Beware of Idols: Start with the Super Bowl

115 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl later today. That makes it the most watched event ever in the history of television. In some parts of the country, 60% of all people will be watching the big game. In fact, NFL games dominate the list of the top watched TV programs every year, with the Super Bowl far exceeding anything in second!

Why is the Super Bowl so big? Surely, a large part of it is that football is the most popular sport in our country, and sports for many people have become their number one idol! Of course, the Super Bowl isn’t just about football. It combines athletes and their game with some of the most popular entertainers who perform at halftime. And entertainers and celebrities are another central idol for many people today. And then, some tune into the game simply to be entertained by the TV commercials, which now cost $4.4 million per 30 seconds! Our desire and passion for entertainment is another of the major idols we face!

In many ways, the Super Bowl combines many elements in our contemporary society, foremost of which is our desire for entertainment – watching modern gladiators fight in today’s huge coliseums with millions and millions of people cheering them on as gods!

Now there’s nothing wrong with football, just like there’s nothing wrong with most sporting events in and of themselves. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we are always called to look at everything through the lens of the kingdom of heaven, and not simply from the world’s perspective. And Christ warns us to beware of idols that tempt to draw our attention away from the one true God.

Sports. Celebrities. Entertainment. And fascination with the rich and famous. These are some of the great gods of our modern society that we have to be wary of.

I came across a 300 year old quote from Francis de Sales, a Roman Catholic saint, which seems so relevant today: “You must guard against excess either in the time they [i.e. sports] occupy, or in the importance given them; for if you devote too much time, they cease to be recreations and become occupations; you do not refresh the mind or body—on the contrary, you overpower and stun both … if the interest of the game is too deep, it produces over-anxiety … especially avoid attaching yourselves to them, for however allowable such sports are as amusements, they become evils as soon as they absorb the heart.”

Can we say that today “sports absorbs the heart” of many people? How much time do we spend on sports? And how much attachment and importance do we give? For many, the attachment, devotion, time, and money we give to these gods of football, and many other forms of entertainment, far exceed the devotion, time and attention we give to the one true God!

Just watch the fervor, excitement, and passion tonight in New England and Seattle. On a very small scale, I get a taste of this once a year when my brother Niko invites me and my sons to a Philadelphia Eagles football game. It’s enjoyable to be with my boys, my brothers, and my nephews. It’s a time of fellowship, fun, and excitement. And yet, each year I depart from the experience reflecting on how too many fans go way overboard in their excitement and attention to the sport – they have created a football team, or an individual player, into their god, and the sport itself into their religion.

Someone recently told me how they went to Foxwoods to attend an autograph session with players from the Boston Red Sox. The fans had to pay $40 to get into a hall, where everyone had to wait in long lines to simply get an autograph from a player. If the player was a star, the longer the line. Everyone wanted their picture taken with these athletes, and if you got their autograph, if you got to meet them, if you got to shake their hands, it’s as if you met a god. And of course, when we pay these players tens of millions of dollar simply to play a sport they love playing, and then worship the ground they walk on, they start thinking they are gods! And the same could be said about celebrities, musicians, and many of the rich and famous. We’ve created too many gods in our society, and allowed them to take a central place in our lives.

Yet, the very first commandment God gave to the Israelites, when He revealed Himself as their God, and they His people, was the commandment: “I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me…. Do not make for yourself an idol in any form.”

The first commandment was a reminder to the people of WHO GOD IS, and of how this needs to be the central relationship in our lives! God know the temptation that assails every fallen human heart. We are tempted to create images and ideas that we idolize and worship. Today, so much of our idolization and worship revolve around our egocentric desires for entertainment! It’s not about reaching out to our neighbor in love, as Christ modeled and taught, but it’s about focusing on whatever will make me happy and entertained!

This is a challenge for all of us, because we all are tempted by this idol of entertainment! Look at the time we give, the money we spend, the attention it demands in our lives. One contemporary theologian, Dusty Gates, puts it this way, “That which is worshipped naturally sets the compass for our entire lives. We orient ourselves towards its pursuit and emulation… When we “honor and revere a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons, power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Our idols offer us a false liturgy of secularism, which attaches worth to the created rather than the creator. The story they offer us is one of individualism, pride, and superficiality. When we worship these idols we worship also the gods to whom they are obedient: the false gods of power, pleasure, and image.”

Today, let us all remind ourselves of WHAT life is truly about, of WHO is central in the story of life, and of HOW we are called to follow the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus is the only One who gives life its ultimate and eternal meaning. He is the Holy Wisdom which guides us in our lives. He is the Source of Power which helps us overcome any darkness and evil in the world. Let us keep our central and primary focus always on Him!

We can watch and enjoy the Super Bowl. In our daily lives, we can play sports and take pleasure in other recreation. We can participate and like various entertainment. But we just need to take care and beware not to allow anything in life to become an idol, a symbol of worship that demands too much of our time, efforts and treasure, and replaces our time and devotion to the One True God!

“I am the Lord your God,” the first commandment says, “And you shall have no other gods before me.”

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