I don’t know if you have ever had the privilege of being on a college campus on a Saturday afternoon in the fall of the year, but there is nothing like it on the face of the earth. The energy and atmosphere surrounding a college football game is amazing. But more than that, national ranking notwithstanding, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — like a Saturday afternoon in October spent in Columbus, and especially if you are anywhere near the campus of The Ohio State University, and especially if there is a home football game on the schedule.
It does not matter who the opponent is. It really does not even matter how good the home team is, although as an alumnus I must admit that it is really nice this year. But on any home game Saturday there, the environment is electric with anticipation.
On many occasions, both as a student and as an alumnus, I have had the privilege of attending a football game at The Shoe. The atmosphere of the occasion is electric. Early on, one discovers that there are literally thousands of other fans there to take in the ambiance as well. The tailgaters are actively barbecuing dogs, burgers and steaks, and even watching the pregame show on their TV sets hooked to their vehicles. There are hundreds of students and others who are playing football, Frisbee and corn hole games. Recordings of the marching band blare everywhere – out of dorm windows and storefronts, not to mention the boom boxes in the cars cruising up and down High Street. There is Scarlet and Gray everywhere, with just a smattering of the opponent’s colors thrown in.
It does not matter where you are standing, someone off in the distance is shouting “O-H”, and somewhere else, someone else was answering, “I-O!” Two hours before kickoff, the OSU Marching Band marches into St John Arena for its Skull Session, a rehearsal for all the music the band will play in the stadium that day. The football team even files through to help the spirit of the occasion.
One of the most amazing observations to me is the fact that for a home game, the “Twelfth Man” is truly a factor. I cannot believe that anyone would really choose to be the visiting team there. If you are not a Buckeye, Ohio Stadium is absolutely one of the most intimidating places in all of the world to play football. Not only is it difficult to face the super-talented Buckeye football team, but to do it in that place, in front of over 100,000 fans, dressed in red and yelling at the top of their lungs is very intimidating – and that is just during the marching band’s entrance onto the field before the game ever starts.
Which leads me to my point… What is it that motivates that many people to gather together in one place and at one time and for one purpose to be so hyper-enthusiastic about their team? They will come as one wearing anything and everything that is colored scarlet and gray. They will paint their faces and put on funny hats and wigs and the like. And these grown men and women will literally make fools out of themselves, standing up and yelling and waving around the stadium — all in support of their team. What makes them do such things?
But I have an even better question: Why don’t we do such things on Sunday mornings? Why is it so hard to get people to cheer hard for the Lord? Why don’t we demonstrate that same kind of energy and cultivate that same atmosphere of anticipation and excitement when we gather together for the Lord?
Every time I have been to one of the OSU football games, I find myself coming away asking those same kind of questions. Blame it on alcohol if you must, but people seem to get so excited about Buckeye football. They cheer crazily for a long touchdown run and groan unmercifully for a dropped pass. They will talk about the game for days — even weeks, and sometimes years after the game is over — and they seem to have no qualms about it. Yet it seems so difficult for people to even think about the Lord past Sundays, let alone talk about Him to anyone.
On Saturday afternoons, people may dispute a play called, or a player who is substituted. They may question a coach’s decisions or game plans. But when the final buzzer sounds and the victory is registered on the scoreboard, all that disharmony is put aside (or at least reserved for the radio talk shows) and everyone leaves the stadium as one, content to be victorious and basking in the sunshine which that victory brings.
Well, my friends, I am here to tell you that for those of you who are followers of Jesus and are trusting in Him for your personal salvation, the victory has already been won. The clock on the scoreboard of life may still be running, but the final score has already been determined. And if you are on His team, you win. That very fact ought to inspire you to cheer your “team” (your church) on, and even more importantly, to get down on the field and help to accomplish the coach’s “game plan.” Because that plandoes include you. That plan also means that you should worry more about your own role in that plan than about what everyone else is or is not doing to accomplish it.
My goal, my prayer is that every day lived for Jesus now would be like every day in heaven will be. And that every day in heaven will be like a Saturday afternoon in Columbus — everyone cheering their heads off for the Lord, doing what He asks us to do and being what He asks us to be.
By the way, the Buckeyes have a bye this week, but cheer anyway!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]