“Football was invented because men had nothing to say to their mates.” (Ben Elton)
Certainly, football is something that men take very seriously. I still listen keenly to the football results just before 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, and at every international competition I try to believe that England will bring football home.
I am not sure if I am allowed to say this, but I have not been a fan of women’s football. Up until 2022 women’s professional football has attracted no more than 2,000-3,000 spectators which is the kind of attendance teams get in the third and fourth tiers of the men’s football league.
Then this year all that has begun to change — the England women’s football team played before a full house at Wembley in the Euros final. Not only did they play, they won, and that against the Germans! The Lionesses have done what the men have failed to do since 1966. They have brought football home.
There are a number of things that have impressed me about the Lionesses. Firstly, they are obviously working together as a team. The players appear to be working for each other rather than for themselves. The victory seems to owe less to individual brilliance and more to a concerted team effort.
Secondly, they appear to be playing for the sheer joy of it. This joy was captured by the enthusiastic dancing after the final whistle, but especially the the uncomposed goal celebration by match winning scorer Chloe Kelly. That ecstatic celebration was seen by 18 million people worldwide.
As Lucy Clark-Billings commented in the i paper, “Roaring with pride in grass-stained shorts, the 24-year-old forward symbolised the unabashed, unburdened freedom of playing sport and having fun.”
Some have suggested that this focus and joy were a result of being relatively lower-paid, compared to the men. Sometimes the pressure of the monetary prize can suck the pleasure out of any activity.
I have a couple of questions for every Christian:
When was the last time you had the sensation of enjoying God?
When was the last time you read your Bible, prayed or attended church, not merely out of duty, but because it was a delight for you to do it?
I also have a couple of questions for every preacher:
When was the last time you preached a sermon with a sense of celebratory joy? When the last time that you preached, not merely because your name was on the rota, but because you were actively delighted in God and excited to be able to share that delight with others?
The spontaneous bubbling up of joy seen in the celebration of the Lionesses’s victory has melted indifference and captivated a nation.
Do some of us preachers need to recover the joy of the Lord which is our strength?
How many preachers this weekend could be accused of excessive joy?
“He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.” (Romans 15:16–17) Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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