Article

Ray Hartwell

is president of the Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

​Super Bowl Sabbath

What would you decide?

Super Bowl XLVIII was ready to tee up a spiritual challenge that most people did not even recognize. Now, months after all the excitement of the Super Bowl has subsided, it’s time to reflect on what might have been.

About a week or so before February 2, the day of the game, weather forecasters became concerned about a developing weather pattern that could dump several inches of snow on the Super Bowl site of Meadowlands, New Jersey, right about game time—potentially shutting it down.* Fans wouldn’t make it through the snow-clogged roads, hotels would have cancellations, airlines would ground flights, the stadium would experience unpleasant and difficult conditions for the game, and the whole entertainment/sports industry would take a hit as great as that of a wide receiver in midfield receiving a pass from a top-flight cornerback.

But the NFL already had plays in its game book for just such a scenario. Contingency plans were announced: the game might be switched from the traditional Sunday time slot to a Friday, Saturday, or even a Monday date. Throughout the preceding week, continuously updated weather forecasts were closely monitored to see whether the big game would be changed. In the end, however, the Super Bowl was held as scheduled.

What If?

Imagine what might have happened, though, if the day of the Super Bowl had been moved from the traditional Sunday time slot to Saturday. For the majority of those involved in the sports and entertainment world, it would have been, at most, a relatively minor incident. It would still have been held on the weekend. Most employers wouldn’t have had to worry about their employees calling in sick en masse on, say, a Friday or a Monday. Television coverage would have remained high. Hotels would still have had rooms available on a weekend when business travelers were not booking. No problem, right?

But how would a Seventh-day Adventist Christian respond to a Super Bowl Sabbath—especially when the sports/entertainment industry holds such a large place in the American psyche? If Super Bowl Sabbath had been the option for Super Bowl XLVIII, what would have been our call on the playing field of life?

Some Christians are challenged when it comes to sporting events and the Sabbath. There is such a draw, such devotion to their team, such a following of the ups and downs of the game, and such enthusiasm for their own bragging rights as fans that watching a favorite sport even on Sabbath becomes a huge temptation. Some may have chosen to watch the Super Bowl with the thought, Well, it happens only once a year, and this year is an exception. I just can’t miss all the excitement. After all, it might be Peyton Manning’s final Super Bowl, or Russell Wilson is such a good Christian that I want to see him and his teammates win and then give God the glory during the victor’s interview on national television.

Others might say, “Well, let’s just record the event that is being played on Sabbath and watch it later.”

Where Is Your Allegiance?

So what should we do in such a situation? To answer that question, we need to ask another: Where is our allegiance? In other words, are we totally “sold out” to our Creator, Redeemer, and soon-coming Savior? Or would we sell out to a multibillion-dollar industry that lives for commercial marketing?

Super Bowl Sabbath, it seems, would be a test of our complete dedication to God and His command that we have no other gods before Him. It would help reveal whether there are other idols in our lives and if every stronghold has been pulled down, allowing the Lord of peace to reign in our life.

To unplug during the Sabbath hours is the greatest blessing God can give us in this hectic, obsessed, driven world. During those sacred hours we can be filled with the calm of heaven and the presence of the Lord Himself, fellowshipping with Him in ways we can never comprehend while we are wired, captivated, and swirling with a myriad inputs hitting us the rest of the week.

I would suggest that even if an Adventist Christian were to forgo watching the Super Bowl live on Sabbath, it would be best not to record the game for later viewing either. If our need to watch sports is so great that we would be willing for athletes to play it on Sabbath, for stadium workers to punch the clock and work on Sabbath, for television corporations to pay hundreds of employee salaries for work on Sabbath, for commercials to provide for the programming on Sabbath, perhaps we would still be missing the true spirit of the Sabbath if we record it during those sacred hours to watch it later. We could actually “break the Sabbath” on a later day!

Wise Counsel

When I first began ministry in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, I was blessed to have a wise, semiretired gentleman in my church named Forrest, who had just recently become a Seventh-day Adventist. He was a wonderful new member, with the wisdom and maturity of life and a solid sense of integrity. I valued his observations, his counsel when I asked him for it, and his support when I didn’t ask for counsel. One day he and I had a conversation about a Louisville Cardinals basketball game that was coming up.

All the basketball fans in Kentucky that weren’t University of Kentucky Wildcat fans were University of Louisville Cardinals fans. And the Cardinals had a great team that year. The nationally ranked Cardinals were to play against one of the national powerhouses of college basketball—and the game would be on Saturday.

So I was curious as to how he felt about the issue since he was a new church member and a Cardinals fan. I discovered right away that when Forrest decided that Christ had called him to become a Seventh-day Adventist, he was infected with a greater love for God than for Louisville Cardinals basketball. The decision had already been made with his commitment to Christ at his baptism. He had no desire to watch a Friday night or Saturday game. His vote was in, his choice was made, and his priorities were set.

Videocassette recorders were new, so I asked, “Well, what about taping it on a VCR? You could always watch it later.”

He didn’t hesitate. “Well,” he said, “I might as well watch it on Sabbath live if I were going to do that.”

Here was a man who understood that principle is more important than passion when it comes to a life dedicated to God. He looked beyond the mere letter-keeping of the law to the full intent of a life immersed in pleasing his Master—a life that needed the presence of the Eternal more than it needed the passion of a fading sport.

Super Bowl Sabbath as a possibility in 2014 came and went. But what else is there that beckons you and me to place something—anything—higher than devotion to our Redeemer?


* See http://nfl.si.com/2013/12/18/super-bowl-xlviii-snow-date-metlife-stadium/; www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/super/2014/01/22/super-bowl-xlviii-contingency-plan-weather-seahawks-broncos/4785757/.

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