Reflection on the Euros, as England lost in the final to Italy
By Pastor Graham Cooke
13th July 2021
First of all, warmest congratulations to Italy on winning Euro 2020 (delayed!), by beating England in the final on penalties.
It’s England goal-keeper, Jordan Pickford for whom I feel most sorry. After keeping us in the match a few times, he managed to pull off two wonderful penalty saves, the second against Jorginho, who apparently never misses. That was astonishing. Yet it wasn’t enough, as England missed three.
Of course I do also feel immensely sorry for the three young men who missed the penalties. It would have been bad enough for them without having to withstand the racist abuse that has poured forth on social media. Whatever you think about taking a knee, this surely is a powerful demonstration of why the team thinks it necessary to do so.
Those responses along with the booing of the Italian national anthem, almost make me relieved that England lost (almost!). A win would just have papered over these very disheartening cracks in our national life. I did, however, have to wake up this morning and say three little words to myself: Jesus is better! There’s nothing intrinsically wrong in national sport, but I know in my own heart how quickly sport becomes a god for me and many others. The tell is perhaps how much it changes our mood. Of course it’s okay to be sad when our team loses, or happy when they win, but when our responses and attitudes towards others are so dictated by sporting outcomes, then clearly it has become more than a pastime for us. The statistics that demonstrate how domestic violence increases whenever there’s a significant game of football are shocking to read. Clearly many of us expect football and other sports to deliver for us that which they never can.
As the Lord says to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah:
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
That is the tragedy of all idolatry- it just doesn’t hold water. It just drains the worshipper of all life, eventually. It becomes a huge burden- the worshipper becomes the one doing the carrying rather than the one being carried. Not so with the One True God. In Isaiah 46, the prophet draws a contrast between the Babylonian gods weighing down their worshippers, and the God of Israel sustaining, carrying and rescuing his people:
Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity. “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:1-4)
Jesus himself said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
He is able to do this because he is just better than anything else we can put on a pedestal and worship. And of course our relationship with him is not affected or determined by our country’s performance in the Euros or any other sporting event. He came for the losers, not the winners. Indeed he embraced our defeat on the cross, and thus turned all who believe into winners- that is wonderful and he is magnificent. Then, as we continue to walk with hm, he gives us daily all we need for life and godliness, along with the joy of forgiveness, restored relationship with our Creator, and life-purpose.
Maybe the ultimate challenge would be if I were to say the same thing to myself if England had won last night. I suspect I might not have been prompted to say it to myself, though I think I would have needed to hear it even more.
The Apostle Paul said:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12,13)
Surely the reason he was able to do this was because he knew that Jesus is better; better than wealth, better than success, better than life itself. I think we need to remind ourselves of this at every opportunity, giving thanks to him for all he has done for us as we do so. I suspect that is the secret as to how we might meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.