A Fool’s Journey


Power of the CrossLectionary Text:  1 Corinthians 1: 18-21, 25

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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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? 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…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.


Well, you have to give Paul credit. After all, he’s the only one that actually said what we were all thinking out loud. Admit it, you were. I mean, really? After years and years (no scratch that, after centuries and centuries and centuries) of waiting for a Savior, waiting for the Messiah, he finally shows up. He’s from a no-name-blip-on-the-road town and is born in another no-name-blip-on-the-road town to young, no-name working-class peasants. He’s born in a grotto of some sort and is placed in a feed trough. Then after a considerable amount of hoopla surrounding his birth, he sort of drops out of site for three decades or so. Then he sort of bursts onto the scene to take on the world. He’s baptized in a river by some relative of his that lives in the wilderness and wears camel hair and eats locusts. Then he goes out and lives in the desert for six weeks or so completely alone. Then instead of hobnobbing with those who had the power to really finally make his ministry fruitful, he hangs around the Lake of Galilee for a couple of years gathering other no-name folks to help him out. He shies away from things like pledge campaigns and evangelism programs and instead opts to tell stories, to stand out in the weather and the elements and try to get people not necessarily on board with his fledgling ministry but just to turn their lives around. He never even, as far as I can tell, took up an offering unless you count that meager fish lunch that somehow he managed to use to feed the multitudes. Then this young itinerant pastor and his motley brood make their way to Jerusalem. They go right in the gates, taking on the best and the brightest, taking on the Holy City itself. Well, we know how it all turned out. Because, you see, when you take on the strong and the powerful, when you begin to unseat those in charge, when you point to their vulnerabilities, to their shortcomings, it seldom ends well. You know, there are seasons and places where that can get you crucified!


For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.


In this Season of Lent, as we come closer and closer to the cross, we get a better and better sense of its meaning.  Because in terms of the world, Jesus, Jesus’ Life, even the Cross is utter foolishness.  The world says “mind your own business”; Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business”.  The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away”.  The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me”.  The world says “Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself”.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.


So, we try our best to make the story presentable to the world. We polish the gleaming cross at the front of the sanctuary. We make the pews comfortable with back support. We spend hours making the bulletin user-friendly so it will all make sense. Maybe once in a while, it would do us good to embrace the sheer foolishness of it all instead of trying to make it presentable to the world. After all, this promise of Life did not come to us unscathed. God’s promise is life born of death. It does not just appear in the midst of a beautiful array of carefully-placed lilies on Easter morning. God took something so horrific, so dirty, so unacceptable and recreated it into Hope Everlasting. But in terms of what we know, what we expect, even what we deserve, it is an act of utter foolishness. Perhaps wisdom, though, is not about worshipping a gleaming, pristine cross but rather looking at an instrument of death and seeing the life it holds. Because, you see, if it all made sense, we wouldn’t need it at all.


For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.


The truth is, the ones that got it were not the powerful or the rich or the ones in charge. The ones who got it were the ones whose lives the world assumes makes no sense—the poor, the blind, the prisoners, the weak, the meek, the givers, the peacemakers, the ones who think the world should change. The ones that don’t fit into what the world expects, those that the world thinks are less than others or are being foolish themselves, those are the ones that get the Cross, those are the ones that can make sense of the foolishness of God. And the rest of us? Maybe we need to start playing the fool.


For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.


“If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Frederick Buechner, “The Faces of Jesus”)


FOR TODAY: Be foolish. Surrender. Give your life away. Love your neighbor. (Hey…be REALLY foolish and love your enemy). Follow Christ…all the way to the Cross. (But be careful…that doesn’t always end well.)

Grace and Peace,


Our Just Reward

Lectionary Passage: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
To read this passage online go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=216363206

This week is the first of several weeks that our Lectionary includes passages from the Book of Job.  I love Job so I have to warn you that you may get your fill!  Someone asked me the other day why I loved this book so much.  I’m not sure.  I also don’t really know what that says about me.  I think it’s because it’s real.  There are no pretenses that are left about God or about ourselves after we read Job.  In fact, Job takes all of those contrived images of who God is and shakes them at their core.  We stand there, like Job, stripped of all we know leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God.

