Can you make anything with that?
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. | 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 (NLT)
Jesus said he would build his church, and nothing – not even the might of hell railing against it – would be able to overcome it (Matthew 16:18). The foundations of truth that withstand the changes and challenges of time, would be lived out – expressed by – people like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). Through this collection of people, the church, God would make known his abundant wisdom to the rulers and cosmic powers that watch on.
It's quite a plan, isn’t it?
You’d imagine the eligibility criteria for inclusion in such a building project would be quite exclusive, wouldn’t you? Something only the crème-de-la-crème could be considered for? Surely, if this was about radiating out something of the wonder and brilliance of God to the principalities and spiritual powers, then only the finest candidates need apply. You know, the professional, degree-educated, go-getter types. The successful ones, those with a proven track record. The ones the world admires and exalts?
But consider Paul’s words to the church in Corinth as reminder of the kind of folk God called for inclusion in his masterplan – the foolish and the powerless.
The church throughout generations has advanced not through human strategy or wisdom, nor through the influence of attractive, eloquent speakers, but through Ordinary Joe’s (or Joanne’s) encountering the Truth of Jesus, having their life transformed by him and then getting on with doing what the Spirit led them to do. Simple as that.
The ‘risk’ involved, if you can call it that, is the very type of person God chooses to call, save and involve – the you and the me. It’s risky because it leads to all kinds of problems like the ones the church in Corinth encountered… and like those we inflict and suffer within our own gatherings.
But here’s the plot twist… it’s through the mess that you and I make that the wisdom, the grace and the glory of God is often best displayed. It’s as duffers like those in Corinth and those in Hyde and Mottram – whose weakness and foolishness is too often too obvious – make a hash of ‘getting it right’ that God is able to say to every onlooker – ‘See what I can do, even with the likes of these.’
What does ‘weakness and foolishness’ look like?
It looks like rubbing one another up the wrong way.
It looks like reacting to something in a sharp and hurtful way.
It looks like acting out of defensiveness, not carefulness.
It looks like pursuing what I want whilst disregarding the needs of others.
It looks like culturally accepting some sins whilst harshly judging others.
It looks like offering a warm welcome to some, whilst overlooking others.
It looks like being preoccupied with maintaining the familiar and the known whilst those on the doorstep of our church buildings rush headlong to a lost eternity.
These are not acceptable practices, and they reveal hearts that need the grace of God to continue working on them.
But when we open ourselves up to that possibility, seeing our natural tendencies and the inherent weakness and foolishness of them, and turn to God in repentance, desperate that his grace continue to meet us, forgive us and change us, then we can begin to hear in the distance the ringing of the bell that says ‘grace has triumphed, grace is triumphing, and grace will triumph’.
This is not a permission to belligerently remain in weakness and foolishness – we need to be serious about growing up into the likeness of Jesus. But as we blunder along the way, with all of our best-intentions-gone-wrong as well as our less-than healthy plans and behaviours, the grace of God is still enough to ensure that the Church is built, the Church endures and the Church advances – through numpties like me, and numpties like you. And despite the questionable materials he’s building with, God is building something breath-taking that points to just what an exceptional builder he really is.