First Congregational Church
February 20, 2020
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany & Communion
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
“The Foolishness of God”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist here, but are we truly to believe that the Titanic sunk after being hit by an iceberg?! Do they think we're fools!? I've thrown lettuce at the window for hours and it hasn't even scratched, let alone put a hole in it. It’s interesting how we learn things over time, things we might never have conceived of in earlier days, but in later days, have made quite the difference.
When I was in seminary, we had chapel a couple times a week. We sang a hymn, had a prayer and then listened to a message brought to us, usually by one of the professors. One day, the speaker was a missionary, from someplace in Central America or the Caribbean. I don’t remember the point of the message, but a story he told still sticks with me, all these twenty plus years later.
It seems that while he was trying to understand the culture of the people to whom he was ministering, he ended up attending a ceremony conducted by some of the people who practiced voodoo. Until that day, I think I was probably taught to hold such cult teachings or experiences at an arm’s length - whether by the church or culture - I don’t know.
But here was a man, explaining the story of how he watched someone actually being levitated during the ceremony. I didn’t know the person in that day’s chapel, and he looked like a normal enough guy, and there he was, reinforcing a situation that I was taught to be impossible, with seemingly no other agenda than to tell his experience. That day was one in which I discovered there was far more mystery in the world than I had bargained for.
That kind of story/situation can change a person’s thinking and belief system.Yesterday, I was listening to the Moth Radio program, and a story told by Andrew Solomon caught me, something like the one about the missionary.
Andrew is highly susceptible to depression, struggling with it for a long time. When he finally got better, he began to write about his process of recovery, and at the same time, began to explore other kinds of treatment, like experimental brain surgeries to hypnotic regimes to electroshock therapies to making craft items. Andrew had a friend who lived in Senegal, the very most western country of Africa, who invited him to visit and explore some of the tribal rituals used to treat depression. So Andrew went to Senegal.
He spoke to a friend of a friend of a friend, driving a couple hours outside of Dakar, ending up interviewing an “extraordinary old, large woman wrapped in miles and miles of African fabric printed with pictures of eyes.” After explaining the procedure, Andrew asked the woman if he could attend such a ceremony. To make a longer, albeit fascinating, story shorter, Andrew experienced the ceremony, as it was done to himself.
I will spare you the more gruesome details, but suffice it to say that the ceremony included seven yards of fabric, three kilos of a plant cereal called millet, sugar, kola beans, two live young roosters, two older roosters and a ram. The millet ended up being rubbed on his chest and arms, and after several hours of dropping various shamanistic objects, everyone went into the square.
The entire village had taken the day off from their work in the fields, dancing in concentric circles, throwing blankets and sheets over Andrew, and just when he thought he was going to suffocate or die of heat, the cloths were pulled off Andrew and he was covered in the blood of the animals, which immediately drew in the flies. After a number of additional actions, the women of the village “cleansed” Andrew by spitting water on him. I know, just not a regular day in the life of an American. But here’s the thing.
Five years later, Andrew was speaking to someone in Rwanda, much further east and south of Senegal, and our guy Andrew was sharing his previous experience. That acquaintance mentioned that in Rwanda, it’s quite different, but there were some similarities.
This acquaintance said, “You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave.” Andrew asked for an explanation and the acquaintance said,
“Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun, like you’re describing, which is, after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again when you’re depressed, and when you’re low, and you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgment that the depression is something invasive and external that could actually be cast out of you again.
“Instead, they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to get them to leave the country.”
The apostle Paul was not attempting to cast out depression, but the Christian church in Corinth was not “well.” In his attempt to make the church “well” again, he began his letter with a statement of how absurd this world can seem.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 New International Version (NIV)
Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom
18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[a]
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 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. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness
and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[b]
Thank you, Sonia. If you went back over this passage, you will discover that the word “foolishness” is mentioned four times: pertaining to the cross, God and twice to preaching. The one other way that the word is used is that the wisdom of the world is “foolish.” And then there’s the line from verse 26. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.” There is the great preacher, near and dear to so many hearts, who recently said, “It’s interesting how we learn things over time, things we might never have conceived of in earlier days, but in later days, have made quite the difference.”
This whole thing that we do - investing our time and talents and treasures - to a group of rather disconnected other individuals, is rather absurd. Those who rise later than the early birds could be having Sunday morning brunch, reading the paper with a cup of coffee, getting those chicken wings marinating before the big game tonight. And yet, here we are, some folks actually liking the idea of being together, hearing how so-and-so are doing, taking our friends’ - and even unknown strangers’ - situations into our own hearts for lifting up. And what is more odd than celebrating the Son, born of the Spirit and of God, with the cup and bread? It just all seems so strange.
And yet, the strange - sharing a cup and bread - for many people - becomes anticipatory and familiar and can bring a comfort that is sometimes beyond words. As goofy as it all sounds, it is the love of a God - our God - that is so great - that we seek ways to express our gratitude for that love - and grace and mercy and healing and, and, and.
So this morning, as we prepare our hearts and minds for this “meal” that Christ gave us, let us also allow all of that which God gives us - the wise and the foolish to begin our celebration of this supper of marvel.
Let us pray. Heavenly and Eternal God, that you even created human beings after creating the universes and all that they hold, can sometimes seem like a foolish act on your part. We are well-aware that we are not always cracked up to what you envisioned for us. So we thank you, for believing in us and loving us, despite foolishness or disappointments on our parts. And thank you for giving us your most precious self, in your son and in your Spirit - that we might grow into your ways and desires - ways that would astound us on any other given day or time. So thank you, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.