God’s Foolishness – Feb. 2, 2020
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
I Corinthians 1:18-31
February 2, 2020
Main Idea: Real power is self-giving love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
We are in need of wisdom. Our world is in such need of wisdom. How do we make sense of all the changes that are happening in the world? How do we make plans for our future? How do we solve the many crises that face us? Climate change, trade wars, refugees, the disgrace that is Washington DC. The church budget, the hole next door, the loss of the Y, the changes in our congregation. These are the types of questions that keep me up at night. It makes me anxious just to list them now. How are we to deal with all of these? The answer to all of these problems is God’s foolishness. [stick with me now!] It is God’s foolishness that we will explore this morning.
Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians tell us so much about this early Christian community. The city of Corinth was a port city and the capital of the Roman province Achaia. It was much like Burlington, full of people from around the world; many different backgrounds, religions, and social status. Paul founded the church in Corinth with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18) and through Paul’s letters to this community, we know more about this church than any of the other early Christian communities. The Corinthians had fallen into factions about how their life together ought to be ordered, who their leaders were, and which of their gifts were more important. In short, they were like many churches today! Paul does not referee their disputes nor choose one faction over another. Instead he calls them beyond their foolishness to see their deep unity provided by God through Christ.
As I studied this text I was struck by God’s decisive action. “God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” (v. 21) “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (v. 27-29) It is God’s action, not the Corinthians’ opinions which reveals the heart and purpose of their community. Paul points out to the Corinthians that actually, they are a rather motley crew. He says “Remember 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.” (v. 26) But God chose them to be witnesses to the power and the foolishness of God revealed through the cross.
The preaching of the cross, which was such a scandal for the early church, is still a hurdle for many. Everybody (except the followers of Christ) found the claim that God would be crucified as absolutely ridiculous and so do many people today. How does a torturous, barbaric death say anything about God’s love? Paul proclaims that the cross is the ultimate expression of God because true power and greatness is found in Christ’s self-emptying love. On the cross God reveals God’s self in the most painful and humiliating of circumstances to affirm God’s love for all that we are. “The cross is the divine activity which both embarrasses and embraces humanity in an inclusive way.” (Richard Carlson, workingpreacher.org) This seems utterly foolish to human wisdom but it is the foundation of our Gospel, for the cross leads to the resurrection and Christ’s victory over death.
The fact that Jesus’ death on the cross seems profoundly foolish reminds us that human wisdom by itself, does not lead us to God. If you do not believe in God, we cannot prove the reality of God to you. But we can tell you of the reality of God working in our lives and in the life of this faith community. We can tell you that God reaches out to each of us and invites us to respond. We can affirm that it is God working in our lives which empowers us to serve God and others.
The foolishness of God on the cross reveals the folly of human wisdom. As Paul says “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1:25). Self-giving love, the love God reveals on the cross, is actually the only true power that we have. Human understandings of power as domination over others, of might makes right, are ultimately self-defeating. Striving for money and influence is never ending. There will always be someone bigger, richer, and stronger than you. Only love brings true power, and peace, and abundant life.
Only love brings true power, peace, and abundant life. Let’s think about this for a minute. Imagine that you live in an ancient village and I am a stranger. If I come into your village with a big stick slung over my shoulder and tell you to give me some food, you will do so, if you don’t a bigger stick. You will feed me until someone else comes with a bigger stick or with more sticks. I will always need to be on my guard, my stick always in my hand. But, if I come into your village with my stick and offer to help by using it to plant some seeds, we could work together to provide food for everyone in the village. We would become a community and no one would be afraid or worried. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”
So what does God’s foolishness teach us for today? How does it answer the questions that keep us up at night?
First, we can revel in the fact that to much of society, our very community is foolish. We are a motley crew who gathers to sing, think about spiritual things, and give our money away. In the world’s view we have little power. But this is where they are wrong. It is precisely our vulnerabilities that give us power. We see the world as it is and how God would have it be. We have the strength of God undergirding all that we do. We have the commitment and compassion to act as God’s agents in the world. We do not work on our own. We partner with people of faith around this community and around the world to bring justice and peace. Tyrants and bullies fear us, although they would never admit it.
God’s foolishness teaches us to approach our various crises with love and humility. We can see others as partners in the solutions rather than adversaries. We can refuse to participate in the oppression or domination of others. This means that we take responsibility for our part in climate change instead of just blaming China and India. This means we pay attention to where the items we purchase were made and how those who made them are treated. This means we support and advocate for refugees here and around the world. This means that we hold our political leaders to moral and ethical standards and we participate in our democracy by speaking out and voting.
In our church life we can trust the foolishness of God to guide us as we navigate the church budget, our new governance structure, our determination of what to do with the nursery space, the changes in our congregation, and how to get ready for what will be built in the hole next door. This year we are stepping out in the faith that God empowers us to do what God call us to do. It will take commitment, ingenuity, and a willingness to sometimes seem foolish to the world.
As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Lord’s Supper let us affirm with Paul that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (v.25) God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, who is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray,
All knowing and all powerful God, we are humbled by your foolishness. We cannot comprehend the reaches of you but we experience and acknowledge your presence among us. Help us to trust in your love. Empower us to follow your leading. Tune us to your purpose so that we might be blessings to you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.