Many of us have grown up in cultures where competitive sports form much of the weft of the fabric of our lives. Even as we pursue formation and education in life-skills and knowledge, we are also formed through our interactions as members and supporters of teams in whatever various and sundry sports form the identities of schools, communities and regions in a society that places a premium on excellence and the elusive concept of "winning." Thus, I imagine, the title of this post is at least in some small way a provision of kindling to fire your imagination. You might be watching your favorite team attempt to prepare/earn a spot in the "playoffs" for a particular championship. You might be remembering a season-past set of experiences that give you joy (if your team was majorally victorious), or frustration/regret (if it was not). You might be looking forward to a moment when a new season for your team begins, keeping an eye on early workouts, heeding the news from the locker room and press offices and debating with compatriots on the virtues of that player versus this one, this coach versus that one.
|a pee-wee hockey team's "winning season" team portrait|
A winning season is a relatively simple thing to define: having a win/loss record that is better than other teams in your district, division, conference and/or league; doing well in the "post-season" and, by God's grace, having a favorable outcome in your sport's version of the championship game. But, and this is an important condition, what of the rest of life? What does a winning season look like for us as individuals, and as members of communities that operate outside the orbit of a favorite sports franchise? What does a winning season look like in the life of faith?
In light of today's readings, I think the idea of "winning" or "victory" is radically different in the life of faith than in the manner in which it is defined in the rest of our worldly lives. Victory is deliverance from slavery, pain, alienation. Victory is being brought out of a wilderness experience and then being tasked with building a new society from the remains of what was before. Victory is cleansing reconciliation and restoration after dramatic and catastrophic failure. Victory is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Victory is an empty tomb. Victory? It is when God acts, and in acting makes use of us so that good news prevails over despair and hope triumphs over dejecting loss. It is a life made holy by the blessing of God knowing, calling and using us to God's purpose.
Our job in this life is to temper our assumptions that models of success as they are defined by a sports-driven culture are somehow the root metaphors of our walk with God in a life of faith. When we forget that the moral arc of the universe is long, and that our experience of the victory of our God is posited as a multi-generational/multi-epochal event, we forget ourselves.
A winning season is just that...a season. It only makes sense when placed in context with the seasons that have gone before and it only ever provides a tenuous framework of what the coming season might bring...but in the end its bread and butter is simple, pure speculation. Anything can happen.
For a life in God, more is required: a willingness to risk all and follow where and when we are called; a desire to make God the center of our actions, outside of success-models; a hope that we will be able to play our part in something much, much bigger than we are; an assurance that God is utterly and completely committed to making life rise from death, and that no defeat is eternal. For God, every season is one for victory...even when it might seem that defeat holds sway. As one colleague once noted in an Easter sermon, "With God, the worst thing is never the last thing." There is always hope.