
  • a testing ground
  • an opportunity for witness [to the love of God]
  • important but not all-important
  • not the source of our significance as people

Let’s now pick up his declaration that sport provides an opportunity to ‘love one’s neighbour’ and an ‘opportunity for witness [to the love of God]’

This is where I strongly suspect that the motivation for inviting me to this meeting comes from!

I was hanging on the edge of my seat around 12.10 on July 6th 2005 and jumped high when it was announced that London would be the host city for the 2012 Games!

Since January 2009 I have been working as a volunteer with More Than Gold, the umbrella organisation under which most Christian denominations and organisations are responding to the incredible opportunities provided, by the fast-approaching London 2012 Olympic Games, for loving our neighbours and witnessing to the love of God.

Looking forward to the Games or renting out your home for the six-week duration?

A waste of money or an enormous investment for the future of the country?

A summer of sport in our own back-yard – brilliant?

Love it or loathe it – the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are less than 150 days away.

If you love God, love your neighbours – whoever they are – and want ways to witness to God’s love for them then it is time to consider embracing the More Than Gold 3-fold strategy: offer hospitality, go out of your way to serve people and you may just find yourself with a chance to tell them about an incredible God who loves them to bits and wants to have relationship with them.

Ely Diocese has been very forward thinking in appointing your own Tim Hayward as Diocesan Olympic coordinator.

He is the person to whom you should direct your enquiries after I have gone, but just in the last few moments given to me let me share some of the ideas that More Than Gold has come up with for churches to use to encourage communities to grow:

A family fun afternoon

Watching the Opening Ceremony together on a big screen

Neighbourhood Bar-B-Q’s on so-called ‘super Saturday’, when 25 gold medals will be decided

A board-Games Olympics at your local elderly care-home

A sports quiz night

The Paralympics gives churches a chance and a reason to develop and improve their inclusivity and access provisions.

Does God want us to approach Him? Yes – His arms are open wide to each of us!

Does God mind if we approach Him in sport and leisure pursuits? Not at all – He created us with bodies that are at their most healthy with activity and exercise.

Can we use sport and leisure to help others who are not yet sure of God’s existence or love to find Him? Most certainly!

About 10% of this nation regularly attends church.

Dependent on the survey anything between 17% and 20% of this nation are members of health clubs or a sports team.

By developing relationships with those for who sport and leisure pursuits are important we can build a platform for conversations about He who is most important to us.

Try the More Than Gold Way.

I can, though, assure you that on September 10th 2012, the day after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, all More Than Gold workers will be seeking

a good deal of rest, from which, eventually, we will seek the work that God has for us after that!

 May God bless all these thoughts and bring them back to you for Him to use appropriately in His service, Amen.

Check out the More Than Gold web-site:

www.morethangold.org.uk

March 8, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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