In 9th grade, I was on my high school soccer team. We were good. And I loved to boast.
One Friday night, my buddies and I were leaving the varsity football game in my friend’s car, hanging out the windows, and yelling to the crowd “football sucks! Soccer rules!”
We were exalting ourselves in front of the crowd of disappointed football fans when we rear-ended the string of cars that had stopped right in front of us.
No one was injured, but as we sat waiting for the police, my ego was just crucified.
It was the worst feeling that I had ever felt; I was utterly humiliated.
I had made soccer my life, and so I thought I was my boast.
The following year I was cut from the team. I thought I had died.
Some that were cut formed a team, and at the end of the year, we got trophies.
I hid mine in the basement for it didn’t feel like a trophy to my success, but to my failure.
That’s what became of my boasting.
It’s the only trophy that I ever received.
Well actually, there is another trophy…
It’s a big church building on the side of Interstate 70, just west of Denver.
Twenty years ago, we raised millions of dollars to build it and I came up with the slogan for the giving campaign: “Where The World Drives By.” I meant “The Gospel: Where the World Drives By.” But I suppose I also meant “A Trophy to Peter’s Success: Where the World Drives By.”
Well, the world still drives by…
But ever since I was defrocked, it hasn’t felt like a trophy to my success, but more like that old soccer trophy and a reminder of the worst feeling that I ever felt.
In Romans 3, Paul suddenly asks, “So what becomes of our boasting?”
That’s immediately after he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God AND are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation through faith in his blood… that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has the faith of Jesus.”
If it’s our faith “in Jesus,” that justifies us, maybe we could boast.
But if it’s the faith “of Jesus,” given to us, we cannot boast; we can only be grateful.
Paul just told us, “the faith” is “in the blood.”
For Paul, the atonement was something like a universal blood transfusion.
And by it, God in Christ Jesus justifies “All” …he just said so (3:23).
Twenty years ago, I lost my ability to deny the truth of that statement.
Fifteen years ago, I would not recant that statement, and so was defrocked.
And for decades I’ve wondered why the thought seems to make people so scared and angry… now I think I know, for I get scared and angry too.
You see, if God justifies everyone, then no one can justify themself, even those that believe God justifies all, for even that belief is a gift of grace.
Salvation is humiliation for we are being saved from ourselves—you know: that thing that you boast in: your flesh. It must be cut off, circumcised if you will, and excluded.
We hide in hades, terrified of the Judgment, for the Grace of God means that all our boasting is excluded; we will lose our “psyches” in the presence of God; we will be humbled, that is humiliated. And for most folks, that’s the worst feeling they can imagine. They think it’s the end of them… But the End is also the Beginning.
In Romans 4, Paul suddenly starts talking about Abraham.
He is exalted by God but exalted in the strangest of ways.
For no apparent reason, God makes him an immense and unconditional promise, humiliates him for decades, and then exalts him beyond his wildest dreams because he has faith… but he didn’t always have faith, and even when he did, it was the size of a seed.
In Genesis 12 God promises 75-year-old Abram, an uncircumcised Gentile, outrageous blessings including land and “seed.”
In Genesis 15 and decades later, God says, “fear not,” and Abram says, “But I’m childless and Eliezer (my slave) is going to inherit everything.” Abram believes, God counts it as righteousness, and cuts an unconditional covenant.
In Genesis 16 when Abram is 85, and Sarah is still barren, Abram impregnates Sarah’s slave in an effort to manufacture the blessing with works—his work, fornication. That’s not faith.
In Genesis 17 when Abram is 99, God says, “Walk blameless before me, that I may make my covenant” and Abram falls on the ground and laughs. God says, “You are no longer Abram, but Abraham—the father of nations… now cut the skin from your baby-maker, cause your bride is going to have a baby.” That must have been humiliating… at 99.
When Abraham is 100, Isaac is born. He is Abraham’s laughter, love, and life.
When Isaac is about 30, God says to Abraham, now sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah
Soren Kierkegaard called this the “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical” and faith.
In that moment Abraham had to believe that the Good was not a list, but God, his Helper.
He surrendered his judgment to the Judgment of God—that’s faith and utter humiliation.
But the End is the Beginning. God provided a substitute: his Life, Love, and Laughter, his Son, the promised blessing promised to Abraham, the heart of the Father and the judgment of God, the indestructible and eternal seed, Jesus our Lord.
“Because you have done this, I will bless you,” says God.
But God had already promised—unconditionally promised—the blessing fifty years before.
God can promise, for God creates faith by Grace and this not of ourselves.
Abraham surrendered the blessing and received it all back but in a new way.
Jesus tells amazing stories about Abraham—people coming from east and west, like the stars of heaven, to sit at table with Abraham in the kingdom. And he tells about a man named “Lazarus… in the bosom of Abraham.”
“Lazarus” is the Greek form of the name Eliezer, Abraham’s slave. He’s back in a new way.
One day I will receive everyone back in a communion of Love Life and Laughter, for in each of us God will create faith in Grace by making a promise, revealing that we cannot create the promise, and then creating all of us in his own image—the image of Love.
The Church is not my trophy, but it is a trophy; It’s God’s trophy.
And I am a trophy, a trophy of Grace.
What becomes of my boasting?
Humiliation, Exaltation, and then an Eternal Communion of Love.
So don’t hide your trophies of shame, let God transform them into the Banquet of Grace.