A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Epiphany 4 ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
So, are you foolish or wise? Who gets to decide which actions and ideas are foolish and which are wise? We do – we do it all the time. We have more knowledge, more technology, more wealth, more power, more ability to affect our world, and more freedom than at any other time in human history. We know the difference between foolish and wise. Or do we?
If we’re so wise, then why do so many people have it so tough? If we’re so smart, and rich, and powerful, and technologically advanced, then why is there so much poverty and violence in the world? Some folks blame God. But poverty, and hunger, and violence are not the result of an uncaring, unwise God – they’re proof of the foolishness of our self-proclaimed wisdom.
Just look how smart we are – we can make machines that make things and move us around quickly – but they’re poisoning our air and water. We can make weapons that can kill thousands of people at once. What wisdom! We can have cheap clothes and food and all it costs us is around half the world living in economic servitude to us. Yes, indeed, we are some wise!
1 Corinthians 1:20 God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish, Paul says. So, maybe we ought to use all our knowledge and wisdom and figure out where God’s coming from? Maybe that would set us right? But right there we have a problem – because knowing God is not an intellectual exercise – it’s an act of faith. You’ll be relieved to know that we are not unique in this struggle to know God.
In 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 Paul says that the world would never know (God) through human wisdom, and that Jesus’ story and crucifixion is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
Even today, if you get into a discussion with someone today about whether God exists, or about God’s nature, the opposition usually falls into one of these two categories. Some people demand signs – they want dramatic examples of God’s power – they want miracles before their eyes. And some desire wisdom – they want rational, intellectual, scientific knowledge about God – a reasoned, systematic, sensible explanation for it all, or they ain’t buying it.
So if it isn’t via signs and wonders, and it isn’t by intellect, how does one come to know God? Simple. It’s a heart thing. You gotta ‘unlearn’ before you can lean. It requires dying to the wisdom of the world and embracing God’s alternative, unconventional wisdom of loving-kindness. And to be clear, that doesn’t mean denying signs and wonders, or rejecting science and reason. It just means to not rely on those ways of perceiving alone – and instead to open yourself to a greater, deeper, fuller, more expansive, more inclusive way of perceiving. I’m talking about a paradigm shift away from what the world values in favour of what God values – love.
That means letting go of, or dying to how it is. Like that’s some great hardship. Lots of folks complain about how the worlds ways are so awful, but they stay on the hamster wheel living the same incomplete, play-according-to-the-rules-of-the-world, cog in the machine, I’m just a number – kind of life.
The real foolishness is the dog-eat-dog, success-at-any-price, keep-up-with-the-neighbours, you-just-need-to-lose-20-pounds-buy-a-big-screen-TV-and-drink-this-brand-of-beer-and-you-can-be-one-of-the-“beautiful-people” mentality that we in the Western world have bought hook, line and sinker. Which foolishness is life-giving, and which is life-sucking?
“Ok, I get it – I’ll trade up!” you may say. But wait – there’s a cost. There’s a cross. I don’t mean a literal one, but for those who reject the foolishness of the world for God’s foolishness the result will be a cross.
‘Cause if you decide to not buy a new TV, or go on a trip, or get the newest iPhone, your friends and neighbours will think you’re missing the boat. If you choose to spend your time and resources doing church work, or charity work, or volunteering somewhere people will call you a do-gooder. If you say, “I’m sorry, but I won’t listen to those kinds of jokes,” or “I won’t go to that casino,” or “I won’t whatever” people will think you’re an uptight square, and you might even lose some friends. In the world’s eyes those choices are utter foolishness – and to make them will lead to a cross.
So what’s the upside? What’s in it for me? If I make these sacrifices will God love me more?
That answer is “No! God won’t love you more!” God couldn’t love you any more!
But you will love God more! – because you will have taken your eyes off those things that distract you, and instead fixed your eyes on Jesus. The only thing on this side of the equation is knowing God – and even that we can never do fully – but we can know God more and more – and we can move ever deeper into God’s embrace. We can turn from the sparkly, artificial lights of the world, and bask in the light of the world.
The rich young ruler in Mark 10 was told to sell everything he owned – what foolishness.
Zacchaeus, in Luke 19 was told to give up half of what he owned – as if.
The Pharisees were told to lift their eyes from the letter of the law and recapture the Spirit – blasphemy!
Naaman the warrior from 2 Kings 5 was told to go jump in the lake 7 times to be healed – that’s crazy.
Peter, and James, and John were invited to just walk away from their fishing businesses – not wise!
