Sermon: Can I Be a Little Foolish?

March 4, 2018
Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

A few years ago I learned something that just delighted me. It popped up on the Internet, though it could just as easily have appeared on a T-shirt or on one of those souvenir slogan plaques that you can pick up in tourist destinations everywhere.

But one of the benefits of the Internet is that you can see these things without visiting the gift shop and putting next month’s groceries at risk, which made it cheaper to see it there.

It was a twelve word sentence, two of them contractions. It contained two phrases separated by a comma, and the first was conditional, so that the second only applied if the first was true. And it ended in a preposition, which to believe wasn’t proper English, but the sentence was so liberating that it soothed my cold, relentless editor’s heart.

It read: “If you haven’t grown up by age fifty, you don’t have to.”


There is a truth beneath the joke. Researchers have documented the benefits of play for children repeatedly: it’s positive impact on brain development and stimulus for social skills. They’ve also found that it is an important part of adult life, too. Adults who play handle stress better. They tend to be more productive and have more satisfying relationships. According to psychiatrist Stuart Brown, the highest benefit comes from incorporating play into our daily lives, and not saving it up for the vacation each year.

So there’s value in being, to quote the title of this sermon, a little foolish.

The apostle Paul, however, might not agree.

The apostle had been one of the founding missionaries of the church in Corinth, a busy trade city in Greece. He had come there to preach, and after spending some significant time, he went to preach in another city, and another city. That was his life at the time.

This, his first letter to the Corinthians (at least, of the two we have), was not a simple, “Hi, how are you?” kind of letter. Paul had heard unpleasant things about the Corinthian church. They were divided. They were arguing. They were at a fracture point.

Paul wrote to settle them down. He knew how they were, and it wasn’t good. He wrote to tell them to straighten up and fly right.

And launched promptly into this discussion of foolishness.

We have had nearly two thousand years to get used to cross. Look. There’s two of them, easy to see, right here. I’m wearing a cross that is no fewer than five crosses. In South Korea, they like to put crosses at the tips of their steeples, and they light up red at night.

We’re used to the cross. We’re used to thinking about Jesus on the cross, even if Protestant tradition rarely pictures him there. We sing about it. “And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.”

We cherish the old rugged cross.

For the people of first century Corinth, that was nearly inconceivable.

Remember last week, when Peter went from being first with the right answer to first with the wrong answer. To first century Jews, the notion of a crucified Messiah was a flat contradiction. It made no sense. A Messiah was a victor. A crucified person was, by definition, a failure, a victim of Roman oppression. A Messiah was supposed to drive the Romans away. A crucified Messiah was beyond foolish.

The Greeks of Corinth weren’t waiting for a Messiah. They worshiped a variety of gods, none of whom would be executed as a slave by the Romans for treason and rebellion. A Savior was a foolish idea. A crucified Savior was beyond foolish.

Yet that, said Paul, was the wisdom of God.

We need to remember how foolish our faith looks from the outside, and not just from a “scientific” point of view, which questions the existence of spiritual beings. Those who worship differently also find the cross to be a puzzle and a barrier.

It’s not just a little foolish.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, insisted on placing this foolishness at the very center, right from the very beginning. In the cross, he insisted, we find that the wisdom of God doesn’t look like the wisdom of the world, neither that of those longing for a Messiah nor those who’ve never heard of one. In the cross, we find that the wisdom of God looks like an inconceivable generosity instead of like an easily imagined victory. In the cross, we find that the wisdom of God looks like a strength revealed in weakness, rather than a weakness lurking beneath the strength. In the cross, we find that the wisdom of God looks like life arising from death, rather than a death closing a life. In the cross, we find that the wisdom of God looks like an end that leads to a beginning, and not like a beginning that will come to an end.

Jeff Paschal writes: “The cross reminds us of our ultimate allegiance not to our country, not to our family, not to our work, but to Christ. For Christians, the cross declares that we embrace truth when lies seem easier, gentleness when force is attractive, justice for the oppressed when maintain the status quo would be simpler, generosity when hoarding would be more comfortable, forgiveness when a hateful grudge would taste so good.”

Can I be a little foolish?

No, said the Apostle Paul. You’ve got to be a lot foolish.

There is our challenge for Lent, and for beyond Lent. To go beyond a little foolishness, and embrace the foolishness of the cross. To go beyond believing we can make a little difference, and believe that we can make a big difference. To go beyond believing that we can lessen the impact of evil, and believe that we can heal what evil has done. To go beyond believing that we can stem the reach of evil, and to believe that we can turn it back on itself.

Can I be a little foolish?

Well, yes. I can.

But I’d be better of being a lot foolish. Because then I’d find the wisdom of God.


Unfortunately, the recording of today’s sermon suffered human foolishness and is not available. We regret the error (which is almost certainly Pastor Eric’s), and hope not to repeat it next week.

Next week we’ll have the chance to make new and different human errors.

The photo is of the cross Pastor Eric wears for Sunday worship: a Greek cross comprised of four Latin crosses.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on March 4, 2018

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