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80 minutes of hope isn’t enough

Siya Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi are exceptions. While we see them as examples of South Africans from disadvantaged backgrounds who can do anything with enough determination, the sad truth is that there are still millions of people in our country who will never have the opportunities these men had… even to have a job, let alone make it big.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved the World Cup final and the hope it gives us, and I agreed with everything coach Rassie Erasmus said about that:

“There are a lot of problems in South Africa — which are real pressure. Rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure, rugby should be something that creates hope. We’ve got a privilege of giving people hope, not a burden of giving people hope…. Hope is when you play well and people watch the game and have a nice braaivleis and feel good. And no matter what your differences, for those 80 minutes you agree”

The World Cup victory did great things for us as a nation. As we saw in 1995, rugby in South Africa is more than a game. It has an almost magical unifying factor that was amazing to experience again. People who say “it’s just a game, don’t get so worked up about it” are plain wrong, at least in South Africa’s case. I’m happy to get worked up about rugby – it’s important. Yet, despite the positive effect of our victory, we mustn’t be lulled into a false sense that everything is now okay in our country. The truth is: the 80 minutes is over. People are still hungry and unemployed, families are still broken, addicts are addicted.

While I don’t want to take away from what the World Cup victory gave us for 80 minutes, I want you to see that there is a hope and unity possible for us that can last way longer than 80 minutes. In fact, if the church in this country does its job properly, then it can offer hope and unity that doesn’t have an expiry date. Let me explain what I mean;

The hope that 80 minutes of a World Cup final gives us is the hope that we can be better than we are – a hope of ‘glory’ if you will.
The unity it gives us is a common interest that is strong enough to overcome our differences.

Well, the church – more specifically, the gospel news that the church exists to declare – does all this and more…

Firstly, it gives hope:

“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations… is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the HOPE of glory.”

(Colossians 1:26-27)

In this passage, the Apostle Paul (who you’ll remember was once an adamant persecutor of Christians – think Jewish ISIS – until he met the risen Jesus Christ) says that we Gentiles, previously cut off from God’s historical dealings with humanity, now have a “hope of glory”. That is; the physical resurrection Jesus experienced because death could not hold him, now belongs to all who repent and believe his gospel for the forgiveness of their sins. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23.

Also the glory we hope for is far greater than a World Cup… it is, in fact, the World itself. Rather than be champions of a broken world, we can be rulers of a world restored from the curse. We all know we were made for something better than this, and God always intended a better world – a world without death and sickness and poverty. The gospel reveals that all who trust and submit to Christ will rise again to rule that world for eternity, because that’s what we were made for. That hope is not wishful thinking or something we drum up in ourselves – it’s as real as the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The church should be both declaring that certain hope, and anticipating and embodying it as we make every effort to love our neighbours who have no hope, and to give them the resources and opportunities to rise above their poverty and disadvantage, pointing them to the sure hope of glory.

But the church doesn’t only bring hope. It also brings unity:

“God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring UNITY to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

(Ephesians 1:9-10)

The gospel of Jesus Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection for our future hope bring unity like nothing else can. First, the death of Christ causes us to realize that we are no more righteous or deserving of salvation than anyone else – if there was anything we could do to escape God’s judgment, Jesus would not have had to die in our place. That should humble us and cause us not to look down on those of other races and cultures for whom Jesus also died. Secondly, the gospel brings together a new nation of all who believe, overcoming racial and economic boundaries as they live together as one family. Those who will one day rule the new creation are themselves a new creation, who foreshadow the world to come. This is seen when the church works together and pools our resources in obedience to our Lord’s command to “love your neighbour” and so to bring those foretastes of the new creation into our surrounding communities who so desperately need that.

Therefore, we as Christians have a privilege, not a burden, to give hope to our country. If the church is doing its job, then we can provide an even greater hope and unity for this country than the Springboks gave us on Saturday – because it’s one that doesn’t end. And that is something to celebrate.

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About Nick

Nick is the Pastor of St Mark's church in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town.

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