Good morning, its good to see you. I bring you greetings from the St. David’s family in New York City, Kerlin, Jordan and Aiden send their regards and are doing well, and we’re all enjoying a bit of spring break right now. It has been a pleasure to be able to follow along with your Lenten journey here with the blog and facebook posts, and I’ve been thinking about some of the questions you have considered together thus far. What do you hear God saying? What is our mission? What proclamations will possess you on the other side of the desert, and where is God suffering in the midst of our own suffering. The question I’d like to add into the mix today concerns God’s foolishness. Where have you been foolish for the message of God? Where have your words failed to explain why you are here, or what have you stopped yourself from saying out loud for fear that it simply wouldn’t make sense to anyone who hears you? “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.”
There are two things that make me wince in our scripture readings this morning. The first is this idea in Paul that proclaiming the message of the cross may be foolishness to those who hear it. It just so happens that I spend a great deal of my time trying very hard to not sound foolish, especially when it comes to church. I’m getting a degree in not sounding foolish about God right now, actually. Paul’s attitude here seems to be “you either get it or you don’t, and at the end of the day there’s just no use explaining.” Now, words have certainly failed me before. I know well the particular stare of a colleague, friend, or partner who is looking at me in the midst of some perfectly rational argument of mine as if it were springing from a hole in my head. “I don’t think you’re hearing me,” is a favorite response of mine in times like these, which is a polite way of saying, “I’ve explained this to you in three different ways already and still somehow you do not understand that I am right.” Paul certainly wasn’t making things easy for himself. He was in love with a savior whose chief power was in giving it all away, a Messiah who had not only come already but had been humiliated in the process, and most Greeks and Jews simply weren’t buying it. For anyone who has spent any time wondering how in the world you’re going to begin telling another human soul about the startling revelations God has unveiled somewhere deep down in your own, the rejection is difficult to watch. “Very well then,” Paul says, “if it is foolishness, at least it is God’s foolishness, and in the end, no words will suffice to convince you of its truth, the faith to understand our message will come from within you by God’s salvation only.” The sentiment is a poetic stroke in favor of human intuition that transcends the confines of logic and language, and at the same time, it is an easy way out of the conversation.
The second thing that makes me wince this morning is a likely candidate, the unruly Messiah himself. I cannot hear the story of Jesus “cleansing” the Temple without being reminded of my teaching days. When I was finally put in charge of my own classroom I spent a good week before school started getting everything ready, arranging all the best books in a tidy display, organizing the supplies by kind and size. My classroom was pristine, a physical, actual display of what I thought teaching should look like. Then of course, the students came in. In particular, one student came in whose learning had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and this was a first for me. Within 5 minutes he had pushed over every book, taken out every supply, and flipped over every box that he could get his hands on. My world was turned upside down, literally. And this happened every day. It took the full school year for his mother and his therapists to work with me to develop the kind of adaptive response this student really needed, which was not the classroom I had planned at all. In the end, this was a clarifying experience; this student was showing me what was really important for my teaching. Is this what Jesus is doing in the Temple? Does Jesus come into the religious structures we’ve worked so hard at developing to start trashing the whole thing? The teacher in me is still wincing. It was the Passover, religious Jews were coming from all over to make the appropriate sacrifice in Jerusalem; they were purchasing animals in the Temple square to avoid having to lug them along on the journey there, and depending on where they were from, they had to exchange their currency to do so. They were being observant and reasonable, and Jesus throws a wrench in the whole thing. And for what? What remains in our vision of faith when the materials are stripped away? Which tables is Jesus flipping over in our tidy life together?
So this is where God has me this morning. Stuck between a very strong desire to not sound like a fool when I’m talking about what matters most and a Savior who seems determined to unsettle every bit of logic I’ve carefully prepared to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is not an unfamiliar place for me to be stuck in. In New York, the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests get me there every time. The responses they garner are the epitome of Paul’s “you either get it or you don’t” attitude. Folk who walk by either seem to leave convicted and inspired that someone out there is finally giving voice to an outrage they have harbored silently for a while now, or they roll their eyes and ask what the meaning of any of this could possibly be. I feel absolutely convicted by the outrage, the message, and the street theatre, and yet I have a real resistance to writing down what I actually believe with permanent marker in 15 words or less and literally standing behind it for all the world to see. I prefer more ambiguity than that, I prefer a via media, I’d prefer the other side to know that I can relate to where they’re coming from and that maybe we could have a conversation about it. I’d prefer that someone not pass me by and think that I am wrong without leaving me a chance to prove myself to them. Of course, the result of all these preferences is often that I avoid saying anything at all, and the potential conversation escapes the possibility of even happening.
The good news this morning is that we follow one who would appear in no way to be so hesitant. Christ is moving forward into a kingdom of God’s peace on this earth that would radically shake the tidy structures we have prepared to their foundation. We know what it looks like. Widows, orphans, poor folk of every stripe and nation, every human soul who has been trod under the injustice of this world lifted up and welcomed in to the feast prepared for all at the foundation of the world. So where is the tension for you? When does your voice tremble because you know you have to say something that might not come out with just the right words attached to it? Where has Christ kicked over a table set up in the temple of your best made plans? If you aren’t sure, try this: begin a sentence by saying, “I know this sounds crazy, but…” and then finish it with something about God. If we are willing to sound foolish for the sake of saying it out loud, we may be surprised to find the risk we take in speaking is precisely the place where the conversation begins. The good news is that we do not have to worry about being right, only honest, and God, speaking in the hearts of those who truly hear will take care of the rest. In the end, it may not be about whether someone else is really hearing us at all, but about whether they hear the Christ who speaks through and among us when we are willing to lend our voices to the truth he most wants to say. And as a rule, if what comes out sounds like it belongs in permanent marker scrawled out on a piece of cardboard, we’re likely headed one step in the right direction. Here’s hoping for the courage to speak all the foolhardy words we’re most afraid to say, and strong faith where the logic of this world begins to fail.