Thursday, February 3, 2011

Foolishness and Folly. . .

 Sermon for Epiphany 4A, preached on Sunday, January 30, 2011.
    It has often been said that it is better to keep your mouth shut and only be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.  If Pastors paid attention to such wisdom, there would be no sermons.  I well recall the Bible study in which I spoke about what Scripture said, only to have someone stand up and say "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard."  But that is precisely the point.  According to the world, our reason, and the way we sense things, the things of God are stupid or foolish or unbelievable.  The is the direct fruit of sin.  Without the Spirit and faith, God's Word and God's ways are a jumble to our ears.  Only God can repair the damage so that we can hear and believe Him and His eternal and abiding truth.
    In the Epistle for today St. Paul speaks of the foolishness and folly of the Cross.  The Word of God and the teachings of the faith violate our reason and understanding.  There is no way around this.  That sin has created such damage to us and to our creation that it has brought us mortal death and eternal damnation is unbelievable to our reason and worldly sensibility.  A character flaw is something correctable.  We can fix it.  The idea that what sin has done to us and to all creation is so grave and deep that we cannot repair ourselves or repair the world from sin's effect, is shocking to us.
    In the same way, the idea that all that is wrong with us proceeds from sin and its destructive effects is illogical.  Diseases have causes. We have  antidotes to poison, immunizations for some terrible scourges of the past, and medicines to overcome illness.  Our reason has told us it is matter of research and we will find the cure to all that ails us -- even death itself will be postponed indefinitely or overcome entirely when we finally discover all the cures and the secrets of our DNA.  It shocks us that we can't fix what's wrong.
    Our mind and hearts find it the greatest foolishness that we don’t get to define what is true and what is not.  Why, we decide what is true all the time – from the political truths we choose at the ballot box to the brands we find reliable in the marketplace to the sports figures and teams we follow in the arena, we are always deciding which one is the right one for me.  That God has defined His truth, and it is a take it or leave is truth, is shocking to us and an affront to our reason and dignity.  Yet without the Spirit, that is exactly how we see it.
    The truth of God and His Word is not appealing to our reason and the work of the Spirit is to transcend reason and understanding with trust.  When St. Paul first wrote these words it was the same as it is today.  God’s Word and God’s ways are unintelligible apart from the Spirit.  We and our world have not changed. We still seek a God who is logical, reasonable, understandable.  The God who we meet in Scripture is foolishness to us unless He shows Himself to us and gives us His Spirit to know Him where He has chosen to make himself known.
    God's wisdom neither requires nor expects our understanding or our acceptance.  God's wisdom and truth require faith, worked by the Holy Spirit, within the framework of our hearts hardened to the things of God.  This faith does not unpack God's truth to fit our reason but trusts in what we do not understand and what our reason cannot accept.  In worship we come to meet Jesus where He has hidden Himself, in the means of grace and trust what He gives us there.  This is why Jesus says that unless we become like a little child, we cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Adults seek to understand.  Children trust.
    We have just come through Christmas in which the foolishness and folly of God is met in the manger.  How can the God who made all things become a human child, wearing mortal flesh, becoming one of us in order to save us?  This Gospel is just not reasonable; we do not understand it.  We trust it.
    We just heard John tell us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In a few weeks we will begin to walk with Him that journey to the cross through Lent to see what it means for Jesus to be that Lamb of God.  That sin must be paid for in blood and that Jesus has the only blood that can atone for the sin of the whole world is a folly whose truth is lost to us except and until the  Holy Spirit opens our hearts to trust in that blood shed for us and for our salvation.  Talk of blood bought redemption is abhorrent to the modern mind.  Only the Spirit can bridge the gap between modern sensibility and God’s truth and He does so with faith.
    We assume that the greatest power of all is to bring harm.  We understand this even if we find it distasteful.  After all for how many years did we not live in the awkward peace of two nations whose nuclear might was kept at bay only through our fear of mutually assured destruction?  So we expect God’s greatest power to be destructive.  But instead we find the triumph of His mercy over His wrath, of grace over condemnation.  Only faith can bridge this gap and only the Spirit can lead us to trust such foolishness or folly.
    You want to know why it is so hard to make Christians out of people?  We tend to think you make Christians by making the things of God palatable, reasonable, acceptable to our mind and hearts.  But God, His Word and His ways will always be folly and foolishness until and unless the Holy Spirit transcends this gap with the bridge that is faith born of the Spirit.
    Everything in the Gospel goes against every ounce of human reason.  It is a confusing joke to us until and unless the Spirit enables us to believe and trust in God's Word and ways. God does not make Christians by making His Word and ways palatable or acceptable to us; He does so by granting us the Holy Spirit so that we may overcome the limitations of our reason and understanding and simply believe and trust.
    So it should not surprise us when the things of God seem foolish to us or someone judges the Gospel as stupid.  The fatal flaw here is not that we could have explained it better, though surely we could have.  The fatal flaw is that sin has rendered the human mind and heart impenetrable by the things of God unless and until the Spirit breaks through and our fearful, stubborn hearts learn to trust in what we cannot explain or understand in human terms.  We meet God not in a reasoned consensus but in the mystery of His truth that does what it promises and accomplishes what is claims.  The only currency that works in the transaction we call faith is trust given by the Spirit.
    Here in God's House we come to meet the mystery of who God is, to behold Him where He has placed Himself, to receive what His Word and Sacraments promise.  And what we need to know Him here, He grants us by His Spirit.... the faith and trust which see Him where He has hidden and revealed Himself, granting us what we dare not ask or even hope for except in Christ.  This is the great Epiphany – God is come not so that I might understand Him but so that I might trust in Him.  Once we get this with the Spirit’s help, the mystery is not some puzzle to be assembled but the gift of grace to arouse us to joy and thanksgiving.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rev. Peters, for this necessary, uplifting, edifying sermon.
And thanks be to God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, for sending the Lord, Holy Spirit, to live in us and to give us His many gifts, for which He is the only source. There are different lists of these, but the one our Lord Jesus was most emphatic about, when He spoke to the Apostles on the night He was betrayed, is joy. Imagine that: on the night He was betrayed, He spoke to His friends about joy!

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Jerry said...

Would it be wrong to say that we are morons? I do not see it in the text but have heard it preached that way. If it is wrong, how should I respond?

Unknown said...

Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness. See the link below for more info.