Foolish Power from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
I Corinthians 1:18-31
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. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20Where 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? 21For 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. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29So that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1When Jesus saw the crowd, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
A couple of months ago, I started wearing a clergy collar during the week. You know the ones, looks like a regular dress shirt, but instead of a tie, it's got that little white tab at the front. Generally Roman Catholic and Anglican priests wear them in black. I chose to be a little more colorful with mine.
Anyway, I started wearing a clergy collar while I was out in the world because I wanted to be visibly associated with the Church. A good bow tie identifies me as a folksy kind of southerner, ever polite and inoffensive, with a dash of whimsy and playfulness. The clergy collar, on the other hand, is the uniform of the ministry to which God has called me.
And now that I dress a little differently, I find that people treat me differently. Folks are not more deferential, thank God. But just by my being in the room, they think more theologically. On my way out of shops and restaurants, wearing a collar makes it much more likely that, instead of "Have a good one," I'll get a "Have a blessed day!"
"Have a blessed day."
"Blessed are those who are poor in spirit...Blessed are those who mourn...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...Blessed are the merciful...Blessed are the peacemakers...Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake."
Boy when Jesus hands out blessings, he doesn't start with "Have a blessed day." He starts with the heartbroken and the ignored.
I'm sure this list of blessings is not a new passage to many, if any, of us. The Beatitudes have been crocheted on innumerable pillows and printed on uncountable wall-art gifts. Lord only knows how many bookmarks are storing these blessings, perhaps between the pages of a half-finished novel. Their familiarity makes them easy to ignore. "Blessed are? Yeah got that one. What's next?"
The Beatitudes are the introduction of the sermon on the mount. The next three chapters of Matthew are all one connected sermon. These blessings are the promise on which the rest of the sermon delivers.
The blessings Jesus hands out do so much more than sit comfortably on a pillow, hang prettily on a wall, or slip invisibly into a story. "The Beatitudes proclaim what is, in the light of the kingdom of heaven, unassailably true. They describe the purpose... of every practice of this new society, this colony of the kingdom, the church called and instructed by Jesus." The Church, in its many expressions, puts meat on these blessed bones. God chooses to show his kingdom to the world through us.
God chose us to witness to the ways that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in sprit, to the ways that comfort to those who mourn. We are called to proclaim that an inheritance is due to the meek, and that all who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled.
We will look foolish doing so.
The merciful will get taken advantage of. The pure in heart will see depravity. The peacemakers will called weak. Because everything about how we experience the world assumes that power makes the difference. Our experience tells us that we should seek position, and wealth, because those are the powerful and wealthy are the ones with the most blessings to count.
Look at what happened to Jesus. He was a homeless preacher who grew up a refugee, first in Egypt, then in Nazareth. His foolish message about the kingdom of God ended up getting him crucified. For the Roman Empire, ”Crucifixion was more than state-sponsored execution; it was meant to demean and shame the victim.” It was a means of putting the victim in his place, and showing the endless power of the empire.
That’s why our “message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” God chose vulnerability and death instead of strength and defiance. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” God chose the cross so that even in the depths of human suffering, we might know that we do not go there alone. God is with us even, and especially, in our pain and humiliation.
God will keep the promise of the beatitudes, the Church has been chosen to point to the cross of Jesus Christ and say "that's how it's done. That is how the promise has been kept.” Not through strength or wisdom or influence or security or economic growth. The promise is kept by means of the cross.
Not all of us are called to wear a clergy collar. But each one of us who has been baptized has been joined to Christ’s ministry. Each of us takes part in the work of the Church. We don’t do this for our benefit, but in gratitude to the one who blesses those whom the world sees as worthless. It’s not about us, it’s about the power of God that works through us. We don’t celebrate our ability to effectively build up the church, we serve the LORD, for “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
In a few moments, we will ordain three new ruling elders who will serve on the Session. They are pulled from among our congregation, not because of their talents, but because the Holy Spirit called them to serve in this way. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” These three whom we will ordain ”…must renounce all desire for [their] own glory, and with all [their] might aspire and aim at the glory of God exclusively.” They’re going to do just that, with God’s help.
And here’s the amazing thing. Their call to this ministry of discernment and governance is representative of our calling as a particular congregation. Because just as God can work through these three candidates, just as God can choose the cross, God can choose to work through this small church.
God is at work in and among us already. I wonder how we will find ourselves blessed along the way.
I am confident, however, it is not likely to be what we expected when they said to us, “have a blessed day.”