1 Corinthians 1:26-31
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 12, 2017
In the greatness of His love, God is thinking to bless us even when He asks us to serve the broadest concerns of His love. For God means to partner with us in order to honor us by making us His colleagues in making the world better.
Thus, in what seems pure foolishness, or even a kind of lunacy, God’s preferred method for accomplishing His will is to get it done with us, or not get it done at all. In such crazy vulnerability, He delegates work to us, and thereby depends on us.
God actually chooses to do nothing by Himself which He can do in collaboration with us, and He would rather have things done imperfectly and slowly, due to our involvement, than have them done perfectly and quickly all by Himself. God seeks to do His extraordinary work as a joint effort with ordinary people.
Think about the first-century church in Corinth, Greece – a city back then much like today’s Long Beach: a port city of half a million whose economy was driven by international trade and whose citizenship was made up of folks of every possible kind.
While the church in Corinth had its share of the elite and the affluent, most of its membership came from the lower ranks of society. Few were impressive by human standards. Most lacked culture, influence or abilities. Thus, the Apostle Paul here reminds them: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”
Yet, it is precisely these unpromising people that Paul commands to “consider” their “call” – that is, their high and holy place in God’s achieving His purposes – because God has committed Himself to get things done through us or just not get them done.
Three times here Paul repeats that God chose to work through the unimpressive. He 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, things that are not,” – that is, people counted as less than nothing in human ranking – “to reduce to nothing things that are” – that is, to show up the impact of the high and mighty by the greater impact of those who have little to contribute but who join forces with God. Because the latter know better than to trust in themselves, they turn to God and let Him be, as verse 30 puts it, “the source of [their] life” – and so produce results beyond their capabilities.
As often as not, God does not tap rock stars, popular kids or people with prodigious talent to get things done. That’s not because God is disinterested in partnering with the smart, the strong or the talented, but because their superior capabilities don’t make God any more interested in them than in others. For God doesn’t need any of us, even though He would like to be colleagues with any and all of us.
God may in fact be more likely to use the less impressive folks; but that’s only because the more impressive think they can accomplish things by themselves, while the less impressive feel the necessity of joining forces with God.
Thus, when they end up having impact, they don’t boast in themselves but in the Lord who enabled them to have it. They see their having accomplished what they’ve accomplished as being entirely due to their partnership with God.
They realize God might partner up with anyone, even the likes of them, and make anyone His colleague. Why, God might make the woman driving with the Darwin fish bumper sticker the next Billy Graham; a misogynistic, foul-mouthed rapper, the next William Wilberforce; or a corrupt politician, the next Nelson Mandela.
In the lunacy of God’s loving grace, we can never tell whom God might use. The only predictors of that happening are a person’s being free of over-inflated self-esteem and being available to be swept up in the Lord’s passionate concerns and deep-seated joys.
I got to know Henri Nouwen at Yale. He left Yale to teach at Harvard. Then he left Harvard to serve people with severe emotional, mental and physical disabilities in a Christian community called L’Arche.
Trevor, one of the disabled members of the community, had to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital; and Henri made arrangements to visit him. When administrators found out that the famous Henri Nouwen was coming to their institution, they decided to have a special lunch for him in what they called the Golden Room: a wood-paneled meeting room reserved for doctors, top administrators and distinguished visitors.
When Henri arrived in the Golden Room, he looked around for Trevor and asked when he’d arrive. “Trevor cannot participate,” Henri was told. “Patients and staff do not lunch together in the Golden Room.”
Knowing he represented an inclusive community, Henri felt Trevor should be there. So Henri turned to the person in authority and said, “My first purpose in coming here was to have lunch with Trevor. If Trevor is not allowed to attend, I will not attend either.”
The idea of losing their chance to have lunch with the revered Henri Nouwen somehow helped his hosts find a way Trevor could attend after all.
At one point in the meal, Henri was engaged in a deep conversation with someone on his left and didn’t notice that to his right Trevor had stood up and lifted his glass of Coca-Cola. When Henri turned around, Trevor announced in a loud voice, “I will now offer a toast!”
The room fell into an awkward silence, as people exchanged nervous glances and shifted uncomfortably in their seats, not knowing what to expect. They gaped in shock when this deeply challenged man in a room full of M.D.s and Ph.D.s started to sing, “If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass. If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass…”
At first people just stared at Trevor in bewilderment. They had no idea how to respond to a man with his level of disability and brokenness. But everyone of them was struck with his innocent, uninhibited joy over his just being there. Moved by his pure and exuberant gratitude, a few folks started to sing along with Trevor. As the round continued, more and more joined the chorus – softly, at first, and then louder and louder – until every last person was, with goofy grins, raising the roof with the refrain, “If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass.”
Following the meal, Henri gave one of His typical brilliant talks; but the moment everyone remembers – the moment God spoke with the greatest impact and clarity – was through a person they all would have said was the least likely person to speak for God: the person, it turns out, who most let God be his life, who forgot himself and who boasted in the Lord.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a lunacy of love. But it is a lunacy that makes you want to laugh with joy. If you’re happy and you know it, raise your hands and praise the God who is crazy with love!