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04 March 2016

Jesus and rugby: the gospel is a contact sport

Jesus and rugby: the gospel is a contact sport

Richard Powney is evangelism resources co-ordinator at the Evangelical Alliance

I love playing sport.

A particular favourite sport of mine growing up was rugby. The reasons for this are multi-faceted, but a definite positive is that it was great fun smashing into other players. There was always great satisfaction tackling a kid who was bigger than you.

Was it always safe? Probably not. Did I get hurt? Regularly. Was it worth it? Definitely.

This week I read an article suggesting that we should ban tackles from school rugby. I was shocked: take tackling out of rugby and you cease to have the same sport. To me this epitomises our culture's desire to sanitise life. Would it not make more sense to train kids to tackle properly?

This got me thinking about our culture in general – we have become, to put it mildly, quite risk averse. And there is a danger that this culture of risk aversion is infiltrating our portrayal of the message of Jesus.

At times when reading the gospels I find Jesus an uncomfortable character. I think having dinner with Jesus may well have been full of little glances across the table expressing the thought: "I can't believe he just said that!" Yet this highlights an important point – Jesus' message was full of challenge and contained quite a bit of risk.

In Luke 14:25-34 we find Jesus laying out his own version of a disclaimer form. He wants the disciples to know that following him will come with a cost: "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27). Jesus is asking the disciples – are you willing to take the risk?

I wonder, have we allowed some of our language around following Jesus to become akin to taking the tackling out of rugby? If we take away the cost, if we limit the risk, are we walking on the narrow path Jesus spoke about?

Of course Jesus' message was not only about counting the cost. The reason we can take the risk and make that step of faith into the unknown is because of the security that Jesus brings. He promises to always be with us by his Spirit. He continually speaks of how our kind and loving Father in heaven will always provide for all our needs.

The unshakeable foundation of steadfast love revealed through Jesus' death and resurrection enabled the disciples to become bold and courageous in their witness to Jesus.

Yet this still presents some challenging questions to us all: what risk is Jesus asking us to take? What area of our life has become completely sanitised?

These days my involvement with rugby is full of risk aversion – I watch from a comfy sofa in a warm flat. The main danger is a pillow thrown at me from my wife when Scotland lose to England, again.

My prayer is that my life following Jesus would become less about risk aversion and more focused on loving and obedient trust.

Image CC: Kelsey e.