Bragging Rights, Week 1 — The “What We Were Like” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Began with an unusual (for me) exploration of how Julie and I met;
  • Continued with an examination of ways in which we are under surveillance;
  • Dug into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 26-31
  • Borrowed its title from the AA liturgy which states, “Our stories disclose in a general way, what we were like, what happened, and what we are like now.”  (The next two weeks of the series are called What Happened and What We Are Like Now.);
  • Contained an excavation of United Methodist teaching called prevenient grace … without ever using the term;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  You were an unsuspecting target of his undeserved love.



Maybe you’ve seen some of these:  CAUGHT ON CAMERA CLEAN, NON-CRINGY CLIPS

            Yeah, people don’t know they’re being watched, unaware they are under surveillance, UNSUSPECTING of that great camera in the sky, and there you go.  No comprehension that they are caught in the crosshairs and now, in the digital age, EVERYONE knows it.  Not what the poor folks suspected. 

            Turns out that there are lots of ways in which we are being watched, surveilled.  A lot of ways that we’re unsuspecting of just who and what has their eyes on us.  It’s been almost 37 years ago now and when I was sophomore in college I met Julie one weekend at a tennis event where I was playing and she was helping run the thing.  And we hit it off – PRIMARILY BECAUSE I WAS SO CHARMING! – but I had NO IDEA what her last name was.  I remembered the “Julie” part OK but I was pretty sure with her olive complexion that she was Greek.  So I got the old campus directory and I had overheard what dorm she was in, so I started scrolling through the pages (this is pre-internet, pre-calculator, almost pre-telegraph) looking for Julie GREEK in Pine Hall.  Maybe like a Kokkinaskis or a Kyrios or Pompidompas.  Something Greek. 

            Well, I didn’t find anything first go round and lay the directory down to leave my dorm and go to class. I open the door and who is coming up the steps?  That GREEK girl Julie!  Looking for me.  She just “HAPPENED” to be in the neighborhood – looking, she said, for some guy who has gone on to, literally, win Pulitzer Prizes with Time Magazine.  But he was just cover and I was the primary target! So I was looking in the directory for her, she’d actually bothered to learn my last name & so she could locate me and there we were.  Mutual surveillance, each one COMPLETELY UNSUSPECTING of the chicanery of the other.  I was like “Julie Greek how ya doing!”  She answered, “I’m Puerto Rican, it’s Munoz, think you got it?” I was like, “Sure.  Wanna get married?” Unsuspecting.

            And all of that about under surveillance & what you suspect and not is SO INTERESTING as we start Bragging Rights where we’re going to spend some time talking about What We Were Like, What Happened, and What We’re Like Now.  Because Paul – pastor, author, missionary, rascal – he loves to remind the Corinthian church what they were like BEFORE he knew them because they’re kind of convinced they are ALL THAT right now.  Look at what he says in 1:26a, and know that he is saying it to a church uniquely puffed up with pride and swagger: 

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.

I love that.  Remember what you were when you were CALLED.  We might have worded it SAVED or CAME TO FAITH.  But no.  Called.  Which is this vivid reminder for those of us all too eager to forget that salvation always comes with an assignment.  You’re forgiven so you can be useful. 

            And then 1:26b:

Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

So:  it’s not your pedigree, not your performance, not your brain power that got you right with God.  You weren’t the lowest of the low in Corinthian society but you were on the way there.  You know what we’d call it today? You came from a changing neighborhood.  Demographics are not on your side.  You came from the wrong side of the tracks.  That’s who makes up the Corinthian church.  Not the elites, the hoi polloi.  What you were like.

            And maybe it’s what some of you were like before Jesus.  Or what others are like now, because Jesus still hasn’t really happened in your life.  And you’ve fallen into a trap of thinking your socio-economic status has anything to do with your faith.  Some of you from memory and others of you today, now, you WISH your descriptors were different.  You wish you had that pedigree, that name, that inheritance, that degree, that zip code.  You wish you had a greater degree of performance, a higher level of polish, a grander level of fame.  Lord, so many people in our day want to be famous that they do stupid things just to get there.  So when Paul says “BEFORE JESUS you weren’t all that great” some of you check your memory bank & other look in the bathroom mirror and wherever you look, it’s “Yep, that’s right.”

            But something else is going on in this passage AND IN YOUR LIVES that you’re not aware of and it’s absolutely stunning.  Look at 1:27:

27 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.

Chose.  Chose. Now 1:28:

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

Chose again.  Oh wow.  Think of what it DOESN’T SAY!!!  Ignore. Forgotten.  Abandoned.  Nope. Chose. This is God’s design.  To target people who have really nothing to speak of, to choose them, to woooo them, to tempt them, and to lure them.  (Because even with all this choosing, as with ISRAEL, we still have free will to choose him back.)  And what is the purpose of all this choosing, wooing, luring, loving of folks?  Ah 1:29 tells us:

2so that no one may boast before him.

