Rev. George Miller Jan 30, 2011
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 “Folly of Our Faith”
Have you noticed that lately there seems to be a lot of good shows on TV? One series I like to watch is “The Middle”, a sitcom about a family in Indiana.
In last week’s episode, the father decided it was time for their youngest son to start doing household chores. The son, whose name is Brick, is assigned the responsibility of raking the leaves.
His Dad tries to show him the right way to do it, but Brick, who is a unique child who sees the world differently, does it his way.
First, he picks up one leaf at a time. Then he divides the leaves by colors. When he finds a leaf from a neighbor’s tree, he returns it to them
Finally, he is finished. “Good job son,” says the father, “It took you 11 days to do what should have only taken an hour.”
Brick asks what will happen to the leaves and is told they will be picked up by and incinerated by the city.
This shocks Brick. He begs to save the leaves, offering to keep them in his room or to take them into the woods where they can be set free amongst all the other leaves.
At first his father says no before eventually giving in. In the last scene of the episode, he and Brick go into the forest, grabbing handfuls of red and orange leaves and tossing them into the air, creating a special Father/Son moment.
Brick’s approach to raking was full of folly and foolishness, causing his father lots of aggravation. But in the end, it created a magical moment of love and bonding, a way in which heaven could break in.
Foolishness and folly are themes in today’s scripture. 1 Corinthians is believed to be the second letter Paul had written to this particular church around 54 CE.
Corinth was located between 2 seas, making it a natural seaport and place of commerce and government. Because sailors and soldiers liked to party and play there, it became known as a “city of sin.”
One social commentator of the day said the rich citizens were disgusting and coarse with no charm and class who chastised the poor.
Those very same behaviors filtered into the local congregation. Wealthy members held extravagant feasts that made the poorer members feel less welcome.
People openly stated that they were better, wiser, smarter, and holier then others.
Quarrels broke out. So called religious leaders came in, trying to question Paul’s leadership and guidance.
In short, the Corinthian congregation had become a cantankerous bunch that had developed fissures and fractures.
So when Paul receives a letter asking for help he writes back and tries to redirect them and create a sense of unity.
Paul does so in the most unexpected way: instead of motivational mumbo-jumbo, he directed their attention to the very thing that had become a stumbling block for so many there- the cross.
The cross, as Paul admits, is foolish to outsiders looking in, and though the world sees it as a folly, the cross is the very thing in which God’s limitless love is revealed.
As Paul would have us believe, when we focus on the cross we will find divisions and mindless squabbles fading away.
2,000 years later, Paul’s message is still mind blowing.
Think of how the world works. Some say faith is all about miracles; amazing things happening that makes all of life’s problems disappear.
There are those who place all their faith on wisdom and knowledge. If you read the right book, subscribe to the right creed, follow the exact formula, memorize the appropriate scriptures, then you are saved and everything will be A-OK.
What does the wisdom of the world tells us? American culture tells us that we should be happy at all times. We should never feel disappointment, sadness or grief.
We should avoid all kinds of pain; always look on the bright side of life, floating about with smiles on our face.
When things get tough we are to buck it up, keep it to ourselves and try harder, pray harder, think more positively.
Happiness is to be pursued at all costs and if that doesn’t work? Lie about it or stuff your emotions down and numb your pain with food, drugs, shopping sprees and hours in front of the TV.
That, my friends, is the wisdom of our present day American culture, regardless if we realize it or not.
But that’s not what Paul writes in this letter. Paul says to look towards the cross, the ultimate sign of pain and hurt, foolishness and shame.
Embrace the cross, and God’s wisdom and spiritual gifts will enter into your community.
To borrow the imagery of Isaiah, the cross shows God’s love and ability to do new things, making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert. (Isaiah 43:19)
If you’ve ever experienced the pain of being stuck in a spiritual wilderness or parched in an emotional dessert, let me hear you say “Amen.”
And if you ever experienced God leading you out of that wilderness or quenching your thirst, let me hear you say “Hallelujah.”
The cross, my friends, is the folly of our faith. We can not hide from it, we can not run from or deny it, no matter how much we smile, how loud we sing or say that everything is fine.
The cross is the means through which Jesus Christ demonstrated to us just how free God is.
The cross is where Jesus, with outstretched hands, showed for all time how the love of God embraces everyone (even those who would nail that love to a plank of wood).
The cross is the means in which we face the very reality of pain and injustice that takes place in this world, forcing us to look upon our own suffering, the suffering of others and the suffering that we, ourselves, can cause.
But the cross does something else, for it connects us to heaven and earth, to one another and to God’s wisdom and strength.
The folly of the cross set the stage for the way in which God made a way through the wilderness and streams in the dessert.
In other words, it was by going through the painful betrayal of the cross on Friday that God was able to bring about the resurrection good news on Sunday, in which we discover that justice prevails, we receive the gift of eternal salvation and the promise to always be there has come to fruition.
To go back to our opening illustration, by going through the cross God is able to lead us, as a family, into a beautiful forest in which we can be united, happily tossing red and orange leaves into the air.
According to Paul, Christ crucified is the heart of the Gospel. Though it’s a shock to hear, it’s the way through which God brought redemption into the world.
Not through money, or smiley faces or politics, but two planks of wood against a foreboding sky.
It is the cross that showed God as free and distinct from the world, not bound by human categories or expectations.
In conclusion, by admitting that everyone hurts, everyone feels pain and shame, we can become united, not pitted against one another.
Through the cross we come together and see how God creates ways through our wildernesses, streams through our desserts and resurrection through the very things we have felt shame and pain about.
The folly of our faith is that the resurrected Christ can never be separated from the Christ who was crucified. Because of this, the Holy Spirit can lead us to unexpected places.
Blessings be to God who calls to us saying, “See how I am about to do something new.”
Blessings be to the Crucified Son who says “I know what you are going through and I will never leave your side.”
Blessings be to the Spirit who shakes us up, saying “Come and be a part of our holy community.”
The cross may not make sense or follow the rules as we know them, but it is the means through which we join the Holy Trinity in throwing colorful leaves into the winds and woods of our lives.
Amen and amen.