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Jun1WedHockey, the fastest game on ice, can teach us numerous lessons about the Christian journey. June 1, 2011 by Captain Mark Braye
The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight as the Vancouver Canucks, the Western Conference Champions, and the Boston Bruins, Eastern Conference Champions, compete for the Stanley Cup. It takes 16 wins to hoist hockey's holy grail, and men shed blood, sweat and tears to hold it high above their heads.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
The last Canadian-based team to become NHL champions was the Montreal Canadians in 1993. The Ottawa Senators made it close in 2007, but lost in the finals.
There is an extra buzz and expectation across the country as the Canucks are four wins away from joining the elite list of people who get their name engraved on the Stanley Cup and in the pages of hockey history.
The love for hockey is in Canada's DNA; we play hockey, watch hockey and talk about hockey at all ages. It's our unofficial national sport and one of our biggest and most successful exports. Even our five-dollar bill honours the game, quoting the classic children's book by Roch Carrier, The Hockey Sweater: “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places―the school, the church and the skating rink―but our real life was on the skating rink.”
I believe that hockey can teach us important lessons about the Christian life.
Hockey is a team sport. Players have to work together and communicate while on and off the ice. A player who is unwilling to play or work well with others can throw off the entire chemistry and game plan. No NHL franchise has won the Stanley Cup without great teamwork. The Canucks and Bruins have exemplified teamwork this post-season with their forwards, defensemen, goalies, coaching and training staff.
The Christian life is also a team sport. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation). In communities of faith we sharpen one another; we learn from one another; we grow in Christ together. We regularly use the language “family of God” and “sisters and brothers in Christ.” We could just as easily and rightfully use the language “team of God” and “teammates in Christ.” We all have different strengths and gifts, talents and interests. God uses each one of us for the betterment of the whole. We accomplish more together than we do apart.
A hockey puck is not a sphere. At times, its bounces are difficult to predict and understand. Did you see Vancouver defencemen Kevin Bieksa's winning goal against the San Jose Sharks? The San Jose Sharks didn't. Injuries also occur regularly in hockey, and players, even superstars, have bad games along with the good. Hockey is full of adversity, and Stanley Cup champions overcome it.
The Christian life, as wonderful as it is, is also full of adversity. Here are Christ's words from Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These words are known as the Beatitudes, which means “beautiful statements.” At first glance they do not seem beautiful or like good news. However, these are statements of overcoming adversity: “they will be comforted” “they will be filled” “your reward is great in Heaven.” Just as the Bruins and Canucks had to overcome adversity on their journey to the Stanley Cup Finals, we, too, have to overcome adversity with the help of the Triune God.
The Right Equipment
The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins need the right equipment tonight as they start the final series of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They would not play well using baseball cleats, tennis racquets and swimming caps instead of hockey skates, sticks and helmets. The game would not be as exciting if the referee dropped a bowling ball instead of a puck at centre ice. You need the right equipment in hockey.
The same is true for our Christian journey. The Apostle Paul has given us an amazing set of equipment in his letter to the Ephesians. He calls it the Armour of God.
“Stand firm,” Paul encourages us, “with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14-15). Paul also lists among the Armour of God “the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). The final pieces of equipment for our spiritual journeys are “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Our spiritual equipment, the Armour of God, protects and empowers us just as hockey equipment protects and empowers hockey players of all ages.
Enjoy the game. But don't neglect your faith.
Captain Mark Braye and his wife, Nancy, are the officers/pastors of The Salvation Army Tri-Town Community Church in Temiskaming Shores, Ont. They have two children, Hannah and Micah. The four of them love to play and watch Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and The Wiggles.