I am to teach the 8th grade confirmation class about God’s grace this evening. On the one hand, grace is so central to our faith as Lutherans, it should be an easy task. On the other, I know that grace is about the hardest thing to grasp for people of every age, let alone middle school students. The notion that anything in life that is free, unmerited, without cost, can be of any value at all is at odds with everything we know.
The Super Bowl is upon us this weekend. Unlike grace, it will celebrate some of the most central tenets of our society. In a culture where winning and losing defines everything, whichever team wins will reign as a champion, a symbol for all our desires and dreams. They will join the pantheon of those gods who motivate us to work harder, run faster, jump higher and take life on our own terms. To the loser will go anonymity and a little shame (I have cheered on my Vikings through four Super Bowl losses).
Grace does not keep track of winners and losers. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, grace reminds every participant, coach, fan in the seats or at home that the whole thing is one giant gift. The players may have had record setting years in the performance department, but the path to the big game is also paved with many more things quite beyond their control.
The expensive commercials will tell us what we need to be happy. Grace tells us that this is nonsense. The money spent on tickets, commercials, game attire will be seen as rewards for hard work, something we deserve. Grace will tend to those who can’t afford the TV to watch. The mountains of nachos and chicken wings, buckets of cold beer and soda will tell us that we are living large and doing OK. Grace will quietly remind us of those who have none of this and that the bounty is a gift from God.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have watched almost every Super Bowl ever played. I have made and eaten a ton of snack food, dip, and my share of nachos and wings (just look at me!) while I viewed the spectacle. I don’t begrudge any of it to anyone. It does, however, remind me of two things. First, it reminds me why it is so hard to comprehend a God who does not distinguish between winners and losers; a God who I suspect always settles in the losing dressing room after the game. Second, it reminds me that this whole shooting match is an illusion because it is not rooted in the grace and mercy of God. In the kingdom of God, I wonder if there will be Super Bowls. If there are, I suspect that there will be no scoreboards.
We live in a world where we see everything in terms of wins and losses. Politics, business, even grade point averages and artistic performances are all about the honor or the trophy. The result is a world where beauty is diminished, and accomplishment is commodified.
A world that is all about winners and losers is comforting. It puts us in control. If we lose this year, there is always next. We can try harder and win the prize. A world of grace calls us to relinquish control and allow God to sustain us, accept us, love us, on God’s terms instead of our own. We are “winners” because God makes us so. Because of that fact, there are no losers. Therein lies the rub.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor