1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 To those who are spiritually dead, the message of the cross is foolishness—absurd and illogical, but to those of us being healed and liberated by God’s grace, the cross is the manifestation of God’s power. 19 For it is written in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the ‘wise,’
And I will baffle the insights of the ‘intelligent’.”
20 Where are the wise? Where are the authors and scholars? Where are the debaters and philosophers of this age? Has God not exposed the foolishness of this world’s wisdom? 21 The world, through all its earthly wisdom and pursuit of power, fails to recognize God; and yet God somehow uses our humility and “foolishness” to proclaim the Good News. 22 Some are persuaded by miracles, and others invest in worldly wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified. Our message is a stumbling block for many, and foolishness to others, but to those who are called, Christ represents the power and wisdom of God. 25 The foolishness of God is far wiser than the limits of human comprehension, and the weakness of God is far stronger than the limits of human effort.”
Sermon: “We Proclaim Christ crucified”
When I lived in<place omitted for online publication>, I attended a church whose history went back generations.
It was founded in <date>, and from the beginning, the congregation had a commitment to serving the community and living out the message of Christ in the world.
One of their early missions was to sponsor a clinic for mothers and children before the public health department even existed. And among other acts of justice, they spoke out against the interment of American citizens with Japanese heritage during WWII.
The church was on the front lines of the equal marriage movement, and they were one of the first churches to publicize that they were going to perform same-sex weddings no matter what the state had to say about it.
But perhaps even more controversial and risky than all of these previous actions, in 2009, they did something quite radical.
They elected a convicted felon as their moderator.
Now, to be fair, we all believed him to be an innocent man.
But at the time he was elected moderator, as far as the courts were concerned, he was a felon.
Someone who, for over 10 years, sat in jail, because his defense lawyer told him that as a young black man, it was better if he just pled guilty and got a lesser sentence than to go before a jury and take his chances of getting life in prison.
So according to his own plea, he was guilty.
So why on earth would a congregation with over 100 years of leadership in the community, decide HE was the man they wanted leading their congregation.
Well, one answer was that he was a phenomenal leader.
Another answer comes from today’s text.
We elected a convicted felon as our moderator, because we, as Christians, sometimes choose to reject the “wisdom” of the world in favor of the “foolishness” of the Gospel message, which proclaims God’s love and forgiveness for all people.
According to conventional wisdom, it seems grossly unwise to elect a felon to lead an historic church, who had a reputation as a community leader for over 100 years.
And yet the wisdom of God, manifest in the life and message of Jesus Christ, says that lifting up a felon as a leader is completely appropriate.
Isn’t a convicted felon just the type of person Jesus would have called into leadership?
When we read the text from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that becomes clear.
The Apostle Paul is writing to a community in Corinth that is divided. They’re fighting over who can be Christian and who is not allowed in community. And they’re fighting over what communion means and over who should be able to speak in church and who should lead and who should remain silent.
And to all of that, Paul says, “Listen. What’s important here is not the law or the tiny details. What’s important is Christ and HIS message.”
And…ultimately, believing in Jesus, and following the MESSAGE of Jesus is not always logical.
Don’t forget – Jesus was a convicted criminal himself. At the very least, a jury of his peers, even a jury of his biggest fans, would have convicted him of disturbing the peace.
In addition to doing things that broke social and religious conventions, like talking to women, working on the sabbath, and eating with people who didn’t keep kosher, Jesus broke Roman law as well.
He spoke out against the Roman empire’s economic injustices, he created a scene in a temple courtyard by turning over the tables of the money changers, and he could arguably be blamed for fomenting a revolution against the Roman empire in Jerusalem.
Just wait for Palm Sunday when Jesus parades in on a donkey at the same time the Roman military leader parades into town on a war horse on the other side of town. Seems like a mockery of Roman authority to me…
Remember that the Roman empire was expansive, and it depended on strict laws and hierarchy to maintain order across such a great stretch of territory.
The Romans tolerated Judaism, in part, because it maintained a logical social structure and kept people in line.
But Jesus brought chaos to the equation, defying logic, defying the religious and civil authorities.
And he did it across the board.
To make matters worse, Jesus was not consistent in championing one side or another.
Yes, Jesus stood up for the poor and outcast, but he also reached out to the wealthy and powerful.
At one point in the Bible, he heals a man with mental health issues who spends his days outside the city in a cemetery, mumbling to himself and fighting with personal demons.
And yet, in another part of scripture we read about how Jesus also heals the daughter of a Roman official.
In another story, he invites himself over to dinner at the home of a tax collector named Zacchaeus who is short in stature, but powerful as an enforcer for the Roman government.
Jesus doesn’t fit the “wisdom” of the world.
He didn’t fit the structures or even the common sense of the world.
If he were here now, he may find himself in the International zone caring for people who are homeless. He may find himself visiting prisoners. But I can guarantee that he would also be meeting at the homes of bankers and wall street moguls and inviting himself to talk with Donald Trump in the Whitehouse.
And even more shocking, perhaps, is the reality that if Jesus came today, he would also be visiting with and having meals with people we reject as broken and even evil.
Jesus might be found gathering with white supremacists to listen to their stories or sharing a meal with a mass shooter.
In a crowd of people, Jesus might single out a registered sex offender as the one he’d like to visit with in his home.
That’s the type of extreme love Jesus practiced. Love so deep and wide that it had room for people who we find are nearly impossible to forgive, let alone love.
That’s who Jesus was.
Now, is that the kind of leader we really want to get behind?
Paul says yes.
But Paul also reminds us in this text of the implications of following Christ.
Paul reminds us of the cost that comes with living a life that defies the laws of the land and the conventions of society.
Paul reminds us of the risk of putting ourselves out there to love people who many see as unlovable.
Let’s not forget, Paul says, that Jesus was tortured and killed, not only because of the crimes he committed, but also because people on all sides feared what it would mean to have a leader who refused to take sides.
The only sides Jesus took was the side of love and the side of forgiveness, the side of justice, and the side of healing and wholeness.
And as much as we’d like to think of ourselves as an open and welcoming community, there’s not one of us here that on some level, must struggle with that message.
There’s not one of us here that doesn’t have some adversary in our lives who we believe to be wrong.
Maybe it is a criminal that’s hurt us or our family. Maybe it’s actually a family member. Or an ex. Maybe it’s a political party or people who have a particular political ideology. Maybe it’s people who are openly racist.
Maybe it’s simple people we don’t know or understand or people we fear.
Following a leader who loves THEM is not logical. It’s not practical. And frankly, it’s dangerous.
Recently, I witnessed someone follow Jesus’ example, and also listened as they struggled with their choice to do so.
A recently homeless man had approached a member of our church community.
He told her he had just left his family, and he had no where to go. He had tried a local shelter, but he had been attacked there, and he was afraid to go back.
Despite conventional wisdom, despite the risk to her own safety, she reached out to him, offering to help him in the form of a listening ear and a phone to call family members and social services. She even welcomed him into a public place and offered him food, not knowing if he might hurt her.
She didn’t know the man. She didn’t know if he was dangerous.
She also didn’t listen to conventional wisdom.
She listened to the wisdom of her heart, and the language of Christ, the language of love and forgiveness and compassion.
Thankfully, she was okay, but I know many people who have ended up being hurt or scammed in situations like that.
And injury, physical as well as emotional, are risks when it comes to caring for people, especially people on the margins of society or people who are at odds with us ideologically for one reason or another.
There is legitimate risk in following the type of leader we’ve lifted up as our savior.
Jesus Christ is not a safe choice.
He’s not someone who will create order and comfort in our lives.
Certainly, we can receive nurture and love from Christian community, but that nurture and care is not an end in itself. It’s part of being restored and filled up spiritually so that we can go out and do that difficult and dangerous work Jesus modeled.
For those of us who are spiritually and emotionally and physically able at this time, my challenge to us this week is to find a place where we can be a little more “foolish.” A bit more reckless with our love for those who the world calls dangerous or wrong or “other.”
And for those of us who feel broken or even just cautious and not ready to risk to such a degree, which is totally fine too, by the way, my challenge for us is allow people in our lives to foolishly embrace US and restore OUR hope, and OUR strength, that we might all participate in the healing of God’s world together.