Today, I’d like to begin by telling a true story about Carl. Carl was a man who thought it would be wise to date two women at the same time.
To pull this off, Carl would take each woman on the same date – seeing the same movie, going to the same restaurant or museum, that kind of stuff. Or course, he always sent them the same flowers, bought them the same gifts, and even wrote the same words in the same cards so he wouldn’t slip up.
Carl thought he had it all figured out, which he did until one of the women figured him out. She was actually wise! She found the other woman. And together they hatched a plan to surprise Carl by each one showing up to meet his plane when he arrived home from a business trip. As you might expect, what he thought was wise, those two women ultimately and very publicly proved foolish. Thus, the paradox of life. Wisdom proven with foolishness.
Take last week’s California recall vote. A particular political party thought it would be wise to recall a popular governor. As expected, they lost. But so too did the state, which had to spend $267 million in taxpayer’s money to fund their short-sightedness. I’m sure those behind the recall effort thought what they were doing was sound and reasonable politics. But like Carl, their actions led to a different conclusion - one that ultimately and very publicly proved foolish.
Life is full of paradoxes. Some better than others. Take the case of vaccinations. It seems absurd and contrary to inject a person with the disease you’re trying to save them from. And yet, time and time again, science has proven vaccines to be founded and true.
Christianity is also a paradox. One needs to look no further than the cross to understand what I mean. Think about it. We use the ancient equivalent of the electric chair to demonstrate God’s power. In a world that looks down on weakness and failure, Christians affirm – lifting up a God who chooses the paradoxical to reveal salvation into the world.
Today I want to focus on the cross of Christ, a stumbling block for many. And rightfully so. For what seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning, victory instead of defeat.
The cross, a brutal instrument of death designed to spread fear to all proved to be the very thing that gives us courage. This thing that should have been the basis for despair proved to be the basis for hope. The cross is a paradox by which our faith hangs. And it doesn’t always make sense. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes it like this.
READ: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
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 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. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” This is how Paul confronted the wisdom of the Greek philosophers roaming the busy seaport town of Corinth, where the church he founded was struggling with some divisive issues we still face today.
You see, there were some in the church who, like the philosophers, felt that they are smarter than others. So smart, in fact, that they thought they could bend the rules and still be OK. And there were some flexing their social power and wealth over others in the congregation. Amid it all, Paul points to the cross and towards a Savior who willingly become powerless to the very power he came to overthrow. It is a bit odd, don’t you think?
But here’s the thing: God thinks and does things differently. Although we are created in the image of God, God, nevertheless, does things that we humans find surprising; constantly turning our world, all our human wisdom, upside down.
A great king, born not from wealth and power but poverty and weakness. A messiah, who comes not on a warhorse but a young colt to liberate people from their oppressors. Instead of raising an army to overthrow the empire, God choose to be executed by it. In doing so, God took all the power of their most brutal killing machine and made it weak; using death to create life everlasting.
There is the paradox. God using wise foolishness and weak strong. At first, it sounds like an oxymoron, putting two things together that do not go together but are somehow acceptable, like “jumbo shrimp” or “entertaining sermon.”
Pointing towards to the cross of Christ, Paul tells those who think they have it figured out that God’s wisdom is very different from their knowledge. He tells those who exercise their strength and power over others that God’s strength is very different from their ideas of power and might. Wise foolishness. Weak Strong.
Paul is wise to direct our gaze away from ourselves and onto that cross. And directing our focus on the One who hangs on it. It’s not to have us focus on Jesus’ death, but where his death leads us – towards resurrection, our eternal salvation.
To those who reject the notion of resurrection, the cross might seem foolish. I get that. But those of us who know God can do things that seem impossible by human wisdom, the cross of Christ and his resurrection, remind of how far God is willing to go out of great love for us.
God uses death to create eternal life. Jesus taught us that in order to save ourselves we must die unto ourselves. We must pick up our cross daily and follow him; to set aside your former life and embrace a new life, a Christlike life of cruciform love.
By reason alone, Jesus’ death revealed human weakness. In the light of faith, Jesus had a choice; he could have fought the violence of Rome with violence all his own. Instead, he chose to love; even when the cost of that love was suffering and death. Through Jesus’ death, God subverted all of human wisdom and power with one simple act: resurrection. Who would have thought?
In wise foolishness, the strength of God’s love proves death has no real sting. Moreover, the cross tells us that God willingly chooses to love us rather than fight us. This is love that God calls us to enter.
This love calls into question all that we value in this world. During the capitol insurrection last January, the world witnessed thousands of angry protesters, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government. To them, it seemed like a wise thing to do.
As it was with Carl, what they thought wise was proved foolish. Yet their actions revealed how we humans are more enthralled with violent, ravenous power than the nonviolent, self-giving love. The very love of Christ which the cross represents.
When we look at Christ’s cross, we should remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to our country, our family, our job, the economy, a political party or a politician. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ who gave his life so we might live.
For every Christian, the cross should be our reason to embrace a Christlike, cruciform life of self-giving. It should be our reason to stand in truth when a lie would be easier. To seek gentleness when force is attractive.
A Christlike cruciform life calls us to stand for justice even when it’s not popular to do so. It calls us to practice generosity when hoarding would be more comfortable; to offer forgiveness when a hateful grudge would be more filling. More importantly, it should be our reason to stand together, unified by the paradox of faith.
Because here’s the thing we often forget: Liberals, conservatives, moderates, or progressives are all called the same by Christ who challenges each and every one of us to pick up our cross and follow him; to embrace his way of self-giving love. Yes, to love like him will make us vulnerable yet strong. Wise foolishness for sure. Strong weakness no doubt.
This is the way of God’s undying love - the very thing that saves us. For when we all live such cruciform love in the world, greed no longer rules us, and fear no longer wins. Love does. When we all live in cruciform love, the world is saved from its own destruction, hatred, and bigotry.
Jesus was the perfect example of how to live in such love. And so too are the Amish.
In Michigan, we lived near an Amish community. It was not uncommon to get stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy. I’ll admit, their rejection of modern life seems so primitive, foolish to say the least. I mean, no Netflix? No Amazon Prime? Who’d want to live in such a world? But this small sect of Christianity has a way of teaching the rest of us, especially Christians, about what it means to truly live life in the paradox of Christ’s cross.
You might remember the story from 2006, when a man nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and executed five schoolgirls and wounded seven more before turning the gun on himself.
Instead of responding to violence and anger with more of the same, here were people who chose to show the world the power of cruciform love. While the police where still at the scene of the crime, this small Amish community sent delegates to the shooter’s wife and children; offering them both emotional and financial support.
Struggling with their own grief and pain, they summoned a strength that seemed foolish by the world’s standards. Still, they chose to stand up to evil with self-giving love. By living into their call to be Christlike, this Amish community directed the gaze of the world away from violence and hopelessness towards the hope and peace of God’s divine light.
What seems foolish, God makes wise. What seems weak, God makes strong.
As we leave here today, may we all be wise enough to do such foolishness, in the name of the One who saves us by his love.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
Logue, Frank. The Love That Binds The Universe. epsicopalchurch.org on March 8, 2015 (accessed on September 17, 2021).
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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