A couple of weeks ago my wife (Amy) and I attended the Jacksonville Jaguar – New York Jet football game here in Jacksonville. It was a rush to go from church to stadium, find parking, get through security, and make our way to our seats. Jacksonville is a fairly genteel city – maybe because it’s the old school Southern hospitality; maybe it’s because the Jaguars aren’t that old and really don’t have a deep history like other NFL franchises. Having said that my wife and I twisted and winded our way around the stadium – my wife dressed stylishly, myself dressed in my New York Jet hat and golf shirt. We weren’t greeted with boos or jeers. In fact, most Jaguar fans (of which the stadium was replete with them) ignored me.
But the strangest thing occurred on our journey. Whenever we encountered a “fellow Jet” fan there was an acknowledgement, a “high-five,” a word of encouragement, a knowing nod, or a quick “Where are you from?” You could hear clusters of Jet fans doing the signature “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets” chant. My wife marveled at the immediate and instant connection of these random and scattered Jet fans. In fact, sitting one row in front of me and few seats down sat a Jet fan…Any time the Jets did something right (which was far and few between) he would stand up and we would exchange a fist pump or slap of the hands.
Here is the absurdity of all of this: Our only connection was a logo and a team…that’s it! When the game was over and we walked out of the stadium our lives returned to where they were before the game. People who exchanged pleasantries and “high-fives” were just as likely to ignore each other without the logo being displayed. And more than likely most (if not all) the people I encountered during the game would have little or no impact on my life when the final whistle blew. We returned to the anonymity and obscurity of living in America’s largest geographical city.
This experience really had me thinking about my life of faith in Jesus Christ and how Christians are connected to Jesus Christ (and each other). In simpler times we self identified as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, or Roman Catholics. However, the world has become more complicated, the church challenged, and denominations wrought with strife. For years it was acceptable to identify as a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. That was enough. People (within Lutheranism knew what that meant). Today? I recently was told the story by a member family who went to visit their son in a Western State. When they walked into the smallish church they were greeted by the Pastor. They identified themselves as “members in Good Standing” of an LCMS church in Florida. The pastor then interrogated them concerning the Sacrament of the altar. The “logo” was simply not enough.
Today we divide on lines of “Confessional” and “Missional,” “Orthodox” and “Progressive,” and find little or no unity in the Scripture and Confessions. The very writings that should unite have become the battle ground upon which we divide. I yearn for the day that I can wander into a District or Synod Convention and be greeted like I was at the NFL Football Game. I ache for a church that is so divided and is willing to “cut” brothers and sisters from the team because they are too far to the “right” or too far to the “left.” We are on the same team…we follow the same Savior…we receive the same forgiveness and salvation…we are given the same mission to “Go, Baptize, and Teach.”
The New York Jets were trounced that Sunday by the Jaguars. As we left the stadium we were not assaulted or assailed with insults from the Jaguar fans. Again, it is the South and they are a kind and genteel people. In fact, we were mostly ignored (not unlike how the church is by the culture today). As we walked to our car my bond and connection with fellow Jet fans began to dissipate. BUT I know that if I go to another game, put on my shirt and hat, fellow Jet fans will be quick to greet, celebrate, and rejoice that there are other long-suffering fans out there like themselves.
I wish this for the church – but not a connection that is only as deep as the color of a jersey or a logo on a hat. I wish for a connection of trust and love; a connection of shared faith and celebrated salvation; a connection of forgiveness and unity; a connection that values each member of the body of Christ. I long for acceptance and appreciation of each other on this team we call the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod