Idolatry in the end zone

Herb Lusk, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s, has been credited, in the Washington Post story as being “the first NFL player to kneel in the end zone and pray” after scoring a touchdown. Mr. Lusk did this quietly, and, it would appear, solely for the purpose of thanking God for providing him the skills needed for his success.

Mr. Lusk’s prayer might have started, or at least helped, in a dramatic increase in public prayer among professional athletes. From the Post:

I don’t know if there was hesitancy to do it back then, but [athletes] weren’t as impulsive as they are today,” said Vermeil, Lusk’s coach at the time, who added that he noticed a huge increase in on-field prayer during his broadcasting career in the 1980s. “He kind of initiated this movement. . . . It freed a lot of people to express themselves.”

All well and good. Apparently the Post writer was unaware of the many baseball players, especially those from Dominica and other Caribbean Central American countries, who routinely make the sign of the cross when they step up to the plate. But, perhaps, for the Post, these guys don’t count, because they weren’t football players. I’m pretty certain I’ve seen this at baseball games well before 1977, but, whatever.

What’s my point in all this? I’ve always had a suspicion of any public piety. And a kneeling prayer, in the end zone at an NFL game, could not be more public or me-centric. This is what bothers me. From Matthew 6:

1″Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.5″And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Should we always pray alone? Of course not. Whenever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus, there is where we should also pray. Alright, John Luke, who died and made you Inquisitor? No one, of course. Pray as you feel moved to by the Holy Spirit. But be careful that you do not ask God’s blessing on a trivial matter. Like beating another team. Or taking credit by yourself for a team effort.

This latter, a solo prayer by someone who thanks God for his success, is not wrong on its face. Except for the violation of Jesus’ advice in Matthew 6. And, unless the entire team whose running, blocking, and tackling allowed your “individual” success, such a prayer is worship of oneself. It can become, in a word, idolatry.

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