Psalm 19 and I Corinthians 1.18-25
I’m living dangerously… preaching about fools for Christ on the Sunday we finally get to installing all of elected leadership for the 2012 year. T
That phrase usage — ”installing officers, or pastors… or any people into an office” — sounds sort of queer. One installs a new computer program, your new dishwasher, maybe wood floors.
So, lessening our claim, in a few moments, after thanking those who served us last year, we will at least pray over those who have agreed to serve as leaders this year… Asking God to bless them, which I take to mean “help us recognize the sacredness of the commitment they have made to us and to God.” I hope this means we’ll also be committing to continuing to pray for and work alongside them too…
So, why am I preaching this passage today? My excuse could be– I’m preaching this sermon because it’s Clown Sunday. Not seeing any clowns, you might ask, “what in the world is Clown Sunday?” or the more liturgically-minded or more cautious, might be asking “can we really have such a thing during Lent?”
Last evening, a troupe of Clowns from Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan arrived for a week’s stay with us.
This morning they are marching in Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (Why our St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a week early, I can’t tell you either.) But there, “our clowns” are marching with a guest, our very own Billi. Apparently, when they heard her laugh on the phone, they said she could pull it off without any training.
They will be the main attraction at next Saturday, March 17‘s Old First Family Fun Day next Saturday. The activities begin at 1 p.m. Bring your kids and their friends. And spread the word. All the details are on a flyer in your bulletin today.
I was sort of surprised and excited then when I realized one of this Sunday’s readings was the 1 Cor. passage on foolishness. Along with “Send in the Clowns” that I’ve been humming to myself, it feels fitting. It’s also a portion of one of my favorite passages in the letters of Paul. (Maybe pairing one of my favorite passages in Scripture with my irrational repulsion when it comes to clowns, I can get past the latter!)
The reading suggests something that is very important for us church folks to remember:
What we sit here all upright and in the bright light of day, as if what we hear and say here makes sense. We listen without flinching. We respond saying some incredible things without so much as a doubtful wince. I guess, context is everything! We are in church on Sunday morning (what would one expect to hear)…
But people outside the church just shake their heads at us. And sort of think we’ve gone mad. “How,” they wonder, … “how can people who otherwise appear rational… sensible people fool themselves that loving all people is really any real strategy to get through life?”
And that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the odd, impossible things we blithely affirm, usually without any outward qualifications —
and Jesus who is both fully God and fully human, or
1 God in 3 persons, or
Walking on water, or water magically become wine, or living water that heals all our diseases.
Um, not to mention the resurrection…
….and that’s the list just off the top of my head.
My concern is that it’s important for to remember or recognize the absurdity of much of our faith.
It’s important first, for when we wish to talk to someone about your faith. Adam had two guests at church last week. And he marvelled, It all began when I told them my faith story.” He didn’t go Jehovah’s Witness on them. He didn’t tell them what they should believe. He just told them his own story. And they responded! Such efforts can be easier, smoother, if we recognize from the beginning how difficult it is for others to grasp or make sense of what we’re talking about. Faith is for most North Americans at this point some sort of foreign language.
But even before that, I think it’s also matters for us… for our own sakes to recognize and remember how counter-intuitive and counter-cultural Christian teaching is. Why?
First of all, because there’s a common misperception in the pews. I don’t know where it comes from. Or how to counteract it. But there’s this strange thing that happens to individuals when they come into the sanctuary. Everyone in church see everyone else as more faithful than they. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if so, just a bit. It’s as if sitting in my pew, I’m the only poor soul that struggles to believe, or finds himself doubting.
Church, there’s permission in recognizing that everyone has doubts. They’re part of faith. That’s from the Bible. There’s a steepness of our comprehension curve. We’ve been called to climb mystery mountain. Never fool yourself that you are the only one here with doubts.
But, secondly, and even deeper, I think our faith is in danger if it too easily starts to makes sense. Either you’ve suspended your healthy sense of skepticism, or you’re not paying very close attention to the world around you, or you’ve stopped taking your faith seriously, or maybe just stopped listening altogether.
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put it this way: “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock, and it is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny, superficial thing, capable of neither inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them.”
It becomes a tiny, superficial thing, capable of neither inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them.
If church teachings sound reasonable, that’s when we better start worrying. Because if they aren’t a tall order, kind of hard to swallow, demanding your very life, we’ve probably shrunk them to our size.
And then God help us, the church and our world.
“Pray for those who persecute you.”
“Walk the second mile.”
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Turn the other cheek”.
“Blessed are the meek.”
When? Where? How?
Sentiments fine for Sunday mornings, where we say such things. And when we’re pretty much on our best behavior. When we’ve got “our pretend on” like an earlier generation used to wear their Sunday best.
But at work?
Or in the school yard?
With that person in the neighborhood who’s always after you?
Or your nemesis?
Or someone trying to mug you?
When a nation that is planning to attack?
Or even sometimes in our own homes and with our very own families?
We’re going to use the Beatitudes as our Affirmation in Faith in a minute. Don’t just read them like someone who’s read them often enough that they’ve developed a comforting echo. “Oh yeah, that sounds like church.”
Instead, say them to see if you can believe them?
Do you really believe the merciful and the meak,
the peacemakers and the poor…
will they really inherit the earth?
are they really blessed?
Beloved, we’re walking towards Jerusalem with Jesus. Jerusalem, where everyone was full of expectation
…about what this Messiah would look like …and what he would accomplish. And in rides Jesus on a donkey, and ends up on a cross. Perhaps that was the first Clown Sunday. Or at least, not a very successful installation of our messiah.
And, yet, against all the logic of worldly power, our faith insists and challenges us: in the Divine’s willingness to suffer for our sake, in Jesus’ unwillingness to place himself before our need,
therein lies the grace of our redemption… God’s way for us, even if we can’t quite understand it.
And have a struggle to believe. Even more to live it… Amen.