The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Lent III…..bragging rights....
© 2014 Frank B Crumbaugh III
“we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Boasting is something that very early on we are taught to avoid. We are trained in this way because boasting is understood to be self-referent in ways that are unseemly, if not unhealthy…the thinking being that authentically modest people do not strive to elevate themselves in the esteem of others. We are taught to live so that people give us their regard, respect and admiration rather than coercing it from them by our bragging. This by and large is good social training. It makes us more than polite- it leads to personal maturation. It leads to more accurate self-assessment, which leads to telling the truth, which leads to true humility. That said, we always harbor a desire to have bragging rights about this or that, however substantial or inane the claim may be.
Claiming superiority, seniority, or pride of place continually tempts us. Sometimes it is necessary for the discipline of groups of people- the senior aviator gets first choice for which route s/he will fly for the airline…that sort of thing. Other times are more thoughtless and less helpful. Recently, I heard a person act with the grasping, childish one-upmanship of the school playground when greeting a younger friend who was celebrating her 50th birthday. This person gushed “…oh, you’re just a baby!” No, the celebrant was/is not a baby…she’s an accomplished professional, a spouse and mother, and she’s lived half a century! Not to mention the fact that the day was about celebrating her rather than making asinine comments that turn the camera back on the speaker. The best spin we can put on such remarks is a self-referent neediness to feel superior, even if it is only in chronological age. The struggle is to distinguish what is righteous, grateful pride from what is arrogant, ignorant pride; finding that truth and that balance is a lifetime’s labor.
An analog: the most dreadfully competent warriors I know are among the most genuinely humble people I have ever met. They do what they do because they are devoted to the honorable practice of the profession of arms. They are recognized with medals for the brave and faithful practice of their profession. Their less-competent, more anxious, not-so-well-formed colleagues do what they do to win the medals. Decorations on some uniforms are their bragging rights, while the same decorations on other uniforms are a record of devotion and service. In one case, the warrior brags about her-/himself, and in the other case we- this great republic- brag about them through the medals we have been grateful to present. In one case, glory is sought, and in the other glory is given. At the end of the day, the question is who is being glorified, by whom, and why?
Paul writes to Rome and uses language that describes boasting. “…we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” He uses language that can derail us before we ever get to the theological meat of his case. Words like Paul’s- words like boasting- can and should make us pause: “is this a righteous, grateful pride speaking, or my own needy ego speaking?” Paul is emphatic (as he is much of the time) to say that he wants to brag about God- about what God has done in his (Paul’s) life…about the richness and the glory of the gift of salvation.
Paul is successful in this because his humility (often obscured) points toward God’s Love rather than toward Paul’s brilliance. He also makes clear that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” and Paul includes himself first and foremost in that “we.” Paul recalls that if there’s any bragging to be done, it will be the grateful crowing that says “I have been redeemed. I didn’t deserve it, ask for it, or even think I wanted it. To God alone be the glory!” Holy righteous bragging is the bragging that claims and praises God’s unmerited goodness in one’s life rather than claiming God’s goodness as a favor or an entitlement.
Like I said…at the end of the day, who is being glorified, by whom, and why?
We aren’t sure we want to grow and change as Paul describes growth when we hear him say “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Paul is proud and grateful to be called into suffering (most of us are neither proud nor grateful to be called into suffering, no matter the cause or result) because that suffering produces endurance, deriving from it character, and deriving from that hope. We’d rather skip from the briefest possible suffering (please) to the fullest possible hope (thank you), without the developments and changes that come between. The endurance to suffer the learning of humility and Grace is itself a humbling, gracious gift from God. Paul makes clear that the process has steps that cannot be skipped. His case is an invitation to learn how to boast about the goodness of God, and live a life that glorifies Him, not ourselves.
Are you willing to boast of this kind of suffering?
Soli Gloria Deo! Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, Beach Haven, Lent III 2017