We live in a society of “winners” and “losers”. For every winner there is a loser. Our sports, our economic system , our educational system , our political system, even our religious system all involve competition at the center of their value systems and produces “winners” and “losers”.
In sports, the reknown coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, Vince Lombardi, said it all with these words: “Winning isn’t a sometime thing, it is the only thing.”
In our economic system competition is at the center and the businesses that survive are the ones who win, the failures go out of business.
In our educational system, our students go through the entire system competing with each other for grades. A particularly harsh form of that competition is grading on a curve where there are only a certain percent of the class who can make A’s, B’s, C’s , D’s, and F’s. Entrance to college is based to a great extent on grades, and therefore the options for our careers, and thus our standard of living, is a result of competition.
Our political system is based on “winning” or “losing”. Those who “win” the elections get to help make and execute the laws needed to continue winning. Those laws, as we see each day, are too often for the purpose of maintaing economic and political power for the winners, and not for the common good of all the people who are governed. Millions of dollars are spent in order to “win” elections and all decisions while in office are made politically with an eye toward continuing to win and hold power.
Even our churches compete with each other. Too often to be a “winning” church is to have a huge, beautiful building filled with everything to make the attendees comfortable. That building must also be full of people. People flock to megachurches and we hold them as successful and “winners” because of the richness of their buildings, their entertainment value, and their large membership —not on the basis of their proclamation of the Kingdom of God and their practice of discipleship to Jesus the Christ. In my career I have attended many national and state conferences of churches. Not once were the featured speakers from small churches in Western Kansas. It was assumed that somehow the pastor’s of megachurches had more to share that was worthwhile than a simple pastor of a church of 70 souls pastoring a flock on the prairie. We think of small churches as “losers” in comparison with the large churches who are winners.
In all of the above, the emphasis is on “winners” and “losers”. Most people base their self-esteem on their success in being “winners” in the systems named above. However, if we are a Christian nation, if we are followers of Jesus the Christ, if we are proclaiming the Kingdom of God that was and is the central part of Jesus’ message, we have a problem, because there are no “winners” or “losers” in the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was breaking into the world. There are only winners. In fact, Jesus turned the entire concept of winning and losing on its head and proclaimed that those who lose are winners. Listen to what Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” TO LOSE IS TO WIN—THEREFORE THERE ARE NO LOSERS BUT WE ARE ALL WINNERS IF WE ARE MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD!! As Jesus described the Kingdom of God in his parables and in the Beatitudes and the Sermons on the Mount and Plains (seeMatt. 4-7 and Luke 6, 14-16) he defined, as Marcus Borg puts it “what life would be like on earth if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. The Kingdom of God is about God’s justice in contrast to the systemic injustice of the kingdoms and domination systems of this world. Two of our society’s central values are individualism and competition. They permeate our lives and our culture.” (Borg, The Heart of Christianity)
Individualism stresses that we are individually responsible for our well being. That often leaves God out of the equation. It often leads to the feeling that we are “self-made” individuals because we won in the competitions above. It also leads to us “putting down as losers” those who don’t win as well as we do in the competitions listed above. But we forget that we are the product of many factors that remain completely outside our control—-our genetic inheritance that affects our health and intelligence, the family into which we were born, the geographic place we were born, good and bad breaks in our lives. As Borg says, “To think we are primarily the product of our own individual effort is to ignore the web of relationships and circumstanes that shape our lives.””(Borg, ibid)
Competition will always be with us, we all realize. And because of the many uncontrollable factors some of us will do better in the competition than others are able to do. However, if we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, competition should not rule our lives. It should not define us as individuals. While everyone will not be equal in education, economic well-being, political power, etc., in God’s eyes everyone is equally a “child of God” and is loved equally. regardless of win, lose or draw in any competition. We are all “winners” in God’s eyes if we are willing to lose our lives in following in the footsteps of discipleship to Jesus, the Christ.
And, when it is all said and done, we are all winners only by God’s grace. There are no losers in the Kingdom of God!