And Jesus – the poster child for this new paradigm – the chief recruiting officer who followed and lived this unconventional wisdom, in the end was executed in a most shameful and humiliating way. “Follow me to the electric chair!” Not exactly an appealing marketing slogan at first blush.
But that’s not the end of the story! For on Friday he died, and on Sunday God “raised him up” – somehow. Defeat became victory. Death became life. Dying became rising. Weakness became strength. And those foolish enough to follow – a ragged bunch of misfits from a tiny province in Judea – came to life. In their experiences and encounters with the risen Christ they found the courage and faith to reject the foolishness of the world and embrace the foolishness of God. And they all, in their own way, followed Jesus to their own cross. Oh, it’s most definitely a heart thing!
People thought they were out of their minds. But they weren’t out of their own minds, they were out of the world’s minds – and they were finally getting in tune with the wisdom of God. In Christ they knew the power of God and the wisdom of God – and that opened them to the presence of God in their lives. This is the epiphany, the paradigm shift Paul is calling the Corinthians into – and us.
The call to faith seems like utter foolishness. It can’t be proven by reason. It doesn’t come with a “press here for a sign from God” button. And to the outsider its reward appears to be a cross – which, of course, it is. But to the insider – to those with eyes to see and ears to hear – for those who have heard, and risked, and are trying to answer the call – the journey to that cross is holy – the journey to that cross is transformational – and the journey through that cross leads to a more, and more, and more abundant life. Through that pattern, that rhythm of dying and rising, new life awaits. A life filled with joy, peace, love, compassion, meaning, beauty, laughter, thankfulness, contentment, acceptance, forgiveness, purpose, gentleness, kindness, passion, goodness – and all sorts of other foolish things.
What’s clear in all this is that to know and understand God requires something other than conventional human wisdom. Instead, it’s all experiential. It’s a heart thing. Our culture celebrates individuality and self-reliance, and we’ve inherited a church culture that tends to be suspicious of unconventional, experiential things.
We are descended from the prim and proper, stiff upper lip, ‘frozen chosen’ who dared not show emotion, or spirituality, and who kept their religion to themselves, thank you very much.
Happily, we’re emerging from underneath that stifling blanket, and are discovering a vibrant, emotional, powerful, moving, experience of the Sacred and the Holy as we encounter and immerse ourselves in God’s loving presence. Look at how powerful the simple, experiential act of raising our hands together at the end of worship is. People tell me they feel ‘something more’ in that moment. It’s a heart thing.
Faith is like love – it’s not centred in your head, it’s centred in your heart, your soul, your being – but you can’t leave your head out of it. That too would be utter foolishness. The problem is that much of our Western philosophy and reasoning is built on a binary, either/or system that has championed reason and rationality above all, and painted anything that doesn’t appear to be factual and rational as irrational and foolish.
However, part of the struggle these days is that the strict binaries are breaking down. What do you do when some of things you always thought you knew are revealed to be incorrect? – that the binaries that sorted out the world for you are really spectrums, and much more fluid than you thought? Some folks choose to deny all that, and make up their own facts, and dig in their heels about them. The wisdom of the world looks foolish!
So what do you do when rationality is no longer enough? You go beyond the rational.
Faith is not rational. Spirituality is not rational. God is not rational. But these things are not irrational either. Rational/irrational are binary answers in a multi-hued reality. Arguing about spirituality as being rational or irrational is a category mistake. The correct word here is “transrational.” It’s all about the prefixes. Quick grammar lesson:
Pre=before – pre-rational is before reason
Ir=non – irrational is without reason
Post=after – post-rational means reason doesn’t apply anymore
The prefix trans- means going beyond or surpassing – like transgender goes beyond the binary and expresses a spectrum – so transrational means going beyond or surpassing human reason or the rational.
Now if your only choices are binary then hearing about trans-anything, including transrational is going to sound like foolishness to you – or it might just open and free your mind. Free your mind! Spiritual experience and knowing isn’t less than rational, it’s more than rational! It isn’t a less-evolved, ‘fairy-tale’ worldview – it’s a more evolved, more mature, more human worldview! And I’ll take that over conventional wisdom any day of the week – and twice on Sunday!
May the utter foolishness of God turn our hearts inside out and our lives upside down – and may we let go of what we think we know about the way this world is supposed to work – and may our strength be overpowered by God’s weakness – and in these may we find ourselves led to our cross, and immersed in the heart of God. This is the utter foolishness of Jesus – and his followers. It’s a heart thing.