1 Corinthians 1:18-31
"For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Ok. Everybody stand back. I’m preaching on Paul today.
Ugh. I have such a love/hate relationship with this guy. One minute he’s ranting about how women should be silent and have their heads covered in church, and the next, he’s telling us how very much we are unconditionally loved by God. This guy makes me nuts. And yet, here I am, in front of you all, ready to preach on one of Paul’s passages.
Get out the fire extinguishers, ‘cause God might strike me down and take this whole church with me in the process.
And yet, I feel like this passage is so perfect, is so true, and real and good that there really is nothing left to say about it. All the preachers before me, much more talented, educated, esteemed preachers than myself, have said all there is to say about this passage. We worship an upside down God with upside down hearts in an upside down world. There. The End.
I feel like that Gillian Welch song, where she sings, “There’s gotta be a song, left to sing/ ‘cause everybody can’t a thought of everything...” End Scene. Cue Communion. Let’s have lunch.
But you’re here. And I’m here. So we might as well get started. A Sermon in Three Parts.
Act 1: Wherein, if you don’t know what to talk about during a sermon, just grab peoples’ attention by giving them too much information on the state of your house and your pets’ disgusting habits. Hopefully, somehow through this, people will get the point that life is a big mess and were up to our necks in it.
Act 2: Wherein, the preacher tries to explain that even as we are “saved” once and for all, we are still being saved. That life is a process, and even when we don’t feel like it, God is still working in us, still saving us.
Act 3: Where our poor preacher gives up trying to make sense, and hopes that the Holy Spirit is jumping in to clear out the clog the preacher has formed for herself. Where also, she worries that in exhorting you to do something that doesn’t make sense, you will take it the wrong way and do things that aren’t healthy for you. But in the end, she just wants you to embrace the foolishness of the cross.
Ok. Let’s do this. Bring on Act 1. “Our House: The DNA cesspool.”
So I have this dog. She’s almost 13. Selectively deaf, blind, and who groans every time she lays herself down against the couch. Poor Robin. She was such a great dog. Sweet girl. Loved to fetch. Went swimming in Lake Michigan at 8 weeks old. I even credit her with saving my first year of marriage. But as she’s gotten older, her disgusting habits have gotten worse. Yes. It’s that disgusting habit. The one where you don’t have to pick up the backyard after her when she goes out to do her business because she’s already done it for you... She’s the world’s most perfect recycler! And before you all come up to me after the sermon and tell me all the ways we can try to correct this horrible habit, let me tell you, we’ve tried it. For thirteen years we’ve tried it. The vet just says, “Well, it sounds like she’s got some neuroses, and there’s not much that can be done about it. Just be sure to pick up after her.”
So yeah. This dog. This is all she can think about now that she is too old and achey to fetch, too tired to paw us for attention. Add to this poor dog, another giant dog, who loves to copy everything old dog does, plus a cat who has some kind of incurable upper-respiratory disease that leaves snot splatters against our walls, a fish that seems to somehow kill every “friend” we try to introduce to him, and three chickens that are currently molting, and you have a perfect storm of pet insanity. Our house is 851 square feet of dog hair, cat snot and pails of wet diapers. Y’all are welcome to visit anytime!
But for some reason, guilt?, commitment?, stubbornness?, we don’t get rid of them. They cause us so much frustration and annoyance and bottles of clorox, and yet they’re still at home, lounging on our carpets and in our bed, waiting for us to come home so they can tackle us for their lunch.
It’s ridiculous. 2 big dogs. A cat. A fish. Three chickens. One tiny house. What a stupid idea.
But tonight, we’ll vacuum up another layer of dog fur. We’ll let them out one more time. We’ll yell at Robin, who can’t hear us, to stop eating her poop. We’ll wipe the snot off the basement door.
Makes me wonder how many of us, no matter how hard we try not to, keep returning to our own piles.
Between us, Dan and I have two bachelor’s degrees, six master’s degrees, and a PhD. Well. I guess you could say that God has destroyed the wisdom of the so-called wise. God has thwarted the discernment of the discerning... ‘Cause here we are yelling curse words out our back door as the cold rushes in, trying to get our dog to stop eating her own poop.
But if God’s not in that, then where is God?
I’m pretty sure that God’s not interested in the ways of what I’ll call “The Super Bowl Christians.” They’re the ones who are “in it to win it” - those who claim that power and money and perfectly executed plays and scoring points wins the day. So often I want God to shoot me some fireworks and bring Madonna to my half-time show, and instead, I get a wall covered in cat snot and a dog who keeps coming back to her own piles of poop. I get a mess of DNA. A pile of life strategically placed by the back door.
So much life, that sometimes I just want to give it all up. To walk away. To forget it.
Act 2: "You Are Not Just Saved; You Are Being Saved."
But our God works in those piles. God works in ways that often don’t make any sense to our logical brains. Now, to be sure, I’m still waiting to figure out how God is working through the neuroses of my 13 year old chocolate lab, but this passage for today makes me think that somehow, God is.
Why? Because somehow God worked through the cross. The foolishness of a man at his weakest, crucified as a common criminal, hanging among other common criminals, left to rot in the sun.
Because somehow God turned what was once a taco restaurant with $10 enchilada platters into a church that serves free meals every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Because somehow we have this place where we can take in the homeless for a night, even though thoughts like “exhaustion,” “liability,” “unpredictability,” and “filth” cross our minds.
Because sometimes I don’t have a very good attitude about feeding my baby in the middle of the night, but I do, usually every two hours.
Because sometimes we show up, serve the food, do the dishes, and grumble about it.
