Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January 30, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18  For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  19  For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."  20  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  21  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.  22  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,  23  but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  24  but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  25  For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.  26  Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:  not many of you were wise by human standards,  not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  27  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  28  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  29  so that no one  might boast in the presence of God.  30  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  31  in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in  the Lord."

Beloved of God, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
There is something about being human that makes want to prove to our fellow humans how entirely right we are. If there is one thing that we constantly do, regardless of the situation, it is to fiercely believe in our correctness on a given question.  We argue politics with someone who has a different party affiliation than we do, we argue at work when a boss has made a decision that we, in our wisdom, we clearly would not have.   We argue about sports and just what the Nuggets should do with this Carmelo Anthony situation.  We argue about music and whether it is the Beatles or the Rolling Stones who are in fact the best band in the history of rock and roll music.  This also extends to the people for whom we care the most.  Our relationships with children and parents, dear friends and siblings are often characterized by this need to be in the right, to be found correct and righteous in the eyes of other people.  Having just returned from a theological conference in Boulder, I was made abundantly aware of how true this actually is and was again show a side of myself that I would have preferred to pretend did not exist.  As I sat in this conference, I could not help but engage in this exercise of being absolutely and smugly correct.  I bristled at suggestions that offended my own well-crafted theology and was righteously annoyed when the various presenters had the audacity offer suggestions with which I did not agree. Yes, this is what it means to be human, to believe that you are in fact right, regardless of the situation or the intentions of the person with whom you might be in conversation or argument.   To be sure, we can be kind and generous about all this, but I wonder if there is anything more difficult than having to accept and confess the fact that you are wrong about a particular question.   Swallowing one’s pride and saying this words “I was wrong and I am sorry,” well, that amounts to a death sentence to our sense of pride and fundamental belief that we are right.  Always and without question, right. 
Given how fundamental this is to our humanity, it is cannot be without its importance and benefit.  There is indeed a necessity to this sort of thinking and the world teaches you that you must stand up for yourself, because who else will?  So, yes, our unfailing belief in our correctness indeed serves a purpose.  However, this primordial habit of always being correct, well, this might be the one place in which it is we can say that the old adage  “God’s ways are not our ways” is particularly, painfully and beautifully true.  Yes, it just might be the case that while we are busy shoring up our defenses against those with whom we would disagree, yes while we are busy accruing wisdom that will silence our opponents, God is busy with a project that is of an utterly different type, one that is not characterized by human triumphalism and gamesmanship but rather a project that, in the eyes of the world, is laughable, is absurd.  Yes, hear again these most astounding words of St. Paul: “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  And what is, exactly, this message of the cross and why is it foolishness?  The church at Corinth to whom this letter was written was being torn apart by divisions within the worshipping community, and it was these divisions that occasioned this letter from St. Paul.  The church at Corinth, not unlike most worshipping communities, was a mixture of people from all over the social spectrum.  Some were wealthy and educated with plenty of social status to be put on display, and it was this difference in social status, in education, one could even say in the ability to be right, that was tearing the Corinthian church apart. Some leaders within the church spoke with enough eloquence to garner a following, and other put their spiritual gifts on display in order to become people of importance within the community.  Yes, the church was becoming not a place in which the Risen Christ gathered people into a new body, but was instead a place in which old divisions based on wealth, status and political capital were firmly reinforced, to the detriment of those who lacked these necessary weapons of social combat. 
So, it is into this familiar and profoundly human mess that St. Paul proclaims this about the cross: it is foolishness.  Yes, foolish because, if God did not show up at the cross and draw us to the crucified Christ, that simply is not a place we would ever seek a God.  For being found by the Christ and his cross means that we might just have to let go of always being right.  Yes, this is our confession: that through the utterly destitute and gut-wrenching weakness of a first century Jewish man hung upon a cross, sin, death and the power of the devil have been once and for all overcome. Try winning an argument with that assertion.  What is more, that in spite of death’s unyielding certainty, this man was raised from the dead by God’s Holy Spirit, and that though we die, we shall live with God in a splendor that language cannot capture.   Yes, that this Christ returns our vengeful need to be right with forgiveness and asks his Father to forgive us when heap our mistrust upon his expiring body.   And that this God, in Jesus Christ, regardless of the iron-clad rules of physics, is present and active in the world, and comes to us in this gathering in bread and wine, and in the love that is poured out on and through us.  And that this God fashions us anew each day and gives us the strength and care to be God’s people in the world, in which what finally matters is not our social status or whether we are democrats or republicans, but only that we belong to God and belong to one another.  Yes, the cross is foolishness because it is the end of us being able to say that we can find God on our own, for who would even think to look in a place such as this?   The cross is foolishness because it has no place in our systems and schemes of right and wrong, just and unjust, and is in fact the end of all such systems. It is foolish, because the cross means that love is more significant than being in the right and that care of our neighbors is of more value than being recognized as a person of importance. It is foolish because we are given the security of knowing that we are always and forever children of God, despite the fact that we are often wrong about this God and need the constant and vigilant work of the Holy Spirit to bring us back to the cross and empty tomb.  Yes, this is the foolishness of God: that Christ takes the places in our lives where we actively reject him, that is what the cross is after all, our rejection of God, and God uses those places to draw us to into divine love.
Yes, this is the unspeakably wonderful news of God’s wisdom: that it comes to us in ways that appear foolish in how we try to make sense of the world.  Yes, foolishness like we are blessed precisely in the places where we feel the most abandoned and the most vulnerable.  God is with you when you wonder whether God is real or if it might be wise to perhaps give up on this God.  Yes, God is with you in your mourning of all those who have died, be it several years ago or just a couple of weeks back, or even if you are simply mourning the loss of a time when life was a little easier, a little less complicated.  God is with you in all your acts of kindness and mercy and in all the ways that you display not your power over other people, but rather your care and compassion for them as fellow children of God.  For this is what it means to have a God whose love is enacted through the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  It means that Christ’s love is more real than petty and malicious displays of power and that it precisely in the places we fear that God has left us that this Christ shows up.  Is there anything more wise than this sort of foolishness?  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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