Stay Foolish People

John 1:29-42
© Stacey Steck

When I think of the so-called wise people who think the Christian faith is foolish, I imagine them in their beds on Sunday mornings having a good laugh at our expense as we offer up our praise to a pretend deity. They probably agree with the comedian George Carlin who famously said, “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ‘til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, but somehow just can’t handle money!”

And the philosopher Epicurus, tries a more traditional approach to using logic to describe a Christian’s foolishness: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” Through the ages, and still today, the wisdom of the atheist suggests that truth is found anywhere but in God.

Of course, just as beauty is found in the eyes of the beholder, truth is found in the hearts of the faithful. It doesn’t matter if a person does not measure up to a certain standard of attractiveness to be considered beautiful. Likewise, it does not matter that God cannot stand up to a certain idea of unassailable human logic to be worth believing in. Indeed, one of the chief weapons in an atheist’s arsenal, that we believe in an unseen God, is disarmed by the very argument that Paul is making to the Corinthians: that the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have made God known to us with sufficient clarity to those who are foolish enough to believe it. This is the claim made by Paul when he writes the memorable phrase we heard again this morning, “For Jews demands signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.” There is no sense in trying to convince people of the logic of God’s love in Jesus Christ, and to try to do so is the height of the wrong kind of foolishness. Rather, it is our practice of the right kind of foolishness, modeled after the example of Christ himself, which will be our most convincing witness of the love of God.

Of course, the Old Testament offers up compelling reasons not to be considered a fool. Almost the entire book of Proverbs admonishes us to avoid being a fool. But this is mostly wisdom to help us avoid being earthly fools who deny God, rather than encouraging us to be fools for Christ who acknowledge that God is in everything. No, we should not be fools who “take no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion,” as we are reminded in the eighteenth chapter of Proverbs. But we are to be fools who believe the wisdom of the Beatitudes, that all are blessed because they are children of God, while the world tells them they are cursed because they must be have been forgotten by God. Yes, that’s the good news of the Beatitudes, that God’s foolishness about the human condition is wiser than human wisdom about our problems, and that God’s weakness, seen in the death of the world’s savior is stronger than the human strength that brings hollow victories. You may be downtrodden, but you are not cursed, Jesus says wisely in the Sermon on the Mount, because only fools think that way.

In 1968, Kent Keith wrote an enduring commentary on this question of divine foolishness. He called it the Paradoxical Commandments. Perhaps you’ve heard these before, and if so, bear with me as I read them again, because they are indeed wise words:
• People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
• If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
• If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
• The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
• Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
• The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
• People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
• What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
• People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
• Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

What a foolish list of commandments, right? Get kicked in the teeth? Win false friends, and true enemies? What kind of advice is that? Well, it’s the best kind of advice, because it follows after the example of Christ himself, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

What a fool that Jesus was, right? He died on a cross. He was a failure. He let people down. He didn’t live up to their expectations. He made himself vulnerable and what did he get for his troubles? He got exalted, that what! You see, the second chapter of Philippians doesn’t end with death on the cross. It continues like this: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Today is a day for boasting! Not boasting on the basis of our own efforts, but boasting the way the Apostle Paul instructs us when he says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Because indeed, it is God who has done everything for us, all that we give thanks for in our prayers, and all that we celebrate once a year at our Annual Meeting. The annual report you hold in your hands is nothing more than, nor nothing less than, a record of our foolishness, our belief that despite the obstacles in our way, we are making a difference in this world of ours, our belief that we are blessed, and not cursed, no matter what our situation might be, our belief that those who are the servants of others will be exalted, and our belief that Jesus Christ is found in the least, the last, and the lost of this world. We may have been fools in 2019 for calling ourselves the Good News Capital of Western Rowan County. But let’s do it again in 2020. God loves a righteous fool. Stay foolish people. Amen.