Thursday, March 15, 2012

Being Foolish - A sermon for Lent 3

Preached by the Rev. David Fly at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, March 11 2012 
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, 
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” I Cor.

A clown is seated in the center ring of the circus. Carefully, he gathers his tattered coat about him, smoothing the winkles. He sews on new fancy buttons that shine and sparkle and takes a moment to admire them. He dusts off a black top hat, which he places on his head. He has really made something of himself. With his new look he will cut quite a fancy figure. Then he stands up and his pants fall down! His attempts to “put on airs” have been thwarted and he has failed. And we laugh at his failure. We laugh because in his failure we see a truth about ourselves. We see our own attempts at being something other than we are – we see his pride and are reminded of our own – we remember those times that we discovered, often to our embarrassment, that we really aren’t who we pretend to be.

Emmett Kelly walks near the crowd under the big tent. Today, our sad clown is hungry, really hungry. He rubs his tummy. A little boy reaches out to hand him some popcorn but Kelly’s arms are too short to reach it. Then our hungry clown gets an idea, the way clowns often get ideas: from his left pocket he pulls out a light bulb and puts it over his head. It lights up! Then he carefully reaches into his right pocket and pulls out a walnut. Food! But the food is encased in a hard shell. So close but so far away! Then he has another bright idea. He reaches back into his pocket and pulls out a huge wooden mallet. Ah, the end is in sight. He has a plan. He places the nut on a bench. You can see his excitement. He’s only a thin shell away from food. He raises the mallet high over his head and then SLAM he brings it down on the nut. Of course, when he takes it away, only a grease spot remains. Sad Willie looks even sadder. His plan has failed. We laugh, but we also know how often we invent elaborate schemes in our own lives that completely destroy the objective. We know what “overkill” is all about! The failure of the clown has shown us a truth about ourselves. We’re often so proud of our own plans that we get carried away with our own enthusiasm and SLAM goes the hammer on the very object we seek.
A clown walks into a telephone booth and begins to chat away on the phone. Other clowns have loaded the booth with dynamite. Suddenly, BOOM goes the explosion and the telephone booth is shrouded in smoke. Well, too bad for the clown. He’s messed with the ultimate terror: death. He has failed totally; death has once again won the day. Slowly the smoke clears and the clown is found standing in the same place, a little worse for the wear, but still chatting away on the phone. He dances away; his seeming failure a victory. At some deep level, perhaps only for a moment, we have touched our own fear of death and here is a clown who laughs at that which we fear.
To the Corinthians, Paul writes: 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 Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
“God,” says Paul, “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God choose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Through foolishness, says Paul, God has not only made himself known to us, but, if you believe, God has done something that we cannot do ourselves. Though we cannot fashion for ourselves clothes that make us worthy even to stand in the presence of God, God has, in fact, clothed us in Christ. Though we cannot ultimately feed the true hunger in ourselves – the hunger for salvation – God has chosen to feed us through the self-offering of Jesus on the Cross. Though we cannot protect ourselves from the power of death, God has given us the victory through Jesus.

And to many of us, God’s actions are folly because we, like the Jews and the Gentiles, demand signs and wisdom. Like the Jews, we expect God to save us according to our own expectations, not through the cursed death on a cross. Like the Greeks, we believe that surely through the exercise of some kind of pure spiritual disciple we will find the salvation we seek, not depend on it from some lowly preacher in Galilee. The death of Jesus on the cross was clown-like to both Jew and Gentile in a way that we, perhaps, cannot understand, because we have lost touch with the Cross. No self-respecting Jew or Greek could buy the crucifixion as the way to salvation because it didn’t fit their preconceptions.
Later in this same letter, Paul says that when he came to them, he came as a fool. “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and the power . . .” Like that clown in the phone booth, Paul walked into the presence of those cultured Greeks, with trembling in his knees and fear in his voice. And they had loaded the place with dynamite! But Paul stood in their presence speaking of the power of Jesus Christ and – when the smoke cleared – Paul was still standing and the people believed that God was present among them.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. The power of God has made itself present in the most unlikely of people and in the most unusual of situations. If we put aside our own preconceived notions of how we will let God work in our lives, we will find that God is there working within us, making himself known to others through us. If we admit to a hunger that we cannot fill, we will give God the opportunity to surprise us and feed us with his presence. Neither the wisdom of this age nor the rulers of this age can give us what we need. Nor can we, as captains of our fate and masters of our souls, sail ourselves into safe harbors. Maybe that’s what Jesus was demonstrating in his “Occupy the Temple” action in today’s gospel. Rather, let us look to the Cross, the foolish wisdom of God – let us look to the Cross the foolish wisdom of God that proclaims to us a love greater than any we will ever know – a revelation that there is an acceptance at the heart of God that will be there when all else fails. Only then will we be able to boast because we will not be boasting of anything we have done to save ourselves, rather we will be boasting of the Lord who has saved us all. Amen.

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