Monday, October 1, 2007

He loves even us

God Loves the "Out-Crowd"
I Corinthians 1:26-29
Steve Crouch
from a sermon

Next time you go to church, look around at the people in the congregation, and take this little survey:
  • How many world-famous movie stars are there? [ ]
  • How many U.S. Senators or Representatives? [ ]
  • How many millionaires? – or at least someone with a seven-figure income? [ ]
  • How many professional athletes? [ ]
  • Is there anyone who has won an international beauty contest?
  • And finally, how many kings or queens are in attendance?
Then add up the total. … That’s what I thought – the total is zero.

Oh, one more question: How many Christians are there in the congregation? [ ]

And that shouldn’t surprise you either. If somebody took a survey like this in all of the local churches in the world, most of those surveys would have the same result. Most or all of the people in most churches are not the hot shots, the big-deal celebrities, the movers and shakers of the world. Most of us are just ordinary folks, and, in many churches, even a fair percentage of down-and-outers. Why is this? Because of this Scripture:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. [1 Corinthians 1:26-29]
How did Paul know this about the Christians in Corinth and other places? As far as we know, he never took a survey. He didn’t have to, because he had been there. He had been to Corinth and met many of the people he was now writing to. In fact, he was the one who first told many of them about Jesus, and started the church there. And Paul had been lots of other places too, met lots of people, saw people come to Christ, and started a few churches.

So I’m sure that as he wrote this, he had actual names and faces in mind, people he could remember in Corinth:
  • Like old Fred – a former slave trader, but now a slave of Jesus Christ.
  • And Weird Harold – boy, was he weird! Everybody always thought he was a complete fool, but now he thought of himself as a fool for Christ.
  • There was John – not his real name, but everyone called him John because he had run a house of ill repute before he became a believer.
  • And Mary – one of John’s former “employees.”
  • And many others: tax collectors, street bums, sick people – some of them lepers – Jews – who everybody called dogs – and of course slaves, lots of slaves.
What we read here in 1 Corinthians 1 is a summary of the kinds of people Paul had met, the people who had heard him “preach Christ crucified,” as he said up in verse 23.

And after a few years of this, it wasn’t hard to see a pattern: Not many movie stars, not many athletes, millionaires, beauty contest winners, kings or queens – not many of them accepted the message of the Gospel. Maybe one or two here and there, but not usually.

Remember once when Paul did share his faith with a king? His name was King Agrippa, and the story is in Acts 25-26. Agrippa actually made time in his busy schedule and gave Paul permission to speak. So Paul launched into the story of his conversion and talked about Jesus being crucified and raised from the dead. He even said “I testify to small and great alike,” meaning small and great people. And Agrippa was one of the great people.

So what did the great King Agrippa think about Paul’s Gospel? He said “You almost persuade me.” And at the end of the interview, his only response was to comment on Paul’s legal status: “This man could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.” King Agrippa heard the Gospel! He had his chance and blew it, just like many other “great” people after him. As far as I know, the first “king” to become a Christian was Emperor Constantine, some 300 years after this.

But there haven’t been very many like that – not many “noble,” not many influential people. Now in all fairness, there actually are quite a few professional athletes who are Christians – and it’s interesting that many of them have been football players – people like Mike Singletary, Roger Staubach, Napoleon Kaufmann who played for the Raiders, both of the coaches in last year’s Super Bowl – and there are many more. That’s great. But there are a lot more Christians in the prisons, and a lot more Christians doing ordinary jobs – or no jobs at all – never making the papers, not known by very many people.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul described these people with words like “foolish,” “weak,” “lowly,” and “despised.” If you took another church survey and asked “How many foolish people are there in the congregation? How many weak? How many lowly? How many despised?” – would anybody raise their hand? Maybe there are other words – better words – to describe some of us: ordinary, hurting, untalented, struggling. I think maybe we have some of those kinds of people in our congregations. And you can bet there are plenty of them out there in the world, hungry for some good news.

And for lack of a better word, we could call these people the “out-crowd.” You’ve heard of the “in-crowd”? – of course you have. You’ve heard of them because they’re famous and glamorous, they get their picture taken a lot. And some of them have photographers and reporters following them everywhere they go. When was the last time the paparazzi followed you around?

You know, the Gospel of Christ should be good news to the in-crowd, because God loves them too, and wants to save them. But mostly it’s been the out-crowd types who find the good news to really be good news. Why do you suppose this is? It goes something like this:
  • When you already have “everything,” you don’t think you need anything. You’re self-sufficient – or you think you are. So what is Jesus going to give you that you don’t already have!
  • But when you can see that you have next to nothing and your situation is desperate, then you are better able to see your need.
There are probably millions of different reasons for why people come to Christ. And all of them come down to: seeing a need in yourself, and realizing that only Jesus can meet that need.

Some people have physical problems that really give them a hard time and show them how needy they are. Some people have lost everything: their health, their family. Or it can be emotional problems, or relationships that are all fouled up. The classic picture of the “down-and-outer” is a drunk who has lost everything, lying passed out in a gutter in the skid row section of a large city. I have seen drunks literally lying in a gutter, and it’s not a pretty sight. There are some very needy people out there.

But the fact is: as tragic as those things are, all of them are just symptoms. The real need is spiritual – and it’s the same for everybody, in-crowd or out-crowd. Everybody is a sinner and needs Jesus and his salvation. Without him, we’re lost. But with him, we have eternal life, and we have hope.

The way it works for most people is that we have to have some “symptoms” to get our attention, and help us realize that we need something outside ourselves. People who have “everything” usually don’t see the need. But the down-and-outers, the hurting people, are more likely to see the need.

Like a man with leprosy who lived in India. Leprosy can be a horrible disease. Yet this man eventually came to the point where he could actually say “I am grateful to God that I have leprosy. If I didn’t have this disease, I would never have come to this Christian doctor, who not only treated my physical disease, but also brought me to Jesus.” The missionary was Dr. Paul Brand, who worked with lepers for many years in India. And that’s how it usually works: seeing the need, and accepting the Lord.

But, as 1 Corinthians says: not very often among the in-crowd. Not many people humble themselves enough to bow down before God and admit their need. When it happens at all, it’s mostly the out-crowd – or at least it’s people who are closer to the out-crowd than the in-crowd. And for those who have ears to hear, it ought to be very good news that God loves hurting people and wants to meet their need and accept them into his family. We have hurting people in our churches – and where would we be without Christ!

Somehow it makes sense that Jesus should love the lowly, the despised and rejected, people with no beauty or majesty, and unattractive – it makes sense because Isaiah 53 uses those very words to describe him. The hot shots of the world saw him as one of the out-crowd. But that makes sense because the out-crowd are his kind of people.

Sometimes when I have been in a gathering of Christians – a local church or a prayer group or a Bible study group – especially when it’s people I’ve never been with before: sometimes I sit there and looked around at these people, listen to them talk – and it almost always reminds me of this Scripture in 1 Corinthians 1. I look at the people and I think “Sure enough: another typical group of Christians. Not many noble, not many with human wisdom, not many influential. Not the big deal in-crowd. Just a bunch of ordinary folks.” And then I think “Praise God for the good news that he loves even us.”

You might know some people who are “out-crowd” kind of people – I mean, besides those who are in your church. Those people need to know that God loves them and Jesus died for them. Will you tell them the good news?

Steve Crouch is the pastor of the Bay Area Seventh Day Baptist Church.
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