So that no one can boast.  So that you have a story and a plot twist and a changed narrative for which there is no explanation BUT GOD.  See, Corinth – even for the humble! – was a LOOK AT ME! world.  Where boasting in your pedigree and power and performance was not just tolerated it was demanded!  If you could humiliate your opponents, that’s even better!  Has anything changed?  Remember James Cameron? (Titanic clip).  Professional athletes?  Stable genius?  Every bit as much as Corinth, we are in a LOOK AT ME world, full of posing & posturing & self-importance. 

            Yet I Corinthians 1 is where LOOK AT ME runs headlong into BUT GOD and BUT GOD wins.  And the reason BUT GOD wins is that it is quite clear from 1:29 that the subject of our boasting is to relocate from us to him.  And then it gets better in 1:30:

30 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.

I love that.  Because of him you are in Christ Jesus.  Chose chose chose Because of him … Just this pile on of FIRST MOVES by Jesus.  Removing any doubt about – for those of us who are Xns – who made the first move and deserves all the credit.  It’s him.  Anyone here today who is a Xn is one because God started the whole thing rolling. He looked YOUR name up in a directory!  He HAPPENED to be wandering by an adjacent dorm!  God intervened, he put people and events and situations and trauma and blessing in your life, all of which was designed to wake you up to your desperate need of him.

            And for most of that time, you had NO IDEA what was going on.  You were not aware that you were in the crosshairs of his annoying love.  You may not even have known that if you WEREN’T, you’d be dead.  Or in jail.  Or in rehab.  Or alone.  But he didn’t abandon or forget you, he loved you so much he had you under surveillance.  Targeted!  Ah, that’s what it is!  You didn’t earn your bragging rights!  You were given them!  Because as we think of What We Were Like, here it is:  You were an unsuspecting target of his undeserved love. 

            I’m really not telling you anything you don’t already know; just reminding you of some things you might have forgotten.  You look in your rear view mirror of life and you now realize or you know remember that REFRAIN is exactly what was going on.  You weren’t aware of it, you sure didn’t deserve it, but it happened.  God didn’t love you because of your pedigree or your performance or your power.  God loved you because.  REFRAIN.  And now you know:  That’s why I met her.  That’s why I came to church that day even though I was hungover.  That’s why I went to that men’s group BBQ even though I didn’t want to.  That’s why God gave me really good parents.  That’s why I got arrested.  That’s why I went to a healing service and instead of getting my depression healed I got my soul saved.  Because all that is how  he does it.  He prompts and arranges and woos and does not abandon or forget; he loves you while you’re not suspecting it and then when it’s TOO LATE, you’re caught on tape GETTING SAVED. 

            And some of you today, it’s not the rear view mirror I’m talking about, it’s today.  It’s now.  It’s you.  And you just today realize that you have a target on your back (AV) and the arrows are made of pure love.  God’s not waiting for you to get good enough; he’s waiting for you to wake up.  You were an unsuspecting target of his undeserved love. 

            But wait wait wait wait.  I don’t want any of you to be like a man from Italy named Luigi Tarisio who died and left 246 Stradivarius violins in his house.  He was a Stradivarius HOARDER!  And in so doing, he robbed the world of the sound of those instruments.  All that beauty, all that glory, and he kept it for himself; he kept it under wraps. 

            Heh.  When Paul reminds the Corinthians of what they were like, he does so with a purpose.  When he lets them know they haven’t earned any bragging rights, it’s not so they will stop bragging.  It’s so their bragging will be properly directed.  What is his reason?  Look at 1:31:  READ.  Ah!  God started on them so they would tell on him!  Holy tattletales!  That’s what happens when LOOK AT ME has a head on collision with BUT GOD … it becomes LOOK AT GOD.  Let me brag on God.  I didn’t know this was coming, I didn’t deserve his intervention, I just know that I should be dead (or I WAS DEAD!) and now I’m not.  You were an unsuspecting target of his undeserved love. 

            Listen:  all that means that you have been given bragging rights.  Use them.  Not to tout yourself but to tell on God.  Goodness, when I became a Christian – chosen, wooo’d, loved, smacked over the head – I knew I had to tell people.  Primarily because someone told me.  And I remember talking to a fellow classmate (we were both juniors in high school) who put me off pretty quickly with “I’ve already done too much.”  At 17!  Most of you WERE JUST GETTING STARTED!!!  Sad.  Desperate, really.  Only a teenager and already feels the ledger is so stacked with sin that there’s no hope. 

            Of course, what he didn’t know was that he was You were an unsuspecting target of his undeserved love.  Because now, lo these many years later and through the miracle of the internet, we have reconnected.  And who is there as a Xn himself?  Who is “Liking” some of our most innovative GS stuff on FB?  Same guy who THOUGHT he’d done too much.  But God.  But God had another idea. 

            So to everyone here who belongs to Jesus today:  you have someone or some five people who need to hear your story.  People who need to know that without Jesus you’d be dead, imprisoned, exiled, or worse – deceived into thinking you’re OK when you’re really not.  Who you gonna tell.  Not as a performance.  As a natural outflow of being abundantly grateful that when you weren’t looking and when you weren’t deserve, you didn’t get what’s coming to you.

            You got better.

            Who you gonna tell?  Kinda like my friend Daniel Zupko: