[Simmering sermon] "Only A Fool"

On their 1997 album "Threads," Geoff Moore and the Distance have a song called "Only a Fool." It tells two parabolic stories: one of a man who quit a well-paying and upwardly mobile job to work with disadvantaged kids, and another of a beauty queen who could have made a career with her looks and charisma but gave it up in similar fashion. They are both described as "taking the job only a fool could do."

The last chorus says:

Show me the big in the small
Show me the wonder of my call
Even when no one else approves
I'll take the job for only a fool

This song came to mind as I read the epistle reading for this coming Sunday. From Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: 
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe...For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
Does this world need more fools, or less? It depends on what you're talking about.

Such passages are sometimes used to justify a false narrative of persecution or to shield any belief or action from critique. Similar to the passage in which Jesus warns his followers that they may be hated for preaching his message (Luke 6:22), Paul warns that those who promote the gospel may be considered foolish. But neither of these passages should be used to justify anything that is called foolish or engenders hatred. We have to get it in the right order. The passages teach that those who faithfully follow Christ may be hated or considered foolish, not that anytime you are hated or considered foolish, you are following Christ.

An extreme or all-too-easy example is the Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, who quite often feel vindicated in their preaching of hate because of such biblical passages. But perhaps harder to see is the way in which the "fools to the world" narrative is used to justify Christian endeavors that are quite the opposite of the self-sacrificial, "losing your life" calling of Jesus. Christians have been known to use political power and money to fight culture wars, secure a place of privilege for their worldview, and disenfranchise those to whom they object. The ensuing criticism is expected and thus used for self-vindication. This is not what we're talking about. The prophetic tradition of the Bible has harsh words for those who forget which side of privilege and the power structure they're on.

Foolishness for the gospel is not self-aggrandizing or power-seeking. Foolishness for the gospel was seen in Mother Theresa, who begged and pleaded to go to a despised and forsaken place to minister on the streets and be a "saint of darkness." Foolishness for the gospel was seen in Saint Francis of Assisi who abandoned a life of luxury to take the message of Christ to ordinary people forgotten by the very rich and powerful church of his day. Foolishness for the gospel is seen in Redeemer Lutheran Church of Minneapolis who decided to stay in a struggling neighborhood when other churches had moved out to the suburbs. Foolishness for the gospel is seen in Northern Lighthouse Ministries on the edge of Lincoln, NE, a congregation that intentionally welcomes (actually, goes and gets) prisoners, ex-prisoners, and the homeless into their worship and ministry.1 Foolishness for the gospel was seen in Kayla Mueller, the American humanitarian worker in Syria who was killed by ISIS. We've learned through her letters that she had a deep faith in Christ and that her love of God and neighbor had taken her to this dangerous place to serve.

Foolishness for the gospel is relinquishing self-preservation (or even church preservation?) to be a part of God's bigger story. It is giving up whatever obstacle there may be within us to extending God's love, grace, and forgiveness to the other...particularly those from whom rationality might tell us to steer clear.

1 Credit to Elizabeth Turman-Bryant whose work on "radically hospitable churches" introduced me to this ministry.

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