Faith United Methodist Church
March 4, 2018
Third Sunday of Lent
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Prayer of Illumination:
Creator and maker of us all, bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. In this time together show your ways and inspire us to live by your truth. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen
Sermon: Who Are Those Fools?
Have you ever known a fool? You know the kind of person I’m talking about, right? Someone who doesn’t quite get it. My Merriam-Webster defines fool as, “a person lacking in judgment or prudence; a person who acts un-wisely; a silly person.”
We don’t like to think of ourselves as fools, do we? In fact, we like to think we are sensible people. Maybe even wise. Wisdom is, “having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing… discretion.” I lock my doors at night. I change the oil in my car every 5,000 miles. I don’t fall for those e-mail scams that tell me I’ve won $100 million. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be considered wise than a fool.
….or at least that’s what I thought before I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth that Sharon read for us this morning. Instead, perhaps, our foolishness is in thinking that we are wise, that we have it all figured out. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” Through the foolishness of the cross God saves those who believe.
Um…. What?? I can say for myself that it is difficult, at first, to see how the cross is foolishness. As William Loader says about the cross, “… we have gotten used to it and dressed it up, coated it in gold, made it ‘nice,’ turned it into jewelry.” The cross is a symbol of salvation. It makes sense for us to wear it around our necks, to see it in a prominent place in our church. But maybe we do get a little too comfortable with it. Bishop William Willimon reflects on his faith saying, “I speak of the Christian faith so casually and effortlessly that I begin to think, ‘Fine thing, this Christianity. Makes good sense.’”
But if we really think about it, it doesn’t make sense, does it? Just think what the cross would mean to a first century Roman citizen. The cross was the criminal’s way to die. Only those who had done something really bad were executed by crucifying. There was nothing honorable in dying on a cross. It was a gruesome, painful end… Yet here were these fishermen, women, and tax collectors who claimed that this Jesus who died on a cross was their messiah. How much more foolish can you get?
And that’s not all. The same messiah who died on a cross taught his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive without limit, and pray for those who persecute you. He spoke of the Kingdom of God being like a family where the younger son squanders his inheritance through irresponsible living, only to be welcomed home by the very father he disgraced. He described the Kingdom of God as like a dinner party that no one attends, so you go out into the streets and invite strangers, the poor, the mentally ill, the drunk, and give them a lavish feast.
It seems to me that it is easier, sometimes, to be a sensible person than a fool. There’s less chance of having to do something risky if we have it all figured out ahead of time, using reason and logic. Just think of St. Francis of Assisi. He came from a wealthy family, but instead he disowned his wealth, stripped naked and gave all his possession to the poor. What a fool! And then there was Martin Luther, the German monk of the 16th century who challenged the Catholic Church to reform. This bold act nearly cost him his life. And, as Methodists, we surely can’t forget about John Wesley. A priest in the Church of England, he was censured by bishops so he went out to the fields and market places to preach, where he encountered rioters, threw rocks at him and drove him out of town. None of these men ~ St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley ~ were wise by the world’s standards. In fact, they could be considered fools. Going against logic and reason, they pushed themselves beyond human limitations, doggedly pursed their calling, and relied on grace.
Maybe Merriam-Webster didn’t get it quite right. Maybe a fool is one who sees sense in that which makes no sense. Maybe a fool is one that perceives truth beyond rationality. Maybe a fool is one who can see Good News even when it seems like bad news, who relies not on logic, but on grace.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “…it is no small thing that God allowed himself to be pushed out of the world on a cross.” This kind of thing confounds the sensible. But the God that we worship is not a sensible God. Thank God for grace. Through the cross we see that God’s wisdom is not the wisdom of the world. By following God we are called into a different way of being, a way that might seem foolish, a way that might cost us something in the short term, but that will ultimately reveal the grace and love of God.
When was the last time you were foolish? When was the last time you allowed yourself to think like a fool? Is it foolish to think that we could love our enemies? Is it foolish to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, the victimized, the hungry? Is it foolish to think that we could welcome home the prodigals and invite the strangers? People around us might ask, ‘Who are those fools anyway?’ But like any true fool, we wouldn’t care, because we know the Good News. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
So, who are those fools anyway? I hope they are you. I hope they are me.
Let us pray: God of grace and love, may we never be so sensible that we fail to see the mystery in being your followers. May we never be so complacent that we miss the foolishness of the cross. Your foolishness is wiser than our wisdom and your weakness is greater than our strength. May we live as fools for Christ in this, your world, believing the unbelievable and pursuing the impossible, and always living in your grace. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.