Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2005

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on January 30, 2005. 
Based on Corinthians 1:29-41 (4 Epiphany, Year A).

 “Blessed are the fools, for they will know God.” This isn’t technically one of the beatitudes. But if you combine Paul’s letter to the Corinthians with Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, this is what you get. “Blessed are the fools, for they will know God.” 

Most of us don’t aspire to foolishness. We don’t like to play the fool and no one likes to be taken for one. And yet Paul gives us license to be fools. He admits that to those who don’t believe, to those who do not know the power of Jesus Christ, the cross is foolishness. And he has a point. The Christian story is a bit involved. Why did God go through the whole business of coming into the world in human form, being born in a stable, suffering the pain and indignity of the crucifixion when God could have just waved a magic wand and been done with the redemption of the world. A nice, clean, orderly redemption. One that the entire world could clearly see and fully understand. 

And in some ways, the very act of coming to church is foolish. To those who do not know the power of the cross, worship is pure folly. Why did you get up on a cold Sunday morning to trudge out to church, to hear some readings, to listen to some music, to give your money away, and to get a small piece of bread and a sip of wine? How does that make you wise? Wouldn’t it be smarter to stay in bed with a cup of coffee, a bagel, and the New York Times? Much of the world would say yes.

But here you are. No coffee (at least not yet), no bagel, no newspaper. And to top it off, the preacher just called you a fool! A wise person would probably storm out of here about now. But we don’t. We come back week after week after week to engage in this holy foolishness.

You probably don’t consider yourself a fool. Most of us take great pride in our abilities. We’re teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers. We read, we keep up with the news, we’re an educated group. And yet Paul tells us that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. Our pursuit of human knowledge doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s not in vain; it’s just not complete. Without faith in the wisdom of God, human comprehension is of little use. It only takes us so far and it can never bring us to genuine truth. So, the quest for knowledge leads ultimately to the quest for truth. It’s that age-old question about the meaning of life. We can’t get it through the number of degrees we hold or the amount of money we earn. It comes by way of faith in God.

There’s a lesson of perspective in all of this. It’s hard to be full of yourself when you realize that you’re really nothing but a fool. And I mean that with the utmost respect for our own foolishness. We do tend to take ourselves too seriously. And when we do, of course, we act like fools. Take stress. It’s generally a foolish endeavor. We work ourselves up into a frenzy about something that seems like the most important thing in the world. Only to realize after the fact that we worried needlessly and, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big of a deal. So our own self-centeredness is often the root of our foolishness. Faith helps us take a step back and look at the larger picture of life. It helps us to take our faith and our ministry seriously but not ourselves. As the prophet Micah puts it, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  

You may remember the great controversy caused by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when he spoke of himself as a “fool for Christ.” Both in and out of context there were good reasons why his comments caused concern. It raised red flags from a number of circles not only because of the separation of church and state but also because it was used to defend Christian intolerance. What he actually said in his 1996 speech to the Mississippi College School of Law was, “Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world.” What bothered me about his statement was that it sets up an “us versus them” mentality. With the implication being that we’re entirely right and those other people, those infidels, are entirely wrong. 

But from another angle, Justice Scalia was speaking out of traditional Christian theology. We do need to sacrifice our own pride and risk ridicule for the sake of Christ’s gospel. And sometimes that means doing things that “the world” would consider foolish. Like getting up on a cold morning and trudging off to church. Or seeking a truth beyond what we might learn in school.

We are fools for Christ. As Christians we are called to do some things others would question. But take heart. “Blessed are the fools, for they will know God.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005

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