The Foolishness of God
What does it mean to worship a foolish God?
This year Easter falls April Fools’ Day, a day many of us celebrate by playing practical jokes, pulling pranks and promoting hoaxes (False news!). Given how difficult our society finds it to believe in God, there is some irony that this year April Fools’ Day coincides with the day we celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead.
Can any of you imagine God sitting up in heaven, shouting, “Surprise!”?
While it sounds unnerving, and far too human, in the Bible we find that God regularly shows this delightful sense of surprise.
In our readings for today, we hear it in the story from Exodus, where Moses the stutterer, who hated public speaking was called to be the prophet and leader of the people. He was ordered up to the mountaintop to receive God’s commandments and was then tasked with speaking them to the entire nation.
We see God’s surprise in Jesus, who repeatedly became a polarizing figure taking actions he knew would upset the religious authorities. His act of cleaning out the temple, getting rid of the money changers who brought in a significant source of revenue, shows both divine anger and became one of many things that led the religious and political authorities to band together and kill him on the cross. Yet rather than being focused on staying alive, Jesus loved boldly, risked greatly, and trusted that God was calling him to be part of a plan bigger than himself.
We experience this divine foolishness in the way the Apostle Paul embodied how God calls people we would not expect to positions of leadership. Drawing on his experience of having been one of the key people leading the attack against the early Christians Paul frequently wrote about what he termed the “foolishness of the cross”, the way God chooses to intersect with our world in a place of vulnerability and pain, rather than in glory and success.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about the radical love of a God who gave up his own life out of love for the creation God had made. This foolishness of sacrificing oneself runs counter to our understanding of wisdom and success. It is most fully exemplified by Jesus’ death and resurrection and involves loving boldly, risking greatly, and trusting that God calls us to a life bigger than ourselves.
Lest we think this foolishness no longer happens in our hyper-individualistic, rationalistic society, we have to look no further than some current events:
The foolishness exemplified in the Bible was embodied by Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach and security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who threw himself between the shooter and a group of students, offering his own life to save the kids.
Foolishness is when homeless and/or hungry members of our community who participate in LunchTime Ministry give their spare change to buy a pig for a family in an impoverished country overseas. Having people who are homeless and/or hungry donating to a charity is not how the dominant narrative normally goes. Yet through the brilliance of one of our volunteers, these people who know what hunger and isolation feel like, banded together to donate their spare change – a few pennies here, a nickel there, ultimately raising over one hundred dollars – enough to buy a pig, and a chicken, and a cow through ELCA World Hunger to send to a family overseas. (Let’s give them a round of applause)
Nowhere, other than St. Matthew Trinity, would a bunch of people who are homeless, or struggle to find enough food to eat, or an affordable place to sleep, be the ones donating their own money to provide food and a source of income for people overseas.
This divine foolishness of God, that is still present and active in our world, looks like when a big, burly retired Italian New York Police officer turned professional weight lifter, shows a young trans man how to inject hormones - shattering the expectations and categories we anticipate. This divine foolishness of God flies in the face of reason, shatters expectations, and calls us to a life beyond the limits we impose.
We experience this risking, daring, bold foolishness of God, every day here at St. Matthew Trinity. We hear it when a young child asks a more profound question than an adult; when a person who has been unemployed for years still brings over donations to LunchTime Ministry, and when you all repeatedly ignore the corporate wisdom of our day that emphasizes the need for a balanced budget, instead passionately and boldly invested your financial resources in ministry – trusting that the Holy Spirit will be the wind beneath your wings.
This is the foolishness of God who turns our established metrics and indicators of success on their head, pulling us into a life beyond ourselves.
This is the life God calls us to. A life of risking greatly, loving boldly, and being pulled into the vortex of a whirlwind tempest of a God who is still creating. This God, who so loved the world that he sacrificed himself, calls us to a life beyond ourselves, trusting there is a wisdom beyond the wisdom of the world.
May God continue to unnerve you this Lent, calling all of us more deeply into a relationship with the God we can barely begin to experience.
Scripture readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22