A few years ago, Drew Lynch was playing in a rec softball league when a grounder took a bad bounce and hit him in the throat. It damaged his vocal chords and caused him to have a permanent stutter. Coming to grips with his stutter was challenging, but to cope he started doing stand-up comedy. He even appeared on America’s Got Talent where his stammer was on full display as his weakness entwined with his moving, hilarious sketch.
It was a jarring juxtaposition considering the nature of stand-up: bits are rehearsed and jokes are practiced to be executed perfectly. Any stammer, slip-up or ill-timed joke is met with boos or, equally as damning, silence. But for Drew, his stammer was a part of him he could not practice his way out of. It was there no matter what he tried to do. In a short stand-up bit he turned the very nature of stand-up on its head: a routine full of stutters causing laughter and tears and all the feels in between.
I thought about the story above as our pastor preached from 1 Corinthians a few weeks ago. He spoke about how the Corinth that Paul entered was a city that held public speaking in high regard. The orators of the day were men who trained mentally and physically to be on full display for giant crowds; their job was to impress with their wealth of information, cultural relevancy, and sharp-minded expertise. And in the culture of entertaining and displaying intellect, Paul stands up and says:
“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor. 1:2-4)
In an age where knowledge and power were (and still are) king, Paul considers the visceral and humiliating death of Jesus Christ the pinnacle of wisdom. It was unheard of that a person would stake his meaning for life on the death of someone who was crucified. Even to this day, I’d much rather present the Gospel as thoughtful, rational, and relevant and do so as an “educator,” well-versed to answer all questioning without a hint of stammer or doubt instead of taking my true position as a fool for Christ. That is not to say that there aren’t arguments that support the strong and convincing truth about Christ’s love. But such arguments can hinder the truth of the story Jesus Christ tells us about who we are and what we desperately need. Fleming Rutledge, in her book The Crucifixion, says that theological knowledge can only take us so far; we need to know the story. She tells her own story about American writer Joseph Mitchell and an interaction he had with his sister on her deathbed. She recounts:
“She asked him (Joseph), “Buddy, what does Jesus’ death on the cross a long time ago have to do with my sins now?” Mitchell, who was an instinctive theologian though certainly not a trained one, struggled to find the right words, as you would expect a meticulous writer to do, and finally said, with his characteristic occasional stammer, “s-s-somehow, he was our representative.” Academic inquiry must hold its peace for a moment in the space between that questions and that response.
Joseph Mitchell and his sister were, in a sense, better readers of the Bible than many highly trained scholars, because her question and his answer were wrenched out of their guts, not cooly considered in a classroom.
To be a fool for Christ is to know that somehow, he was our representative on the cross. In him, we are free to laugh and cry our way through a life of stammering, failing, and weakness knowing full well he is by our side and will never leave. In a world bound to fail, that is good news indeed.