I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about our current state of public discourse and the political climate in our country. Our conversation covered everything from the practice of law on a local level to the impeachment trial being played out for political theater in DC. One of the things that seemed certain to us both is how perhaps the greatest challenge anyone faces in our day is the ability to change their minds, to see things from a different point of view, to admit wrongs and happily go forward in a new direction. Instead of seeking and discovery, there are entrenched views where the other side is shouted down and one happily roams about in their own echo chamber. Perhaps the ability to change is a dying art. Perhaps the rise of the internet and social media has made it unlikely one will change. If this is so, I think we should all be saddened by it. Life has become somewhat less, darker and bleak.
The movement from one side of things to another is risky, of course. It can be detrimental, but it also brings joy and hope and life. Listen to what Saint Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth. He says, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). The word of the cross, the word of salvation in Christ alone by His death and resurrection, is folly to this world. It is a foolish and silly thing. From outside the faith it looks ridiculous and we should not be surprised when others have no regard for it. But for those who have faith, those who have been called by God, this same cross, this same foolish thing becomes the power of God. It is the explosion which is our hope and our joy. It becomes absolutely everything.
Faith, in this way, can be understood as the gift of seeing things in a new way. It is the light that changes everything. What was at first cast aside is now embraced and cherished. This is the way it is with our God. This is what He does over and over again. He does His work and turns everything over on its head. Paul says the, “Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22). Signs and wisdom, those make sense. If you are to trust in the things of God, if you are to commit to the faith you want some reassurance, some sign this is the best option, the correct path. Or, if not some great sign in the sky, perhaps just some well-articulated wisdom; to know the path you walk down is the wisest path. That would, at least, be something you cold brag about to your friends. But, as Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” The heart of our faith, the Good News we preach does not look wise and will, in fact, cause many to trip up and stumble.
Now, the truth is, none of this really sits all that well with us. We want others to know the faith. We want them to receive the blessings of the cross and the promises of our God. We want to change people’s minds, to have them see it our way. So, we have an image problem, a PR disaster. We need to clean up the message, make it look better, more acceptable, give it something which will make it desirable to others. After all, no one wants to be embarrassed in life, certainly not embarrassed by their God. We want everyone to be as impressed with this as we are. We want them to experience the power of God, to be in awe, and to show some respect. But how do we make something the world sees as foolish and weak into something to be desired and loved?
There are a lot of options open for us. Lots of avenues that have been used in the past and can certainly be employed today to better the foolishness of our message. Some, of course, require a lot of resources, for there is no doubt that an impressive building can help the image of the faith. I mean, you can have a worship space like this, with comfy pews and a big cross up front, something to elevate one’s sense of the divine. The pastor could wear ancient robes, like the ones I wear, to give a sense of the historical lineage of the faith handed down for thousands of years. But you do not have to stop here. Think of the great cathedrals that span the globe. The massive, awe inspiring buildings, which lift your gaze to the heavens and let your imagination run wild with visions of a holy and powerful God. This could make our God a little more presentable, don’t you think?
Or if that is not in your budget you could simply expand on the worship experience itself. You could carefully craft the music to play on the heartstrings of those present. You could set the lighting just right to evoke powerful emotions appropriate for one standing in the presence of God. You could show images to move the people of God and visitors to a deeper understanding of the gifts of God. Or, if you cannot pull all that off, perhaps you could simply be a little more careful in how you act, in the way you present yourself in the world, the way you dress and the way you speak. After all, these sorts of personal things can go a long way in covering up what is embarrassing about our God. People will overlook a lot of foolishness if it is packaged with a kind face and helpful hand. Or, at the very least, the last-ditch effort to make it better is to simply change a bit of the message itself. Perhaps you do not have to change it, just focus on the parts other people like. You know, all love and acceptance without any exclusive claims. Or perhaps just rigid claims without any love and acceptance.
In all of this we try desperately to make our God and the message of salvation look better, more presentable, more rational and enticing to the world. All of it flows from our own selfish desires. For if our faith looks better, then you look better, wiser and cleverer than the rest. You look like you have got it all figured out. You are on your way up. You just trust God and it all works out for the better. That is the type of faith that will do well in our day, the type which plays well on TV, the type you can make mention of in your Instagram posts. Not blessed are the poor in spirit but blessed are the popular, the trending, the strong and wise ones.
But this all comes undone over time. If the glory and prestige of your God rests on how well you make Him look, either by your worship space or your music or your teaching or your own life, it will eventually fade and crumble. Your sins will show through, your incomplete worship will be revealed, and your pandering to the culture will be on display. And then, the gig is up. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, not many of you were wise according the worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Your own inclusion to the household of faith is the weak link of the PR makeover; for the whole thing rests on the foolish working of your God.
But here is the thing, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” God’s foolish work of standing in your place and repenting for your sins is wiser than any scheme of mankind. His weakness in suffering and crying out for your forgiveness from the cross of Calvary and dying there in shame is stronger than any action you or I could ever make. God’s work turns everything over on its head. In fact, as Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). God choses you, to be His own. He chooses you in your sin and hurt and lowliness. He chooses to love and forgive and embrace.
We do not need to clean up our God. We do not need to make Him more presentable. He is the only source of your life and salvation. He is not your creation, your choice, your puppet to do as you will. He chose you and made His only begotten Son to be your wisdom, your righteousness and sanctification and redemption. It is time for us to boast, to boast in what the world calls foolish, what they see as weak and lowly. Boast not in what you or I have done but boast each and every day in a God who has found you, called you and forgiven you. Let us boast in the Lord.