Monday, July 11, 2011

their finest hour

the u.s. won a thrilling quarterfinal match against brazil in the women's world cup yesterday. what a game! it had a little bit of everything -- an own-goal that put the u.s. up early, a controversial call on a saved penalty that was reshot and converted by brazil to level, a questionable red card that left the u.s. playing one player down for much of the match, a 30-minute overtime, some magic by marta (a five-time FIFA player of the year at the tender age of 25) early in the extra time, and of course, the dramatic equalizer in the 122(!) minute by abby wambach (one of the world's dominant players, playing in her third and possibly final world cup). it was one of the most memorable games in women's world cup history.

it was a remarkable experience to watch the game. since it was played on sunday morning (seattle time), i had missed the live broadcast and had to watch it on replay (thank God for try as i might, i was unable to avoid the news that the u.s. had triumphed, but at least i didn't know anything else about the game. perhaps not surprisingly, i found myself astonished, exultant, frustrated, and even befuddled as i watched. celebrating one moment, then unhappy the next, i was living each moment as it unfolded, even though in reality, the game was already in the books.

as questionable call after questionable call against the u.s. began to pile up, it was clear that they were going to have to overcome some significant obstacles to win this one. then late in the game, unbecomingly, brazil began stalling. one player even pretended to be hurt, had to be carried off on a stretcher, then popped up immediately and ran down the sideline to reenter the game. she got a yellow card for that unsportsmanlike stunt, but also managed to burn four precious minutes off the clock. perhaps all of that, together with the unexpectedly early exit of their own team led the german crowd to begin to root for the u.s., with the requisite cries of u.s.a., u.s.a!

even though a little bird had told me the outcome, i found myself watching the clock run out and wondering: how in the world are they going to pull this off? i wasn't quite sure. could my informant have been mistaken? and when the commentator started to say that the u.s. was headed for its earliest exit ever, it was hard not to think, "it certainly seems that way." but the u.s. continued to fight in those closing moments, and when wambach rammed that long cross into net from the six yard box with a minute left in stoppage, i actually cried, arms raised. even though the penalties hadn't been shot yet, i finally knew that the u.s. was going to win this one.

when i look at the world, i sometimes have a similar experience. having read the bible through many times now, i know how this is all supposed to turn out -- in a place and time where people and their relationships are finally made whole, where every wrong is righted, and where God is finally seen and known and honored. for me of all people, there should be no doubt.

but there are so many obstacles. when people say that the world is hopeless and that church is impotent and irrelevant, it's hard not to agree -- it certainly seems that way. walking by sight, it appears that at best, the odds are pretty long. i hold my bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other (as barth is reported to have counseled) and wonder: how in the world is God going to pull this off?

the talking heads played and replayed the tape, looking again at critical points in the game and remarking on the u.s. women's determination and heart. through all the obstacles, they kept fighting. they didn't point fingers at one another or even at the referee. and they believed. toward the end of the broadcast, the commentator summed up, "this was their finest hour."

Jesus himself once famously said, "i tell you that he will bring about justice for them quickly. however, when the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (luke 18:8). in other words, will we keep fighting through the obstacles? will we eschew pointing fingers at one another? and will we contnue to believe? with all of our real life adversity (and in our case, there really is someone conspiring against us), will a voice from heaven finally declare that this is our finest hour?

then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. there will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his bond-servants will serve him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. and there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. 
revelation 22:1-5 

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