Let's use our competitive drive for good

  • The Rev. Will Sencabaugh in First Congregational Church of Shelburne's Fellowship Hall.

Monday, February 29, 2016

First Congregational Church of Shelburne

You have heard it said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”  

Well, I say, “Blessed are those that lose, the meek, and the peacemakers.”

You have heard it said, “Second place is the first loser.” 
Well, I say, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

I’m paraphrasing Jesus, of course. However, winning is a national pastime, an obsession. It is encoded in our DNA, and the reason that we have survived as a species and a culture. We glorify greatness and worship at the altar of winners.  

This is true even in the church. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s ultimate victory! We spend very little time talking about the failures or weakness of Jesus and the apostles. The apostles were competitive. They didn’t like to lose. They aspired to greatness. Even the mother of James and John told Jesus to let her sons sit next to Jesus when he came into his glory. The apostles themselves argued over who was greater. Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, and he left us with the Great Commission. 

Competition starts for us almost immediately after we draw our first breath. We have our weight and length measured. Every year we learn how we compare to every other child.  Those numbers become a bragging point for parents. “Oh, Jimmy is in the 85th percentile for height.” I’ve never heard a parent brag when their child was 50th percentile for height and weight, “Here is our child, she is as average as they come.”

Growing up, my dad would take me to New England Patriots games and we’d sit on the freezing aluminum benches. Huddled uncomfortably together, with kindred strangers, we would form a brief but deep fellowship as we cheered our hapless heroes. We endured three hours of frigid wind, yet we were willing to suffer with our team. It seemed authentic and honest, and there was a sense of community in the parking lot before the game — after the game, trying to get out of the parking lot was the truest competition. It was “every man for himself.”  

Those experiences created a special bond that my father and I held up until his recent death. Every visit included a Patriots update. When things got hard, and the conversation needed to be steered away from treatments and medications, it turned to the Pats. Others have experienced this same feeling with the Red Sox, Dolphins or even a college or high school team. We identify with a team, and the bond is tribal.   

God doesn’t care who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series. However, I do feel a guilty pleasure every time I see a professional athlete give praise to God. I worry when I see people praying to God at sporting events because God must feel incredibly conflicted. Is God actually choosing sides? Does God have a favorite team or player? Faith at sporting events is inevitable, from the ubiquitous John 3:16 sign at professional events to the parents sitting on borrowed bleachers with folded hands while the game hangs in the balance, and it’s their child that is responsible for the outcome. 

I wished we lived in a world where everybody won, but unfortunately it’s not the case. Some people are more competitive, entrepreneurial, outgoing, extroverted, athletic, brilliant, etc. There will be winners and there will be those that don’t win.

Competition is real. It happens in the marketplace, in education, government, and even in the church. Civic, social and religious groups compete for your resources: your time, talent and money.   

Let’s use our competitive drive for good. In our church, we are open to competition. We accept challenges to collect thousands of pairs of socks for the homeless, and hundreds of pounds of food for the hungry. We may not be the greatest church, but the ministry we provide is essential to the people in our community and the world — and that seems pretty great to me. We recently beat a challenge goal for our Capital Campaign, affirming the great need for our ministry.   
This Lent, challenge yourself —compete on a higher playing field.