The Christian Church has a secret. This is something it has tried hard for many years to keep hidden away from casual observers. In fact, most people can be part of a church for many years before they uncover the secret, at which point it is too late to back out. They are already a part of the fellowship and unwilling to let it go. Instead, they become part of the conspiracy. Over the years, the Church has done all sorts of things to cover up its disgraceful secret. At times it has been through images of power and prestige. Think of the grand cathedrals of Europe, with their massive stained-glass windows and exquisite architecture and statues and spires that stretch into the sky. What a perfect façade to hide what we do not want others to see. These days perhaps you might use inspiring music and emotional visuals to create the façade. You focus on the emotions of the individuals, create a powerful ethos, so no one discovers the secret we have done so well hiding.
But eventually it comes out. Sooner or later the people of God discover the truth and perhaps it is time we just confront it head-on and quit trying to hide from it. For the truth is this: Despite the image of power and influence and reverence and honor and dignity, the heart of our faith, the core of what the Church is about is rooted in what is foolish. The great hope of the Church is foolish and weak and low and despised. It is not just that it is foolish or weak, but it is intentionally so. It is supposed to be foolish. It is supposed to be low and despised by this world. See, we have forgotten this along the way. We want and even demand that it is glorious and powerful and respected by all. So, we work hard at keeping the secret.
However, Saint Paul airs out the dirty laundry. He says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). Your salvation does not lie in the powerful and lofty and wise things of this world, your salvation lies in the foolishness of the preached Word. The foolishness of preaching Christ crucified. It is not Christ crucified and then a bunch of other stuff to make it look better, feel better, and sell better to the masses. No, Christ crucified and nothing else. That is your hope and security and salvation.
This reality of our faith goes against the grain of everything we want and desire. It is not just that you want your church to look good or you want it to be impressive to your friends and families. No, you do not want it to be foolish or week because that would reflect on you. No one wants to look foolish. No one wants to look weak or lowly or be despised in this world. We want to look like those who have it all figured out. We want to be the holy, the wise, the enlightened ones. To be able to point to something that we have done and say, “There, there is the reason I am being saved.” Perhaps you were more spiritual than others, you had this sense of things that caused you to go searching for the answers which brought you to church, to the Word of God, to faith. Or perhaps for you it was a more intellectual exercise, you were searching out the answers to life’s big questions, the questions which have haunted the great philosophers and your search brought you to Christianity. Or it could have been that you were striving already to be a good person, to be a positive influence on the lives of others and this faith provided you the framework and understanding on how to live out a more noble life.
You see, we like to construct a story that allows us to be shown in good light. We want some credit for our cleverness, our whit, our wisdom, our insight. So, when we are faced with the awful secret of the Church, we claim some superiority over it. Perhaps we can even make it better just by our proximity to it. But it turns out this is an old tactic. Just as Paul forces us to come face to face with the reality of the Church, he also forces us to take a sober look at ourselves. To those in Corinth who, like us, were trying to make it all look better than it really was he says, “Consider your calling, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish 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 the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
There is no boasting in yourself, no boasting in your cleverness or your wisdom or your insight or anything. Consider yourselves. Really, consider who you are and what you have done. Is there really anything there you feel you ought to boast in? Is there really anything you look at and think, this action, this thought, this desire, this feeling is why I am saved? For the reality is, the more you consider yourself, the more you are honest about who you are and what you have done, the more the depth of your sin comes to the surface. Even the absolute best things you do are touched by your sin. Your good deeds are fueled by selfish desires. As the prophet Isaiah said, “All your righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
This deep secret of the Church is the very source of your salvation. It strips you of any glory in yourself. It empties the Church from anything that would replace the cross of Christ as the only source of hope and salvation. You are not saved by the image of the Church, nor its glorious traditions, nor its good deeds. You are saved by the Lord God Almighty bearing your sins upon the cross and dying in your place. It is foolish and weak and lowly in the eyes of the world but to us it is the power of God.
The wonder of this great secret is how it renders you completely passive. You are not the actor in the story of your salvation, but the receiver of a work done solely by the grace of God. The foolishness of God gives complete and utter assurance for it all rests on His choosing. Paul asks, “Where is the one who is wise? Were is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20) Yes, He has. For He has come under the form of opposites, under the foolish and weak and lowly things to do His great saving work. There is no room for boasting here, no cleverness you can claim as your own. You only receive what He has done.
And what He has done… is everything. He has broken the chains which bind you in your sin. He has opened your hearts and minds. He has declared you are forgiven and calls you His own dear children. He has brought you together around His gifts so He might continue to nourish and care for you. He has done it all, not through power and prestige in the world, not through fame and fortune, but through His crucified Son.
So, we are left with one thing to boast in, one thing we can and ought to shout from the rooftops. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” says Paul. Let us boast in the foolishness of our God. Let us boast in His lowly working which has called such lowly people to be His dear children. Let us boast in the promises of the Father that echo in the heavenly chambers declaring you to be His saints. Let us boast in Christ Jesus alone.