There is a time in life when losing wins. Our daughter lost her upper front tooth Monday morning. She was excited. She was proud. She was a winner (well, a losing one, but nevertheless the tooth fairy was coming). Can you picture any other time when a loved one would run into your arms with pure joy and shout, “I lost…” if the sentence did not also include the phrase, “my tooth!”? OK, I can think of one more, “I lost…10 pounds.” (That can also be a good feeling.) Sometimes losing teeth or weight is not always a good thing, and then we are back to that dreadful feeling that losing something matters.
Nobody likes to lose. We hate it. I hate it. I hate losing competitions. I hate when my basketball bracket is busted. I’ve learned to apprecte playing the games I play more than winning or losing them, but still, losing stinks. I hate losing things. I hate losing my things. Without thinking too hard I could name five things I’ve recently lost and how frustrated I get when I cannot find them.
We want to win and we want to be winners. In high stakes competitions there is a fine line between playing to win and playing not to lose. Often those who play to win defeat those who play not to lose, because the fear of losing overtakes the opportunity to go for the win. Losing stinks. Defeat is painful. We want to win.
What we fear most is losing. And not just losing teeth, weight, or basketball brackets.
I realized something this week, and remembered something central. When we lose it gives us life. Sometimes the blood, as painful as it is, is worth it. Sometimes our failure is the only way we can see the truth. I remembered one other time that losing is winning, and it has profound implications for our lives and our faith.
One of my teachers in seminary was the late Gerhard Forde. Here is an excerpt from an article of his that has been instructive to me, and I pass it along to you to think about this week…
“Nobody likes a loser. There is hardly anything worse we can say of a person today than he or she is a loser, a real loser. We want winners. We worship winners. We want to be winners – often at any cost. Yet, by our standards, Jesus was a loser…
…We don’t like to have this said about Jesus. We like to think of him as a stunning attraction, a glowing, handsome, exemplary, winsome winner – one who fits our ‘winner takes all’ outlook on life. We try by all sorts of trickery – religious or otherwise – to twist the story of Jesus and his cross so it will fit into our winner’s circle. Splinters from the cross will cure our diseases. The uncrucified Jesus will be our leader and example. The cross is painted on our battle flags or carried on crusades. Jesus is portrayed for all the world like a pro football player emerging radiant and glistening from the shower after a big win. He can even be our substitute winner so we can relax and equate piety with sloppiness. Everyone wants a winner. But it is all false. Jesus cannot be made over by us into a winner. By our standards he was a loser. We have to face it…
…The victory of Christ, the triumph of Easter, is a note that is often lacking in our teaching, our preaching, and our piety. This is because we tend to think that there was nothing really vital at stake – either for him or for us. We think of him as a kind of supreme, unruffled, orthodox theologian, a plaster saint, who could not possible lose anything and whose victory is consequently no real surprise…
…And when we think of him in this fashion, we do not seriously entertain the thought that he could be a loser. We want a winner. We want a sure thing. So we tend to miss the real nature of the victory. Easter is a once a year curiosity we may enjoy when it comes around but is soon forgotten and about which we have little to say. This is why we have to face seriously that Jesus was first of all a loser. ‘this Jesus whom you crucified,’ is the one whom God raised from the dead – precisely in the face of our dislikes! It is God who ultimately accomplishes the victory by raising Jesus from the dead. God audaciously turns the tables on us by raising up this one whom we judges to be a loser. In this strange fact lies the mystery of Easter, the victory of Christ…
…Jesus comes and goes all the way of what we think is a loser. He refuses steadfastly to go the way of the first Adam, to try to be a god. He goes the other way. He decides to be a human being. He sticks to it to the end. ‘He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’ This is his victory. The resurrection alone is not simply the victory. If so, it would mean he was our type of winner after all – that he ‘snatched victory from defeat’ at the last minute like some of our championship teams in spite of playing a bad game. No, it was precisely by losing in a world of winners that victory becomes possible. For God shocks everyone by raising this loser from the dead. God vindicates his cause by making this Jesus to be Lord and Christ.” (Gerhard O. Forde, “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ,” A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement and Ecumenism. ed. Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson. [Grand Rapids: Lutheran Quarterly Books – William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2004], 98-100.)
We are the followers of a loser. No excuses. No if onlys. No try better next times.
To be a disciple of this loser we lose ourselves, to give ourselves away for his sake. Keep this loser close to your heart, for it is in his failure that we hear good news from God in our winner-takes-all world. Easter is coming.
Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.” (Philippians2:8).