The Step of Wisdom

Lent: Journey to the Heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  20:47
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There is much in the Christian faith that we call wisdom and the world calls foolishness. There is much that the world calls wisdom that disciples of Jesus call foolish. Wisdom and life in Christ offers us a new perspective on what is wise, what is foolish, and what is faithful to God's purposes.

The New Revised Standard Version Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

(Cp Isa 29:14)

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.

Opening — Foolish Things
I’ve done some foolish things in my life.
Like, the immature high school boy who drives around town late at night with his friends with Toilet Paper and birdseed to…you know…prank other friends.
Like giving my 6 year son the hair clippers, with no guard on, just the blade, and saying, “will you just get that spot on the back of my neck?”
Like putting down earnest money for our first home on a house with a crumbling (pretty much nonexistent) foundation, and almost going through with the purchase.
Like trying to stand up for myself in middle school by punching a bigger, stronger kid directly in the shoulder, one of the biggest, strongest, hardest spots on the body…it was foolish and resulted in a broken hand for me and nary a bruise on him.
Like inner tubing on the Nooksack River without scouting out the sections ahead and nearly drowning in an enormous snag of branches.
Like proudly filling up the dishwasher in my college house with dirty dishes and a healthy full cap of dish soap. Dish soap, not dishwasher detergent.
I’ve also done some things that would seem very foolish by the world’s standards, but which have ultimately been acts of faithfulness (which some might call wisdom, though I humbly do not).
One of those foolish things was getting married at 22. By the standards of our world today, Stacy and I got married way too young. We’ll celebrate our 16 year anniversary this summer. But the wisdom of the world says that at 22, you don’t even know yourself enough to make such a lasting choice, much less know what you want in a partner. Sow your wild oats, get out there, meet people. Explore. Don’t settle down, not quite yet. To make that kind of a commitment to someone, at 22, well…that’s a pretty huge deal. Don’t be foolish…I’m glad I was foolish…it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Or the foolishness I engaged in as I threw all my eggs in one basket and submitted my name for this call as pastor here at St. James. Prevailing wisdom says: submit 20 Pastoral Information Forms to churches all around the country. See what options are out there. Don’t even try for your first choice, you wouldn’t want to be heartbroken when it doesn’t pan out. Well, I did a foolish thing and just submitted my name to St. James Pres. I love Bellingham and in prayer and discernment, I realized God was continuing to call me to serve this city and community. And so, four years ago, I foolishly said “why not” and went for the foolish, all the eggs in one basket, Hail Mary. Utter foolishness.
But see, the thing about these two examples is that they may have seemed foolish or risky by the world’s standards, but there was something about them that I knew I was compelled to move ahead with. To seek a pastoral calling, to commit to my beloved wife — I knew it in my bones that these foolish acts were worth pursuing. And even if they hadn’t panned out, it would have actually been foolish for me to not take the risk and pursue them.
What we see here in this text is another step along the way of Christian discipleship. This lent, we’re moving deeper into the heart of Christ as we seek to be formed in his way. We’ve looked at how baptism initiates that process in us. We’ve heard the call to faith, to lived belief and practice. And now we find that this leads us to the next step — a foolishly wise way in the world. The Christian faith is something that will lead us to be called foolish in so many ways, which we will look at in a moment. And, through it, we discover a depth of wisdom and strength that abides in Christ alone. Let’s dive in.
Corinth was and continues to be an important hub of life in Greece. The city is situated at a narrow isthmus which separates two large bays along the Northwestern and Eastern shores of Greece. In the first century, it was a major hub of commercial life, with merchants from all around the Mediterranean passing through and making their living. It was a hub of cultural life, as well, a center of classical thought and intellectual debate.
Much of what we know about the Corinthian church is that they were attempting to be a united community amidst this cosmopolitan center…and they struggled with this at times. Much of the Corinthian letters from the Apostle Paul focus on how this community gathered together and practiced their faith, in particular the Lord’s table and it’s place in the hierarchies (or dismantling of them) in Greek society.
Paul’s teaching has to run headfirst into this intellectual and social world and work to articulate an understanding of what it means to live Christianly.
We hear it in this morning’s reading: Paul uses the rhetoric of philosophical argument to lay before his listeners the bind that those who claim Christ are put into. Those who come from the Jewish tradition and are seeking to reconcile their newfound faith are up against the demands of their traditional religion which looked for signs and wonders from God to provide justification for what they did and how they believed. There is a stereotype at work here — Jews demand signs…it is not enough for God’s people to have the covenant and promise of God — throughout the Old Testament, there is a steady resistance to that covenant by the people demanding miracles and signs of God’s ordaining their kings and leaders. Paul quotes from the Prophet Isaiah, from the first section of Isaiah’s writings, which came from the period leading up to the Babylonian exile, to remind the Jewish hearers of his message that what they had considered wise had ultimately been their undoing — their search for signs and wonders caused them to miss much of God’s covenantal message.