The story begins like a fairy tale usually begins:  “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”  You could just as easily say, “Once upon a time in the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job.”  Job is depicted as righteous, blessed, and happy.  Every thing had gone well for Job.  He has a comfortable house with a large, roomy chef’s kitchen and a terrace overlooking a lush green valley.  His wife is happy and they’ve never had an argument.  His children are perfect.  There has never been a problem with drugs or behavioral problems or kids that just can’t seem to make it work.  And Job–he is healthy, happy, and has lovely straight teeth.  Life is perfect.  Job is righteous and upright and God has blessed them all. 

Really?  Oh come now!  Yes, my friends, it IS a fairy tale.  I mean, get real, no one’s life is perfect.  If they say it is, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves.  Life just doesn’t work like that.  Life is not perfect.  Instead, it is rich and deep and profoundly full of abundance and poverty, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, hope and despair, life and death.  And in those crevices between all of this emotion and all of this stuff, we find God.

We are uncomfortable with this idea of God “testing” Job.  I mean, really, do you like tests?  What kind of God does that?  But, remember, testing is not just about right and wrong.  If life becomes a focus only on getting the right answers, then there is no hope for any of us.  Think of testing more like a chemical test.  The outcome is not good or bad as outcomes go; rather, it is different, changed, something new.  So maybe God does allow this hassatan character to “test” Job a bit.  Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with either the first century notion of “satan” (notice there’s no capital letter–this is not a title or a person or even a being) or the later-contrived notion of a little red man with horns messing up our lives.  (I mean, personally, I do a good enough job of that myself!)  Rather, this more of an adversary operating on God’s behalf.  And the test proves that, even changed, Job’s integrity and Job’s love of God is intact.  When all that he knows and all that he relies upon is whisked away, Job still loves God.  But the adversary claims that Job would give all of this for his life.  He proposes a “skin for skin” challenge.  So, what would Job do if YHWH attacks Job’s life?  There is Jewish midrash that claims that God’s directive to spare Job’s life actually outwitted the trickster and skewed the whole question.  The command was like saying, “you may break the wine bottle, but you must not let the wine spill.” 
So the satan afflicts Job with foul boils that cover his body.  It was more than painful.  You remember the cultural understanding of that.  He would have separated from the community and shut away with the other unacceptables.  Job’s wife begs:  “Stand up for yourself!  Curse God!  DO SOMETHING!”  But Job remains steadfast.

SO, the prosperity gospel is not some new notion!  How many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we just live right, eat right, vote right, play right, act right, worship right, and pray right, then God will reward us with prosperity or ease or eternal life.  You can fill in the blank.  Whatever it is, we will receive our “just reward”.  But then the story of Job drops into our lives like a cannonball.  Job’s story reminds us that God never promised us ease and plenty.  Rather, God promises Presence, Grace, and a Love more incredible than we can ever fathom–now, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter.  No matter what we do, God keeps God’s promises.  Isn’t that better than worrying about whether or not we’ll be rewarded or punished in the future?

5th century theological St. Augustine of Hippo laid out two types of love–uti and frui.  Uti is essentially the love of use, the love for something because of what it gives you.  Admit it, you love money.  Now you’re not IN love with money.  You don’t look at a pile of green paper (or now a bigger number on your electronic bank statement) and love it.  But you pursue it because of what it will bring you.  That is “uti” love.  But “frui” love is loving something not because of what it will bring you but for the subject of the love itself.  It is unconditional.  Augustine maintained that our problem was that we often love God with “uti” love.  We love God because God will reward us (or because we are afraid of losing God’s support in our lives.)  But God desires something different.  God desires to be loved not because of what God can do for us, not because of any reward we hope to gain, but because in the deepest part of our being, we are made to love God and enjoy God forever. 

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen to bad people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen at all?  Job gives us no answers.  The story just reminds us to love the questions and the journey and the God who walks with us through it all.

So, go and love God…just love God.

Grace and Peace,