One of my pet peeves has always been cockiness, over-confidence, showing off, boasting, as it's called in our second reading this morning. I've never been a fan of the athletes who pump their fists to try to somehow convince the world they're so talented. And yet I must confess hypocrisy on this because I do tend to let it slide if they wear a scarlet and gray uniform on the football field in the fall. Nevertheless, it seems to be getting worse: children are signed up for more sports than ever before, to try to instill physical health that will hopefully carry through the rest of their life, to start the extra-curricular activities that will eventually impress high school and college admissions counselors, and to be part of the in-crowd of families in the community; all well and good reasons, to be sure.
But it's not so much the signing up for all the different leagues throughout the year; it's the screaming they hear during every match. We say it's most important to have fun in sports, to develop these memories with friends that will last a lifetime, but underneath is this undeniable urge for the child to not only be good, but great, to even be the best on the soccer field or the baseball diamond. And it only gets worse as they move through the high school and college and professional ranks. After years of insurmountable pressure from parents, coaches, complete strangers in the stands for a better shooting motion, better passing, more base hits, it comes at no surprise whatsoever that they are all about showing off how good they are to the world, pumping their fist high in the air over their personal achievements after finally satisfying all the people who pushed them along the way.
However, the whole "boasting" thing isn't limited to inside the lines of a field. It happens absolutely everywhere, in our workplaces as more and more years of experience obviously means you know more than everyone else. Even pastors can be just as guilty as everyone else. The more we are reassured how good we're doing, how people appreciate our visits, how the sermon struck a chord, oh my, the size of our head that can grow to match the athletes who get paid millions more.
And then there's Paul, the one who wrote the letter to the Corinthians, part of which we heard from this morning. Oh my, the ego on this one: so convinced he was right towards the beginning of his adult life as he persecuted Christians for believing a carpenter's son was the Messiah. It took a divine appearance that literally knocked him to the ground before he realized what he was doing, that he was not only beating people new to the faith, but in reality, he was persecuting Christ Himself. And with just as much conviction as earlier Paul began establishing new ministries across the region and beyond, writing letters with just as much passion, with just as much confidence, to all these new churches. And if someone ever came along after, trying to undermine his message or question his skills as a preacher and teacher; even Paul, as all human beings do, got incredibly defensive. So in the part of the letter we heard this morning, Paul is so on edge that he wants the people of the church he founded at the beginning to protect and even boast about him in the face of his opponents. Yes, Paul, in all his glory, in all his greatness, in all his contributions to the church, is still human, after all.
Now, granted we cannot thank Paul enough for what he did, for spreading the Gospel beyond Galilee, for so many of his writings in the New Testament, the effects of which continue to this day. But no matter how saintly he was, we do not boast about Paul or his accomplishments. The church is only meant to boast about the cross, about Jesus' accomplishments not only for the church, but for the entire world.
Except the church has a tendency to boast about other things, don't we? We tend to let people know all that we do, all the service to the community, as if that makes us look good to potential members, as if that makes us a staple to our neighborhood, instilling this level of overwhelming confidence in our standing as a church. Except, we are not here to proclaim St. John's. We are not here to boast our history. We are not set aside to show off how talented and gifted we are in all that we do.
We have been claimed by God as a community of faith to show off what God has done, what God continues to do not only inside these walls, but throughout the world. We are here to boast about a love that drove an almighty, all-powerful God to a cross of death. We are here to proclaim the saving Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, still alive and well in this broken world. This isn't about St. John's, the ELCA, or even the amazing apostle Paul. This ministry, this church scattered across the earth only exists because of what Jesus did on Calvary and out of an empty tomb. That set the stage for Paul. That led to the establishment of St. John's. That gives hope to all of us to this day and forevermore. So we will most certainly boast about nothing else but Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sake of the church and the entire world. And for that grace that saves us all each and every day, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon