Last week, I talked about our call to bear Christ into the world, and I got to thinking about what it means in our lives that we are the ones that are called. As unlikely as some of us are, what we believe is considered to be even more foolish by the values of this world. Rather than being born in a family of wealth and power Jesus was born in a barn, which had the consequence of denying his mother that age-old question whenever he left the door open. Rather than having his birth announced to the social elites Jesus birth was announced to the shepherds, the bottom of the heap in that society. Jesus lived as a political refugee in Egypt and worked for most of his life at the physically demanding work of carpentry. Jesus began his ministry by going out into the desert to not eat for 40 days and immediately chose a motley bunch of opposites as his key disciples. Jesus ministry ended with his humiliation, torture and death. Everything about Jesus’ coming seems foolish to the values of his (and our) society. Many of the values and choices that we are called to are foolish by the standards around us, but Paul tells us something important to remember.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31
We as Friends of Jesus have some things we are called to that don’t work according to the rules of the world, but accurately reflect the way God is. We are called to simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. Each one of those calls goes against the grain of the world and doesn’t seem to work out very well when confronted with humans. The truth of the matter is that we aren’t called to do what we think will work, but to obey the leading of the Spirit.
Simplicity is the radical idea that less is more, that we should live below our means in order to free ourselves from bondage to things. Every day we are prompted to consume more stuff and our homes become more and more filled. Eventually it feels like we have to wade through a sea of clutter to get to the thing we actually need. I personally have never met a kitchen gadget I don’t like. This has the effect of driving my wife crazy when she is looking for something and has to dig through the drawers of gadgets to find what she needs. We are simplifying as we prepare to move, but I need to start asking different questions when I am passing a new gadget in the store. Questions like the query I shared with you the week before Thanksgiving. “Query 13 Is your life marked by simplicity? Are you free from the burden of unnecessary possessions? Do you avoid waste? Do you refuse to let the prevailing culture and media dictate your needs and values?” The more we accumulate, the more time and resources we spend on maintaining stuff. The more time and resources we spend maintaining stuff, the less time and resources we have for living into God’s call on our lives.
Then we have our most controversial calling, the Peace testimony. Loving your enemies is not the way to the top in our (or any) culture. It is decidedly unpopular to stand in the way when the crowd is chanting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Living into this call is not a passive state of burying our head in the sand, but is an active effort to make peace. It isn’t popular to stand up and say “We should not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.” It is even less popular to actually begin doing it. This is the point at which we have to say to ourselves “We don’t do this because it works, we do this because of who God is.” Going against the flow of society usually doesn’t work, but our job is to be ambassadors that show another way is possible. When we choose the ways of God’s peace that passes all understanding we display a witness to the world around us that shows another way is not only possible, but that in God’s people another way is here.
God’s way is also marked by integrity. We are called to live whole lives that are marked by a commitment to living and speaking the truth. We boldly declare that lies, falsehoods, misrepresentation, hidden agendas, and silence in the face of untruth leads to bondage. Living in the light of truth about ourselves, who we are and are called to be, being forthright in all our dealings, being honest even when it appears to go against our best interests is the essence of freedom. The freedom of the truth means that we don’t have the fragile façade of lies built up around us that we dare not forget. Unfortunately we are surrounded by lies and drawn into them on a daily basis. We cannot live healthy lives if we do not constantly shine the light of God’s truth into the deepest, darkest corners of ourselves and allow what festers there to be brought into the cleansing light. We as Friends of Jesus must be forthright about how we fail, our personal inability to live into the truth of the gospel, in order to show the people around us that our eyes are not closed to the fact that we are broken vessels shining the light of God through the jagged cracks of our failures. Integrity begins with being brutally honest with ourselves about exactly how little we deserve the awesome grace of God that has been poured into our lives.
That grace is shown and displayed in our life together. The call to being community to each other also flies in the face of the way our society is organized. In this church we have people from all over the economic and political spectrum worshipping God side-by-side rather than splitting off into smaller and smaller market segments. In a society marked by fragmentation, our coming together to support, encourage and love each other is one of the greatest witnesses we have. When we love people who are not just like us and welcome them into our fellowship and find places appropriate to their gifts, we display the grace of God for all to see and marvel at. When our primary allegiance is to the kingdom of God, to our community of faith, worldly considerations of politics and prestige take a back seat to the Gospel of Jesus.
The Gospel of Jesus is open to all. Because of Christ’s coming we have a community that is equal in its submission to Jesus. The undisputed master, teacher, ruler and leader of each of our lives is Jesus. This is why Paul says that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 The distinctions that matter so much to the cultures and societies around us are stripped away in receiving the overwhelming love of Jesus. When status, color, culture, and class come together we begin to see more clearly the gifts that God has spread throughout. Every person has the opportunity to listen to and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit within. When each of us listens to God’s voice in our business meetings we are drawn together to hear the direction of God’s call. Each voice carries a part of that call, and as such we believe that we are equals in the sight of God. When we make decisions we don’t vote, we wait to hear how God is speaking through the refining process of what is placed on our hearts. It is a challenge to us to wade through what is of us and what is of God, but with time and practice we get better.
With every fiber of my being I desire to live well into these calls, but I don’t. I fail miserably at seeing people I disagree with as my community or as having equal access to the voice of God. I want to lash out either verbally or physically when I am frustrated. I am not always honest with myself about why I do things, and Simplicity is a goal that I fall short of. I am in these things weak. My God however is not weak. God has placed me in community so that I can open myself up to His light and be held accountable. God has taught me to walk in the ways of truth and through his strength I can speak words of peace rather than the words of strife that I desired to say. Through the strength and wisdom of God we can come together in business meetings and put our individual pieces of God’s call together to form a greater whole.
Treating every person equally, being a loving community, living with integrity, making peace, and living simply are positions deemed weak and foolish by the wisdom of our culture. Friends, the weakness and foolishness of God is stronger and wiser than the combined strength and wisdom of the strongest and wisest humans who have ever and will ever exist. This foolishness and weakness was modeled for us in the birth, life and death of Jesus, and the true strength and wisdom of God is displayed to us in His resurrection and in the experience of the Holy Spirit when we listen and obey. Will we fail? Yes, but Friends we must keep trying because in our weakness God’s strength is shown and in our foolish values the wisdom of God is brought to life and lives.