Friday, September 29, 2023

Boast in the Lord

 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus,  who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

-1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV)

So last week we learned the most likely subject of Taylor Swift’s next breakup song.

     Last Sunday’s football game between the Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs was, predictably, a blowout. (The Bears are bad.) The TV crew had to do something to keep whoever was still watching entertained, so they kept showing us a shot of one of the boxes at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, where Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s mom was sitting with a special guest. Kelce had been very public about his interest in Swift, going so far as to try to give her bracelets he had made for her with his phone number on them at her show at Arrowhead in July. He had resorted to publicly suggesting that, since he had watched her play at Arrowhead, she should return the favor.

     Apparently, she took him up on it. She watched the game with his family and friends and celebrated with him as Kelce scored — while running the wrong route on the play — to put the Chiefs up 40-0. 

     Next time Taylor Swift comes to Chicago, real Bears fans should just stay home.

     After the game, Kelce and Swift went out to dinner with family and friends. 

     “Who cares?” you ask. Well, that’s just “Mean,” as Taylor might say. 

     In the 24 hours after cameras started showing Swift at the game, Travis Kelce gained 100,000 more Instagram followers. Sales of his jersey and other merchandise soared 400 percent. Whatever may happen romantically with Taylor, Kelce’s already benefitting from the Power of Swift and her influence over her fans, the Swifties. He and his brother Jason, a lineman with the Eagles, even hosted an online forum in which they answered football questions from Swifties. 

     Travis Kelce, by the way, is not exactly anonymous. He’s the second best-known player and leading receiver on the defending Super Bowl champs. He’s one of the best-known faces of the multi-billion-dollar industry that is the National Football League.

     But now he has a taste of what it means to really be a star. You could say that Everything Has Changed for him. Wonder if he’s Ready for It? His teammates are probably telling him, “Travis, You Need to Calm Down.” He’s bigger than his Wildest Dreams.

      OK, I’ll stop.

     But notice this: Sometimes being associated with someone else makes it possible for us to rise higher than we ever imagined we could.

     Swift and Kelce (I’m going on record now as saying they should be known as Tayvis if they become a thing…) actually makes a really convenient parable for the gospel. What we are, we are because of Jesus.

      Paul wrote to the church in Corinth because they didn’t really understand that. They argued about whose  spiritual gifts were more important. They fought over who had the deepest knowledge. They favored eloquent, convincing preachers and teachers. They were proud of themselves in ways they shouldn’t have been.

     Paul intends with his letters to shut a lot of that down. He reminds them that, when they came to Christ, most of them weren’t all that impressive. That the gospel message itself can sound like foolishness and weakness, with its focus on Jesus’ suffering and death and the impossible hope of resurrection — against the usual expectations that a savior should be known for his wisdom and power. He reminds them that they aren’t saved by their knowledge, or power, or goodness. They’re saved by God, “in Christ.”

      It would be good for us to remember that sometimes.

     When we’re too proud of our accomplishments we should remember.

     When we’re feeling really good about our morality and righteousness, we should remember.

     When we’re puffed up by how much we know — of God, or the Bible, or our jobs, or what have you — we should remember. It’s because of God’s love and grace and compassion and faithfulness that we’re “in Christ” at all. And whatever we need to know, whatever righteousness and holiness we have, and whatever hope for redemption there is — all of it is in Christ, in the work he undertook and finished for us, because of his love.

     So, if we’re going to “boast,” then it shouldn’t be about anything we’ve done. It should be entirely about what Jesus has done and is doing in us and in his church. 

     And when we fail, we should remember that our failures don’t cancel out God’s love for us and what he has done in Christ to make us righteous and give us life and free us from sin and death and despair.

     In his next letter to the church in Corinth, which we conveniently know as Second Corinthians, Paul wants to make sure they got the point of the first letter. His job, he tells them, is simply to encourage them to be reconciled to God. God himself has made that possible:  

“God made him who had no sin to be sin  for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He says the same in his letter to the church at Rome: 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel,  because it is the power of God  that brings salvation to everyone who believes…For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed —a righteousness that is by faith  from first to last….” (Romans 1:16-17)

    This is our hope. Christ receives our sin, and we receive God’s righteousness. Our role begins and ends with faith in that reality. It’s an illusion that anything we might do nudges us into righteousness. Whatever we do — and there are things we should do — is in response to what God has already done in Jesus. Where we fall short, God’s grace is there already, was there long before when he sent Jesus to make us righteous.

     It is because of Jesus that we are made righteous. It’s because of our association with him that our sins are taken away. We don’t just believe in Jesus, and it’s more than having a relationship with him. Christians are baptized “into Christ.” We find ourselves “in him,” and in him is the righteousness and forgiveness and life that God wants us to have.

     In him, you’ll rise higher than you ever imagined you would. If you’re having trouble believing that, well….

     Shake it off. 

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