Written by Pastor Ed
Fools For Christ
March 8, 2015 – Lent III
I Cor. 1:18-25
Exodus 20: 1-17
The story is told of the young boy who came home from Sunday School and his mother asked him what story he had learned that day. “Well”, he said, they had learned the story about how the slaves in Egypt had secretly amassed a cache of arms and then one day staged an insurrection, commandeered some tanks and fought their way out of Egypt, building pontoon bridges across the Red Sea and escaping.”
“Really?” asked the mother. “Is that the way they told the story?” “Well, not exactly,” the boy replied, “but the way they told it you’d never believe it.”
When you really stop and think, you might have to agree with him. As our call to authenticity stated, sometimes we wonder about the way God works. I mean, if it were up to us, would we choose some of the people who are the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament? Would we have decided that Paul, who was vigorously persecuting the Christians, would make a great preacher and missionary for the church?
And above all, would we have chosen to start a movement that was supposed to last into the future and bring hope and salvation to people by sending, first of all the leader as a baby in uncertain circumstances, and then ending with that same leader being put to death by crucifixion.
Today we see the cross as a powerful symbol of the Christian faith, but at the time of Jesus’ death, crucifixion was reserved for the most heinous of criminals. Not everyone who was put to death by the Romans was crucified. There were other means used. Crucifixion was only used for the those who were deemed most dangerous, or those whom Rome wanted to make an example of, sort of a deterrent factor.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, he was writing to a group steeped in Greek thought which prided itself on reason, logic, and wisdom. The writing and wisdom of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the mathematics of Pythagoras, and the plays of Euripides or the poetry of Homer were all a well-established part of Greek life and culture. They extolled the role of reason and had established the rules of logic that we use even to today.
The Greek legends and stories were full of heroes who conquered cities, won mighty battles and ruled with valour and strength. So it would only make sense that the Christians in Corinth would want to focus on a victorious Christ and a victorious Christian life. But their life didn’t seem all that victorious! The early church found itself being an outcast group. To some, this new group was simply a sect of the Jewish faith which was facing persecution and blame for all kinds of things. To others it was something brand new and seen as seditious and dangerous since it advocated leveling of social barriers and shunned emperor worship.
Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the victorious risen Christ and make him into a super-hero who vanquishes the enemy, a first century Rambo or Terminator? After all that would fit into the culture better and perhaps be more acceptable.
But Paul calls them to a different viewpoint, an upside down and inside out viewpoint. While he doesn’t discard the resurrection, and indeed later in the letter has a great deal to say about it, he notes that you can’t get to the resurrection without going through the cross. “We preach Christ crucified.” (1:23)
God, Paul asserts, doesn’t do things the way we might consider doing them and even God’s most foolish ways are wiser than the wisdom of humans.
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1: 25)
God calls the people who respond to him in faith to a different way of living, one that follows this crazy way of suffering in the face of persecution, of loving one’s enemies, of worshipping only one God, and not trying to take advantage of your neighbour.
You see this all started long before Jesus. Today we look at the Ten Commandments, or more literally the Ten Words, and think of course, everyone should agree to live like that, those are common sense for a civilized society. But for a person in the ancient Near East, this would have been seen as a rather radical list.
To suggest that one should only worship one God, when everyone knew that there were many gods and you needed to appease as many as possible so that all your bases were covered, was just foolishness. To take a day off from doing any work – and to give a day off to your servants no less – was no way to get ahead in the world. Think of all the lost productivity – foolishness!
And in a society where you had to scheme and maybe even steal a bit to get ahead, where the more wives you had or could get was a sign of your place in society, and where murder was simply par for the course, after all how else would you achieve that high position; to forbid all those things was to make the people who would do that a laughingstock at best, and taken advantage of at worst. Things just don’t work that way!
Paul had to remind the Corinthians that following Jesus meant following in a way that made them look like fools for Christ at times. It was not the way most of society functioned or thought was the best way to live. It was foolishness to most who looked on. He even suggests that preaching such a message could itself be seen as foolish.
And perhaps things aren’t so different today. I read a recent article about a Dr. Beckum in the U.S. who had this to say in a chapel service at the university where he worked:
“I am extremely troubled. I have been for a long time and I have hesitated to address this subject publicly, but I cannot keep silent about it any longer… I don’t think it is an under-statement to say that our culture is addicted to violence, guns, war, revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians… So, what does Jesus have to say about it. Again, if you are not a follower of Jesus you can relax. This doesn’t concern you. But Christians have to do something with this. I have to do something with the words of Jesus and his actions… We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity. We never say God and…anything. God is above all, everything else is underneath…We have put “our way of life”/freedom on the top rung. If you mess with it I’ll blow your head off. For a Christian what is on the top rung? Love for all.”
He went on to suggest that to follow the way of Jesus meant to love enemies and forgive them, not blow them away or bomb them. And his talk caused such an outrage, both among students and constituency, that the University fired him from his job – at MidAmerica Nazarene University – a Christian school, ironically that has a reference to Jesus in its name!
I recently saw the movie, Selma, which documents a brief moment in the civil rights movement in the US where Dr. Martin Luther King’s preaching and practice of non-violence was put to the test. There were some who thought his way was foolish, and wanted to break out the guns and fight back after the first bloody clash with police. But Dr. King held firm. As a recent quote I read said, “If you fight fire with fire, fire will win.”
Following the way of Jesus may make us appear foolish to a watching world. Dealing honestly in our business and not adopting the way “everyone does it” may seem like foolishness in the business world. Having compassion for those who are less fortunate, sharing with those in need, giving our hard earned money to worthy causes, or even worse to somebody who may simply be taking advantage of us – all foolishness. Not fighting back, forgiving those who hurt us, and taking the side of the oppressed – it just can’t be done. I mean, what if everybody did that? Wouldn’t that be glorious! Even if just all the Christians of the world did it!
You may remember this MCC poster of some years ago which was entitled a modest proposal for peace and read, “Let the Christians of the World agree to stop killing each other.” The reality is, sadly, that far too many Christians have decided that it’s more important not to look foolish in society than it is to follow the ways of Jesus.
Perhaps we need to take a lesson from our Amish cousins, or even from our Sikh and Muslim neighbours, who wear something distinct partly to remind them that they are different from society around them. Many Christians wear the symbol of the cross, but we have forgotten than the cross is a sign of the foolishness of God, that the cross is a way of suffering and death. It’s an inside-out and upside-down way of being in the world. It is the way of love for all.
May we follow the way of the cross and become fools for Christ.