February 9 2020 – Sermon

Epiphany 5 February 9 2020 Psalm 133, Isaiah 58:6-9a, Matthew 5:13-16
1st Corinthians 1:18-31 Foolish and weak…
******************************************************

There’s a sign we see especially around Christmas time, that says: Wise men seek him still.

Which is probably one of the main reasons I wasn’t seeking Jesus for a long time. I was young and foolish…the opposite of wise… And determined to stay
forever young. Forever foolish.

I could blame my parents for letting me grow up listening to their jazz records – Billie Holiday with that swinging band singing “….Maybe I’m a fool but it’s fun… people say you rule me with one – wave of your hand, darling it’s grand…” Billie made foolishness sound elegant and seductive… But don’t blame my poor sainted parents. Nobody ever had to lead me into temptation. I always knew how to get there by myself.
As a teenager I had a favorite record of Ray Charles singing a blues called I’m a fool for you… My friends and I would be crying in our beer trying to sing along. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were already oldies by the time I was in high school, but we knew their song – ooo-wah– ooo-wah – Why do fools fall in love? We considered it very cool to be a certain kind of fool…

So perhaps theoretically I had at least a little cultural preparation for the gospel according to Paul the apostle – who quotes the prophet Isaiah of old, channeling for God, saying “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise…” The apostle continues in the prophetic groove saying – Where is the one who’s wise? (Where’s the learned scholar and debaters of this age?)… Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”… “For since in the wisdom of God the world didn’t know God through wisdom” (Paul says –) God decided to use the foolishness of the gospel – summarized in the cross – which, for those who trust in reason – is the most unreasonable thing anyone can think of. And for those who want to keep religion safe, strong and reasonable – the cross is the ultimate in foolishness and weakness.
Greeks seek wisdom and Jews seek signs but God’s wisdom is revealed in the cross – foolishness to the one, a stumbling block to the other. (Greek here stands for secular wisdom. Greek being the dominant language and culture of the Roman Empire that ruled over the Mediterranean world. And Paul uses the word Jew here and elsewhere as shorthand for Paul’s home culture. Paul, remember, was a Jew who considered his Jewish faith and heritage a huge blessing. He understands the faith of his ancestors differently after he encountered Jesus and leaves his previous life as a persecutor of Christians. But Paul never stops teaching the Jewish bible as essential background for Christians and Christ the fulfillment of the First Testament.

And by this slightly round about way, Paul takes us into what he wants to say about the cross as the wisdom of God – that’s wiser than all the wisdom of this world. Acknowledging – the cross is total foolishness for those who don’t believe the message God has delivered in Jesus Christ – who has come to transform the world and overturn what the world considers wisdom.

The cross is total foolishness and weakness to those who reject the message of Jesus – who told us last week in this same chapter 5 we’ve read from again today – that it’s the peacemakers who will be called children of God and the merciful who will receive mercy. No wonder the gospel of Jesus Christ is still regarded as utter foolishness and shameful weakness by the wise, the strong and powerful of the world. Many of whom invoke the name of Jesus while opposing his teaching and example aggressively…

When I was younger I thought it was cool to be a fool in pursuit of romantic love… Now that I’m a bit older I’ve learned the love of God, the love of Jesus is very different from teenage romantic love… And while it’s true St Paul will be calling himself “a fool for Christ” by the time we get to chapter 4 of this letter, before we get there he’ll also be telling us… that for those who try to follow Jesus there is a godly kind of wisdom we’re called to practice. We’re called to be fools for Christ – not just plain fools. (Or d-word fools.)

But it does still take a dose of holy foolishness to be able to see the cross – the unholy Roman Empire’s most brutal means of execution for dissidents – as God’s wisdom – God’s strength – God’s chosen means of overturning the wisdom of the world… and the brutal power and strength of the world.
***
We’ve picked up where we left off… in chapter one of First Corinthians… Where, we may remember, the apostle was telling us last week to be united – and get beyond the divisions we’re suffering from in the church.

So has the apostle gone off on some kind of a tangent today, talking about God’s foolishness and God’s weakness? Is the apostle running out of words as to how to get past divisions? Not likely. We know Paul can teach all night on occasion (Acts 20). I’d be very surprised if he were running out of words.

But why then – for what reason – does the apostle appeal to less-than-reasonable-ways of reasoning for unity? If that is, the apostle is still talking about sanctified unity indirectly– as he speaks of the foolishness of God and the weakness of God? Which could be a change of subject…

Unless – the point is… There is no other way to holy unity…
Except – by the road of the cross.
****
The world has been helped by many smart people throughout history. Helped and well-served even by some of the world’s conventional wisdom Paul is critiquing. Paul’s rhetoric aims mostly to level the playing field. He may sound like he’s saying “even a stopped clock’s right twice a day.” But he studies the philosophers he is critiquing and learns something from them too…

The apostle’s point is… the best and brightest in the Corinthian church have been claiming more for themselves and their alleged importance than is justified. An analogy might be – people today with high IQs and advanced degrees have helped us live longer and eat better. They’ve also built weapons and technologies capable of destroying the earth many times over – while contributing very little to the prevention of disastrous use or misuse of their creations.
Religious leaders have the same kind of mixed track record. The point St Paul is making is – the so-called best and brightest are no more spiritually advanced or helpful to the common good…. than the weak and foolish.
***
So here’s scripture building on the description of God’s foolishness and weakness – telling us – not many of you were wise by human standards or powerful or born with silver spoons in your mouths – but God has chosen what’s foolish and weak in the world over what’s wise and strong. So cheer up! We’re all qualified to serve the Lord. We’re all eligible receivers down-field… one and all…

Remembering again God’s word encourages us to be fools for Christ not just fools for any “darn” purpose we choose…. And remembering –
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. To make clear for everyone… human wisdom can’t save us or solve… our most persistent problems. So – God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong – so the boasting and arrogance of the “wise” and strong will be put to shame…
***
So… I’ve been practicing this week all the more… trying to learn to be foolish in godly ways… as opposed to just stupidly foolish… I’m trying to look, listen and learn… to forget conventional wisdom and learn from little children (who Jesus tells us are the ones to learn from as far as getting into the kingdom of God…)

So I’ve been singing hymns with parishioners in memory wings of nursing homes… Finding joy as one sings along, remembering many of the words and sharing smiles… Feeling peace singing quietly to another who is sleeping peacefully… Not knowing if the singing is heard even a little… but hoping the attempt is acceptable…

One afternoon I got to look on as Rohi, Reah and Tracy were holding an 8 month old baby boy whose mother is an addict… Watching them holding and loving him… Watching him with big brown very alert eyes looking at us looking at him… smiling big smiles at the three women… Trying not to cry looking at me. (Who is that guy? Is he from another planet?) Crying when I tried to hold him….but it might have been just the diaper needed changing…

Spending time just sitting and talking with some of our flock… Taking walks and praying… Doing little things that must look foolish to anyone looking for practical results… Hoping this is all part of what God’s word’s talking about when it says…

Christ became for us the true wisdom of God in his lowly birth and death on a cross. So that, in the words of Scripture, no one should boast about any human accomplishment. No one should ever boast about anything – except the love of God – and how much God has done for us…

There’s really nothing for anyone to boast about ever – except the cross and resurrection of Christ – through which we are included by God’s grace in the beloved community of Jesus Christ –
God’s Son, our Savior…

For which –

Thanks be to God.
Amen.