The world’s eyes are fixed on Indianapolis this week as never before. The city is abuzz with Super Bowl XLVI excitement. As an interested citizen, and especially as a pastor in this city, I figured I’d better see the spectacle for myself. Tuesday afternoon, my family and I drove downtown and walked through the throng at the Super Bowl village. We saw people sliding down the seven story-high, 800 foot-long zip-line above Capitol Avenue, heard the bands rocking on various stages, smelled a lot of very expensive cheap beer, and declined to overpay for food. We witnessed the healthy dollop of Hoosier hospitality that volunteers on every street corner added to every interaction. It was exciting.
The week-long tailgating party seems to be going splendidly, from an organizational perspective. Out-of-town media members are writing glowing reports. With this success, the city is positioning itself to host more major conventions and – who knows – maybe even another Super Bowl.
But, is it a good thing for the city? Of course, we’re not even supposed to ask that question. Millions of dollars are flowing into the local economy. The city that has long been regarded as a town in a cornfield is receiving global exposure. The hospitable nature of its citizens is being showcased. And everyone is having a great time. Right?
In a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, Russ Pulliam quoted Pastor Tom Benjamin, the retiring minister of a large, predominantly African-American, church in Indy: “We’re in love with the Super Bowl for what it brings, but it’s almost as if Lucas Oil Stadium is the temple we’re satisfied to worship in. Thousands sacrifice religion for football and recreation…it reminds me of the Scripture: What does it profit a city to gain the Super Bowl and lose its soul?”
Unknowingly echoing these sentiments, British reporter Simon Veness wrote: “The city hasn’t just embraced the event, the city IS the event. Everything is so compactly set out that the whole landscape of XLVI is walkable – nothing is more than five or six blocks away, and the stadium itself sits at the head of it all like a temple of sporting nirvana.” The comparisons between this temple and the temples of old are striking.
The Lombardi trophy stands as the god of this temple. This graven image will be awarded to the victor on Sunday. Its is plastered everywhere, including a 30-story tall likeness on the side of the J.W. Marriott hotel that lights up at night. Additionally, there are small sculptures of it made of rusted metal all over downtown, and thousand of pins, cups, scarves, and shirts also bear the image. Every worshiper takes home something with a replica of the image. It is reminiscent of the temple of Diana in Ephesus in the Apostle Paul’s day. When people started to be converted to Christ from serving this lifeless goddess, the silversmiths who provided the souvenir models of Diana incited a riot to protect their trade. The living God changed people’s lives, and it was wrecking their economy! What a thrill it would be too see God send such a revival this weekend that people would abandon the downtown streets and flood the churches of this city in repentance and faith! More likely, this weekend, on the day the living God has set aside for his worship, millions will cheer to see the Lombardi Trophy high and lifted up. But we need to remember Habakkuk’s words to Judah: “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:18-20). I’ve ministered long enough to see hearts and minds of Christian people sucked away from worshiping God’s strong arm of salvation to worshiping the strong arm of Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, or Eli Manning. Those arms cannot save. But they can hoist the Lombardi Trophy!
Like the pagan temples of old, there will be fertility priestesses prancing on the sidelines in the temple on Sunday. Parties thrown in nearby auxiliary temples by Playboy, Maxim, and many others provide a compliment of such priestesses to satisfy the sensual desires of worshipers at the temple. Additionally, there are the lewd ads, escorts, prostitutes, and casual sex that will be commonplace. Sports writers blasted Joe Paterno and Penn State football for lacking a moral compass and standing by while young boys were reportedly violated. Now, those same writers are celebrating the offerings of Playboy and Maxim in Indianapolis. I wonder who has done more to violate tender boys, Joe Paterno, or the sports writers who subtly or not-so-subtly lead them to ponder the temples of Indianapolis? By contrast, Solomon warned his son: “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (Proverbs 5:1-5). In the course of my ministry, I’ve seen enough damage done by pornography and sexual addiction that I’m not excited about what the Super Bowl brings. For too many, it will be one step closer to death, or at least a destroyed life.
Further, the drunkenness that characterized the temples of old has found a new home in Indianapolis. At 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, hundreds of people carried what appeared to be thirty-two ounce cups of cheap beer. It was obvious; they were just warming up. Let’s face it, the Super Bowl village serves as a celebration of binge drinking. Dr. Keith Ablow’s recent article, America is Drunk, highlights to reality of America’s drunken state, what it reveals about us, and the price we are paying and will pay. Anyone want to suggest that this week is doing anything to help solve the problem? No, instead, we celebrate it. Georgia Street in its present state brings to mind Amos 6:4-6: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” People do not want to think about the ruin that has come to loved ones for similar sins. They do not want to deal with their sins or do the hard work necessary to see real change come. They simply want to escape. Having seen the effect of binge drinking and alcoholism first hand in other settings, I’m not excited about what the Super Bowl brings to town as the nation worships at the grand temple known as Lucas Oil Stadium. Scripture is clear: “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5).
I’m proud of Indy’s ability to pull off a major event so well. It testifies to the many good and capable men and women who lead our community. I’m proud of the means – but what of the ends? I struggle to see the redeeming value of the event. Is this really the fruit we want from our labors – one big party? What in the event provides anything of enduring value – even on this earth? What is being built? What kind of true character is being instilled into people?
But there is another temple being built in Indy. It is a temple being made not with human hands. This edifice will stand eternally. It consists of living stones called by the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and brought to life by the Spirit of God. This is the temple that will stand past the Super Bowl, past the time when Lucas Oil Stadium is leveled. This is where the eyes of the world should be fixed – because what is happening here is a feat that could never be effected by human leaders. It is a temple where righteousness, purity, and sobriety are celebrated. It is a place where the fabric of society is strengthened, where lives are transformed, and where enduring fruit is born. It is the church of Jesus Christ.
As our family departed the Super Bowl village Tuesday, we saw our good friend Rylie, who is physically blind, waiting at a bus stop to go home from her studies at the university. We picked her up. Instantly, our eyes were lifted from the mess of the pagan temple to the heavenly temple Jesus is building. The Lord let us meet Rylie a few months ago, and it has been a thrill to watch her grow in Jesus. Recently, we have witnessed many exciting testimonies of God’s working in people’s lives, and most are too personal to share here. What we have experienced is the kind of thrill ride you can’t pay for at the Super Bowl village – it just costs your whole life. Rylie graciously allowed me to link her story here as one example of what God is doing in Indy. When Jesus ministered in Jerusalem, the crowds focused on the throng of people, the edifice of the temple, and the ceremonial glory. The people in that day missed the true glory displayed right before their eyes as Jesus healed people and changed one life at a time. My prayer is that when you think of Indy this weekend, you will look past the glamor of the party to see the glory of the eternal temple that is under construction in this place.