We also then here Paul wrestle with Greek listeners. He says the Greeks desire wisdom. Wisdom, or the Greek world sophia, is a crucial topic for the Hellenistic Greek world. The perfection of the human mind comes from the reception of sophia, the attainment of wisdom. Much of our worldview is shaped by this philosophical tradition. We, like the Greeks, count wisdom to be one of the highest achievements of a lifetime. But, since we are steeped in this way of thinking, we also know seeking wisdom does not always lead to wisdom. We all know, for instance, that the one among us who calls themselves wise is missing the point. “I’m, like, really wise.” — Don’t say that, ok? Because wisdom, sophia, is not something to be bragged about, but rather something to be lived into. It is, instead, an honor to be called wise, to be regarded as having wisdom. But even to that point, Paul is making sure that we hear clearly that wisdom sought does not translate to wisdom found.
Pauls wants to push against both pursuits — signs and wisdom. Neither a bad in and of themselves, but both are turned upside down when we find them in Christ and this is what Paul wants his disciples to learn.
He gets right to the point — the central part of the Christian story, Christ’s death upon the cross, is straight up foolish to Greeks (Gentiles) and something which Jews trip over. It doesn’t make sense in modern logic and wisdom. God dies. Not only does God die, but God is killed in one of the most public, gruesome, dishonoring ways that was possible at that time. And for Christians to proclaim Christ’s death, Christ’s crucifixion, as their sight of hope — that’s foolish. Ludicrous. Misguided to say the least.
But while this act upon the cross looks like foolishness, those of us who have discovered it for what it truly is find that it is deep wisdom and meaning and the central point of our whole lives. Because we have come to know that the cross is the sight of a deep criticism of the powers and wisdom of the world, a critique of the power of empire, a dismantling of the structures which hold people captive, a destruction of the power of the state to control us, an end to death itself.
Friends, we who follow Christ, Christ crucified and Christ resurrected, are foolish by the standards of the world.
Here are some other foolish things that Christians do:
We forgive each other. Someone wrongs us, hurts us, cheats us — it is our practice to foolishly reconcile with them. Foolish by worldly standards, at least. But for those who have known this, we realize that the forgiveness of our enemy is the place where Christ’s undoing of death is in full view. Reconciliation is not foolish. It is where we let down our guards and return to relationship with one another.
Also, Christians give their stuff away. Like — they are foolish enough to say “we will share in common with one another.” This is foolish by standards of a world that says protect what’s yours, save and make sure you are secure. But we do it — and we find that in sharing, in giving, we receive, we find the security we’ve longed for, we find belonging to a people who will always care for us and we for them. We find that love and connection and mutual, collaborative life together is so much richer than hoarding and selfishness.
There are many ways we are foolish by worldly standards. One more, for this morning.
Christians are foolish in how we hope. As many of you know, I’m in the research phase of my doctoral work. I’m investigating a question about why it is so difficult for people of faith to speak up for justice and on behalf of those who need liberation and freedom. It’s a negative question, but on the positive side of it, I’m discovering in my studies that the answer to how we move forward is the cultivation of imagination and hope.
I see that many of us don’t speak up about issues of justice, like racial justice, for instance, not because we don’t think it’s important. What we lack is hope and imagination!
And the foolishness of Christ followers is that we have hope. I’m discovering that hope is, in a way, about having an imagination for what the world can be like. Not what it is like, that’s the problem, that’s the issue to address. But Christians foolishly point to hope because we cultivate an imagination for what God can do and what is possible. Racial justice and equity in America — seems almost too big to fix, right? Well, what if we had an imagination for what a mutual, interwoven, honoring, freeing perspective on race could be like? That’s what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had — an imagination (or as he called it, a dream) for an America that acted differently, where people’s skin color didn’t set them apart, but actually wove us together.
But imagination, hope — it can seem really foolish now.
That is why, as I consider this Step of Wisdom, this movement towards God’s foolishness, we have the opportunity to cultivate a hope that is different than the world’s standards.
We are always going to wrestle with living in ways that might seem foolish to Jews and Gentiles who do not have the clarity of Christ’s way. The church has a history of being a peculiar people. Can we be ok with that?
On this, a year after our last in person gathering at the church, I’m feeling foolishly hopeful about what the future looks like for our church. We’ve weathered a lot this year. It is the hope, the foolishness which is the wisdom of our faith, which I believe we stand upon in order to stay strong together, to embrace the beautiful weakness of deep community, the imagination for a new way of being the church that has and will continue to emerge.
This is how we step forth in wisdom.
And, as we witness the table today, we imagine the hope of God with us, lived out fully real in these elements of bread and cup. The foolish table, which brings equity and leveling to all people. The table of wisdom, in which God is emptied out into us and we receive God’s presence as gift.
We come as fools and sinners and gloriously beautiful children of God.
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