God's Foolish Wisdom
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who
were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment (you find yourself full of care)’ you’ll find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God and these ways of being and doing provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message Matthew 5:1-12)
Same – but – different.
The Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson translated Matthew 4 in this way. Priest in charge at Christ the King in Bel Air for about 30 years – at some point he sensed that the scripture was so rote, so familiar – his people couldn’t hear it anymore – they had no relationship with it – like something you pass by so often each week, that you take it for granted, you don’t even see it anymore.
So, he sat down and translated the gospels and the new testament himself – intending to reengage the relationship. So Jesus sounds like a person who was sitting across from you and speaking our language.
Because if you have any interest in knowing God – of forming a relationship with God through Christ – then you simply have to deal with people as – they – are. And you’ve got to learn to love them when they’re not loveable.
Meeting people where they are – and loving them because of that or in spite of that. This is something Jesus does as he walks along – and it’s something Paul tries to get across to his little church in Corinth. A church where people are arguing over who to follow – Paul, Apollos or Cephas. A church where they are arguing over whose food to eat – and who they should or shouldn’t marry. A church that is trying to figure out what exactly church is – in the midst of a city that has parties of every kind – distractions for all sorts of tastes – and plenty of temples to choose from.
The gist of Paul’s letter is – be what you already are. You are blessed – you are saints – you are a temple that holds the Holy Spirit – so be that! Stop acting selfishly – and start acting self-lessly. Examining your choices and whether or not they are a part of building up the body and caring for the common good.
Corinth was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 146 BCE and rebuilt in 44 BCE – and as in our time the British Empire built Australia by sending all the people they wanted out of their country – Roman Empire did the same. The sent the dregs – the prisoners, the slaves, the people they wanted out – to live there. By the time Paul got there about 100 years later – it was a thriving port – a major trade hub of the Greco-Roman world. Friday night I was down in Fells Point and it was hopping. I imagine a Friday night in Corinth would’ve looked the same.
This is why we hear Paul say - Consider your own call, brothers and sisters – or – different translation - Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families.
But God deliberately chose you – to show the world something important. That what the world sees and reveres as smart and powerful is the antithesis of the wisdom and power of God.
In fact there is something about the ways of God that are just plain foolish – and yet – or because of that perhaps - that is where our deepest blessings already are.
Why is middle school and high school – such a painfully hard time? That adolescent and teen time – it was fun – and I’m glad I never have to do it again!
Why? Because it is the time in our life when what others people think of us matters most. We stop looking to our parents as a part of the process of separating – and we look to the people our age. Most of us put a high priority on fitting in – getting into the right social clique – trying to join the popular crowd.
In all Paul’s letters but especially this one he is saying – time to grow out of that – stop worrying about fitting in with the crowd and realize you are community set apart. We aren’t better than anyone else – but we do things differently than the world. We are children of God – saints in God – and a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We are called to see strength in weakness and mercy – and find wisdom in the foolishness of loving others as God loves you.
Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee by going to the poor and sick and lame and demon-possessed – forming relationships with people who were used to being ignored. No wonder word gets out! He is bringing healing and hope to people who have none.
Besides those who followed him from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan. And its when Jesus sees his ministry drawing these huge crowds, that he climbs a hillside. So he could talk to the smaller, committed companions – in a quiet place. (Message Matthew 4)
Why? Why isn’t Jesus taking advantage of the momentum? Because Jesus – as he will reiterate throughout his life – knows that the message about the cross is foolishness – it’s not what people are hoping for: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are. “You’re blessed when you care. “You’re blessed when you get your mind and heart—put right. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate. “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
It is very hard on this side of the Christian timeline – as an established, accepted religion, albeit perhaps a fading institutional one – to remember that scripture was experienced and written by the “dregs” of society – like Jesus, like the people who followed, like the people sent to Corinth. Our sacred text – our good news – is a history of the people who never get to write history. And surely that is another clue for us as to what the wisdom of God looks like.
In the Beatitudes, these teachings – we hear Jesus describing a kingdom that no one would find popular – a kingdom of poor, broken, lost, weak and foolish people – saints and prophets. The people – Jesus says - you and I already are.
And because becoming what we already are has always been and always will be such hard and holy work – we find communities that are set apart where we can do the work together.
Where together we wrestle with our relationship with God – and with the teachings of Jesus.
We wrestle with what it means to go into the world in peace – yet with the strength and courage to love and serve God with singleness of heart.
We wrestle with what it means to know God loves us as we are – but loves us so much, God’s not going to leave us that way.
Church is a body of relationships brought together by God, through Jesus Christ. A community that can step back from the crowds – to remember that we are blessed and that all God desires from us is that - we encourage and support one another in proclaiming Christ crucified – or translated differently - the foolishness of doing justice – loving kindness - and walking humbly with God. Amen.