“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” -1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Today marked the first day of my final year in Seminary. Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy to think that nine months from now I will have a Master’s degree, but even crazier is the fact that nine months from now I will (probably) be leaving Kentucky, and I feel like I’ve only just arrived.
With that sentiment, I think I’m paying more attention right now to the things that are special about this place, and not many things are more special at Asbury than Chapel. This morning we had the opening convocation chapel service. I was reminded again why I am here and what God is calling me (and each of us) to do. It ties in so well with what I’ve been reading in 1 Corinthians that I wanted to share it.
First of all in chapel today, we were led in an affirmation of our purpose at Seminary with these words, “We gladly commit ourselves to be formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.” What I am aiming for here at Asbury (and each of us should be aiming for wherever we are) is an undoing of my own will and desire until Christ reigns in me. It’s not something we do so we look nice, but we are reformed in the image of Christ so that Christ can be ministered to others through our words and deeds of love.
Later we were reminded by Dr. Tennent about what our task is when we leave this place and go out to be that living image of Christ for others. We go out into an America that is increasingly unwelcoming to the Church. He cited a statistic that says that the generation of people 30 and younger (my generation) is the first American generation where more than 50% of people have no positive experience or remembrance of the Church. It’s a growing antagonism that we all feel in the Church, and Christians are responding in many different ways. Some are helpful to our image (that image of Christ that the world is seeing). Others are not so helpful. Let’s not point fingers right now.
Dr. Tennent illustrated the uneasiness felt in the Church by recalling for us the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo laments that the ring and quest have come to him. “I wish that none of this had happened,” he says, to which Gandalf wisely replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil.”
Sometimes we may not like the times we are living in. When we realize that the prestige and influence of the church in America is waning, we may feel a lot like Frodo. Especially as I prepare to enter the ministry, I’m often tempted to hang my head and wish this burden had never come to me. But that is not for me or you to decide. We have to decide how we will be the image of Christ to a world that desperately needs him, even in a day and place that is too busy, too wise, too rich, and too self-centered for the Gospel.
Paul had to make this decision once, too. Just like us, he didn’t have the luxury of preaching in the past two American centuries when the message of the Bible was the norm of life for almost everyone. As Paul wrote in the verses above, he was preaching to Jews, who thought him a fool, and then he was taking the message to Gentiles, who thought him doubly a fool. The religious and the pagans saw no wisdom in the Gospel message. And so when Paul made the choice of what he would do with the time that was given to him, he decided to be a fool for Christ.
I think that part of the reason why many of us feel like Frodo today is because once again we are being asked to play the fool, and we don’t like it very much. Our ego has been stroked by decades of prominence in American culture. When we are derided by those in power, when the national news interviews Christians who are terrible representations of what it looks like to be the image of Christ and who perpetuate our negative stereotypes, when we suddenly realize we are losing our grip on what was ours for so long…we feel like fools. And our pride and our ego tell us that we cannot stand for such degradation.
These are the times that we have been given, and like Paul we must decide how we will respond to the challenge. To be sure, we stand for what we believe, we preach emphatically the message of the Gospel, we are filled with and live by the Spirit, but that same Spirit may be forming us into what our culture may perceive as a fool. Are we willing to let that happen to ourselves?
I hope that the answer is ‘yes.’ I hope that our transformation into the image of Christ for the sake of others will not be hindered by our own pride. It is hard to look like a fool, but we WILL look like a fool sometimes. Maybe that is our burden to bear for a time. Living selflessly looks foolish to modern America, but it is what Christ did. Hope in a dead Messiah, a living Savior, and a future glory will all sound foolish to a world that wants things right away, right now, who want to see before they will believe. Holding ourselves to a standard of right and wrong will look foolish to a generation that believes instant gratification of personal pleasures trumps the moral standard the Bible sets before us. But if such is the wisdom of the world, then let us, as Paul did, choose to be fools for Christ.
Don’t forget that the foolishness of God trumped the wisdom of man once before. In 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Paul explains how he lived as a fool before the world. “We are fools for the sake of Christ…When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” I believe Paul would rather have been the rubbish of the world and servant to all than stand up for his rights and in his pride become less like Christ.
We must be careful as we choose how to fight the popular tide that flows against the Church. We have lost the ear of many by trying to sound smart; perhaps it’s time we try speaking like fools. Although we may want to prove to everyone that we are not foolish or to remind them that we were once on top, Jesus simply wants us to forsake our dignity and become his fool.
Long before Frodo began to despair of his burden, he volunteered to take the ring himself to Mordor. “I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way.” It was a fool’s errand, a plan that looked hopeless to the wisdom of the world, but one that was undertaken in hope of greater things. Let us approach our day with the same foolish hope as Paul and as Frodo, a foolishness that causes us to become nothing and give ourselves totally for the sake of others.
So here I am, the beginning of my ending at Asbury. What do I hope to learn in my final year? I hope to learn the foolishness of God that has changed the world. I hope to lose myself in the foolish belief that God would become a man so that he could redeem me, even me, from my separation from him. I hope to become a fool in the image of Christ, a happy jester who knows that the world may be laughing and rolling their eyes but doesn’t mind, a wise jester who catches the hearts of others in the same foolishness that has caught mine.