Because God stepped in and used you even though you shouted “Screw You!” (or something more colorful) from the church parking lot, or you yelled “so do you want the frickin’ sandwich or not!?” at the complaining homeless neighbor.
Because you’re here, even though you have serious doubts about all of this church business.
Because God can step in and became a convicted criminal with a death sentence and still save the world because of it.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
To those of us who are being saved, who are in the process of being saved, these human attempts become resurrected into something much greater. How do we know that we are not perishing, but are in the process of being saved? Not because we said a Jesus prayer. Not because we followed some rules. Not because we said the right things at the right time. We know we are being saved because God is transforming us. Because God takes these crappy offerings of just showing up, of grumblings, and curses, and resurrects them.
These aren’t things we do in order to be saved. These are things we do because we are saved.
See we are being saved. We are in the process of being saved. It’s not once and for all. It’s every day. Every moment. RIGHT NOW you are being saved. As you sit here, your mind wandering, half listening, or worrying about a sick loved one, or making your grocery list, or thinking about that nap you’ll take this afternoon. Right now.
We know we are being saved because we are given enough grace to just show up. To tolerate one more day. To keep trying. To say “no” or “yes” or “I hope so,” for one more minute.
We know we are being saved, not because it feels good to stay up all night as a chaperone at an emergency warming shelter, but because we’ve been given just enough grace to show up and do it.
We know we are being saved because even though we’re exhausted and disgruntled with all of humanity, we get to work serving a meal to a bunch of them.
We know we are being saved because even though we get so tired of hearing the same complaint over and over again, we smile, and we listen, and we breathe deep breaths.
We know we are being saved because we don’t throw the dog out the window when she tracks mud through the freshly mopped kitchen.
We know we are being saved because we have just enough of whatever it takes - grace, peace, stubbornness, gratitude - to just show up, even if we don’t have a very good attitude about it.
Being saved doesn’t mean saying the right things.
Being saved doesn’t mean having the right attitude.
Being saved doesn’t mean believing the right list of beliefs.
Being saved means that God can step in and use you even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you feel stuck. Or broken. Or nailed to your own cross.
We know we are being saved because even though sometimes we don’t have a very good attitude about feeding our babies in the middle of the night, or because we want to strangle our dog when she brings in a poopcicle from the back yard, we still show up when they need us. We still open the back door. We still roll out of the warm bed and stumble through the dark hallway to the baby’s room. We still show up for the third night of hosting homeless friends in our makeshift shelter of a church that once served tacos and watered down margaritas.
Even those of us who have given up, who shout out, “God, where are you?” “God, I hate you!” or “God, you’re not even real,” are being saved. Those of you who are determined to take one more breath even while the voices in your head are telling you to just give up, and those of you who are aching for one more hit or one more shot of vodka but are putting it off just one more second, you’re being saved. None of us could do any of that without being saved. I’m convinced of it.
Act 3: "The Cross is foolishness. The Resurrection doesn’t make any sense."
But practice it anyway. Practice it. It won’t be perfect. But keep practicing.
This is our calling. To practice the foolishness of the cross.
Poet John Rybicki has this wonderful poem in which the last line is, “God above, I can’t go on, and thank you for this day.”
What a perfect way to express our relationship with God and with this world. This constant contradiction. This collision of two worlds - the scandal of the cross and the strange surrealness of the resurrection. Grace and humanity. A pile of life that doesn’t make sense. So much impracticality and lunacy.
It doesn’t compute. A man on a cross, in shame, left to rot in the sun, is lifted up to the right hand of the Father so that every knee shall bow and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. It just doesn’t make any sense.
And that is exactly where God calls us. To that place of wearing the crazy-pants. That place of impracticality. That place of hope-filled senselessness.
We practice the foolishness of the cross and the ridiculousness of the resurrection by doing something that doesn’t make sense. Doing something that doesn’t compute.
Do something that defies the world.
- count your profits in hearts changed, not burritos sold.
Have a tea party with your son and some dinosaurs, even though your dissertation is in the next room, waiting to be finished.
Plant a garden in your backyard, even though it will diminish the resale value of your home.
Listen to the ramblings of someone who has a severe mental illness - or to the ramblings of someone who doesn’t.
Give a dollar to the guy on the street with a cardboard sign.
Adopt the old, dumb, poop-eating dog from the shelter
Have a meal with your political opposite.
Buy fabric, cut it up into little tiny squares, and then sew them back together
Write a letter - with a pen, on a piece of paper - to someone in prison, or to your mom.
Take a nap when there’s dishes in the sink.
Do the dishes even if it makes you grumble.
And now for the Epilogue: “God above I can’t go on, and thank you for this day.”
These things don’t save. They don’t. And they won’t.
But this is how we know we are saved - we do these things that are impractical, we show up, we say “yes,” or “I want to,” or “I don’t know, but I’ll be there.”
And that’s the resurrection. That’s the wisdom of the cross. That God gives us enough grace for the day, even when things don’t make sense. Even when it hurts. Even when the days are too short. Or too long. Or too dark.
And in that we boast. We boast in our doubts. We boast in our cuss words. We boast in our follies and in our foibles and in how often we reach the end of our rope. We boast in our humanity. We boast because we know that it’s not about us. We boast because we know that it’s God. God who does the saving. God who flips the things of this world on their heads and makes the lowly the greatest. God who transforms us, sometimes a little too slowly for our tastes, but gives us enough grace for the day.
Enough grace to make a meal out of a piece of bread dipped in grape juice. Enough to feed us, even though we are cussing and doubting and sighing and fearing. “God above, I can’t go on, and thank you for this day.”
This is a mess of a sermon. But I have laundry. So this is what we get.
Thanks be to God.