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Faith and Failure: The Foolish Message We Proclaim

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Many moons ago when the earth was still cooling I was a student at university and one of the things me and my friends used to like to do was go to the local pub quiz. On one memorable occasion, I could see we were unlikely to win as on the table next to us were a group of people gathered and they had a little sign saying ‘mensa’. Uh oh! Now we never won against ordinary folk let alone a little club from mensa. We had already bought our pints so decided to carry on anyway. Well no miracle – the mensa team won massively and we were bottom. They won the cash prize of about £50 and looked smug in a kind of nerdy brainy superior way. But – we won the wooden spoon prize of a fiver. So not all loss. But just as we got up to leave we were stopped because we also won the weekly sweepstake that had rolled over for a number of weeks and were handed about £100! I must admit I swaggered past the mensa team with their daft little sign! Oh they may have won the quiz, but we won the cash based victory. Anyone looking on would have thought the mensa team were a sure bet. But we, to the surprise of even ourselves, rolled out that pub at closing the victors and perhaps £105 worse for wear.

In church, its pretty easy to look around and expect that it is only the cleverest the bravest the most holy the most eloquent that deserve to be used by God. Because in society that is exactly what seems to happen. The best are rewarded. The rest of us chumps do the best we can right? Those who succeed, succeed because of their own ability we are told. Now there is all sorts of wrong with this type of thinking anyway, but the problem arises when we take that same meritocratic mindset, the idea that ones success is achieved by hard work and pulling oneself up by our own bootstraps, and apply this same thinking to church. Now don’t get me wrong hard work is a great way to help, but we are born with latent skills and can hardly take credit for how God created us. This thinking in church leads to two places. The first is that people in the church try something out, it doesn’t work as well as they hope, and they conclude their failure must be down to being failures, not skilful enough or good enough. So the church stutters and stalls and is unhappy and hopeless. The second place this daft thinking takes us is to look at ourselves and say, look at me. I’m nothing special and God knows all about my failures and inadequacies. Look at how poor I am at talking, praying, thinking, doing whatever, anything I try will be a failure. Therefore, nothing ever happens and you end up believing these lies. Both of these ways of thinking, I think, are fundamentally flawed and actually just untrue.

In our New Testament reading we hear a part of what is at least in my top 5 favourite bible passages in the 1st letter to the Corinthians. In it Paul, a very highly educated man for the society he lived in, has discovered the limits of his ability. He asks where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the debaters? None of them have been able to find God through wisdom. You see, you’ll never find God through science. You’ll never find God through study. You’ll never find God through meditation, or enlightenment or working hard or being rich or skilful or well qualified. No, salvation is only ever achieved, knowing God is only ever achieved through the foolishness of our proclamation and believing it. Through pure unrestricted and unparalleled grace. God didn’t pick Paul to be an apostle because he is particularly eloquent or educated or holy. Elsewhere Paul tells us that he was called to be an apostle before his birth, just as each of us was called to be a Christian before we were born. We can hardly take any credit for that I don’t think!

Lets look at the example of the widow and her encounter with Elijah – here we encounter a widow who has lost all hope. Israel is suffering a long-lasting drought and this woman has so little that she only has enough food for one more meal for her and her son and with no real prospect of getting any more. The woman and her son are preparing to die from starvation.

God tells Elijah to ask the woman for food. The woman, instead of keeping it to herself, gives up the last thing she has to God, to feed Elijah. To any observer looking on, this woman was being utterly foolish. But much to her amazement, she, her son and Elijah are fed from the flour pot and oil flask that God ensures never runs out. As Paul says it is through our foolish proclamation that we are saved, and it is through what seems foolishness that God saves this woman and her son. Nothing about this woman suggests that she has earned this particular grace from God. She has no skills or education or anything. She has nothing in the world except her son. But God chose her, and God provided for her without her help. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

So where does this leave us? I hope encouraged! Know that you are utterly chosen to love people in Jesus’ name in this place and if you feel inadequate because of a perceived lack, then alleluia, what an opportunity for God to be glorified through your service of others in His name! You have everything you need. Second, take risks in faith. If you feel called to do something, but feel you have neither the resources or the skills, do it anyway. Take risks for God. On Thursday I heard tell a story of praying a dangerous prayer when he took a risk for God and it looked like it may fail. He had the audacity to say to the Lord ‘look, in this there are two reputations at risk, mine and yours, so you better show up, because I have made some bold claims and I don’t want you to risk your reputation by not showing up!’ I am not sure about the wisdom of that prayer but he took a serious risk in faith. So go for it, in prayer and just see how God blesses you.

To the world, our faith seems utter foolishness but to us who are being saved it is power of God and the wisdom of God. So be bold, take risks in faith, through prayer and thanksgiving. Try new thinks out. Got a missional idea, lets try. It may seem utterly foolish, you may be utterly inadequate, but God blesses and He provides and through those simple steps of foolish faith we can change the world, starting here in Cleveleys. Amen

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