Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Most of you know I invest too much of my emotional well-being in the fortunes of my favorite football team- The Denver Broncos. And perhaps you’ve heard by now that the Broncos recently became champions of the American Football Conference, earning the right to represent the AFC in February 2nd’s international commercial extravaganza. Excuse me. I meant, The Super Bowl.

In our dominated-by-competition culture, the term “champion” carries one specific connotation most often. A champion is the winner, the victor, the best, that which comes out on top. Obviously, sport is a natural arena where people use “champion” to describe a successful participant. But so too is “champion” thrown around after, say, a comparison of blenders a person might purchase. You put the machines through a battery of culinary tests, and the highest performing gets dubbed the champion. Presumably, it’s this connotation being relied upon when brand names incorporate “champion”- windows, shoes, spark plugs, juicers. They want to say they’re #1.

But there’s another meaning for “champion”; related, but it shades a bit different. A champion could also refer to a person who represents a group of people, who works most effectively on their behalf and upholds their rights and desires. For example, in Hebrew Bible times, opposing armies often designated a Champion. This was the best fighter among their ranks, the most effective advocate for their battlefield interests. And it was common for those armies to send their champions into single combat - rather than fight in full- winner’s army claims victory. Think David and Goliath, one the Israelite champion, the other a champion for the Philistines.

In one regard, this person was “the best” among his people group, so similar to how I first used the word above. But more important was this champion’s role as a representative for the group, or rather, advocate and leader, its guiding star. It’s in this sense we speak of Martin Luther King Jr. as “championing” civil rights. Not that he won a competition among other 1960s activists. Rather, it’s saying that he represented the interests of that issue and its constituency effectively; he worked well for racial justice. So too has the most recent pope, Francis, been called a “champion for the poor.”
Several years ago, my wife and I talked about our dissatisfaction with using “Lord” to describe Jesus. I know it’s important to the classical identity for Disciples of Christ; we confess that “Jesus is Lord,” and leave it at that. But that metaphor- Lord- sounds more regal, or aristocratic than I usually value. I’m a fan of democracy. I think Jesus would celebrate us being equal before the law, having no “lords” to lord over us. For that reason, and more besides, we wondered if another term or contemporary metaphor might be better Christ.

I suspect this question wouldn’t matter to some of you, but it got our minds going. “Best Friend” seemed too familiar; “CEO” too wrapped up in moral complexity. Likewise, using current political offices as a metaphor for Jesus- President, Prime Minister, Senator, Secretary- also felt too compromised for our tastes, not strong enough or holy enough to designate Christ.

At which point, Tabitha said, “You know, I think Jesus is my…Champion.” I loved that idea, knowing she meant not that Jesus was like Denver this season. The importance of Christ isn’t that we believe he’d kick butt in a tournament including Muhammad, Moses and Krishna. Instead, it was the notion that, better than any other figure with whom we Christians identify, Jesus stood for the best of what was possible in our spiritual lives. He represented the best of who we could be. He works on our behalf still to ensure we know we’re forgiven, loved, and free. You’ve maybe heard, therefore, in the past couple years, I’ve ended many prayers in “the name of Jesus, my Champion.” Because I believe he loves me as best I can be loved, and calls me to be the best I can be. And however much I’ll cheer for the Broncos in two Sundays, even their success can’t hold a candle to this Light for All the World, our Champion of Grace.

Grace and Peace,

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