The 4th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we heard in today’s second reading: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25)
Foolishness versus wisdom – and weakness versus strength. Most of us would much rather be wise rather than foolish – and strong rather than weak, wouldn’t we? And yet, human “wisdom” and human “strength” almost always leads to trouble.
Such was the situation in the Corinthian congregation that the apostle Paul was writing to. They had a number of “wise” people who thought that they knew what God wanted – but unfortunately, they often did not agree with each other. As we heard in last week’s reading, factions had developed in which each side was championing its favorite leader – and putting down others.
In today’s second reading, Paul now turns to the even more insidious divisiveness suggested by those who touted one form of theological knowledge or insight over another. To name just a couple of issues that Paul will have to deal with later in his letter: 1) Some Corinthian Christians thought that it was permissible to eat meat which might have been sacrificed to idols, while others were absolutely convinced that such a thing was totally wrong; and 2) Some Corinthians thought any truly spiritual person should be able to speak in tongues, while others were very uncomfortable about that.
We still have this type of theological divisiveness going on within and among churches today. For example, we as Lutheran Christians will baptize persons of any age – even babies – while some other churches strongly maintain that only older children and adults should ever be baptized. It is easy to fall into the trap of making this into such a huge issue that it can overshadow the common unity that we have together in Jesus Christ.
The same is true about other theological and social issues of our day, such as the authority of scripture in matters of science and history (is it “inerrant” in those matters or not?); in matters of human sexuality that our and other denominations have been wrestling with; and in matters of social justice.
When we debate these issues we, like the Corinthians, might become so passionate that trying to prove our view as “right” and the opposing view as “wrong” can become the most important thing to us.
But as Paul makes clear in today’s second reading, our Christian faith is not about “wisdom” or about proving who is “right” or “wrong” on various theological controversies.
Ultimately, our Christian faith must always be about love – the same kind of love that Jesus showed while dying on the cross for us. It is also about being humble, and being willing to admit that we do not have all the answers about various issues and questions. But when we love each other and forgive each other – in the same way that Jesus loves and forgives us – that is when lives are changed. And that is when we begin to experience what the kingdom of heaven is really about!
One of the best movies that I have ever seen is the movie “Forrest Gump”, which came out about sixteen years ago. Forrest Gump was a person whom you might call a “wise fool”. He was what people would call “mentally challenged”, with an IQ of 75. But he was “foolish” not only because of his intelligence quotient. He was also a “fool” because he was always looking for the good in people and kept on caring about them, even when they mocked him and hurt him and left him.
The movie had a lot of plots, but there were two main characters whose lives kept on interacting with Gump's as the years went by. The first character was Jenny Curran, his friend and sweetheart from early childhood. As they grew up, Jenny often went astray and made a total mess of her life. In early childhood she was constantly molested by her drunken father, and largely because of that she later became a very flirtatious student with the boys at college, then she took up a "career" as a nude "folk singer" at a burlesque joint, then she went and joined the radical counterculture and experimented with all kinds of drugs and free sex. Throughout the film, she constantly reached moments of deep and black despair when she realized what her life had become. Several times she came to the very brink of committing suicide, but could not quite bring herself to go through with it.
Forrest Gump, fool that he was, was the one person who really cared about Jenny and loved her no matter what. Even when she would not answer the dozens and dozens of letters that he wrote her while he was in the army in Vietnam, he never stopped loving and caring for her. Throughout the years, whenever she was ready to renew her friendship with Forrest, he was always happy to have her back. And when, again and again, she decided to leave him, he loved her enough to let her go even though it broke his heart.
But finally, when she was faced with dying from cancer, and with no one else to love her or care for her and her son, Jenny then asked him to come back into her life. By this time, Forrest Gump was a multi-millionaire owner of the “Bubba-Gump Shrimp Company”, and she was a penniless waitress. And Forrest, fool that he was, still loved her – he married her and then took her to his home to care for her and her son. And at the end, before she died, Jenny knew that she had found the love and peace that she had forever been searching for, thanks to Forrest – that simple fool who had kept on loving her no matter what!
Lieutenant Dan was another character whose life kept on intersecting with that of Gump's. He was Forrest's platoon commander in Vietnam, and, during a terrible battle, both of his legs were blown off. He wanted to die rather than be a cripple for the rest of his life, but Forrest Gump rescued him even though it was against his wishes. Lieutenant Dan was extremely bitter at Gump and at God for having to live as a cripple.
But, little by little, Dan’s life was also changed. Although he and almost everyone else despised him for his handicap, Forrest never did. Instead he would talk about the opportunities that they could have together. Forrest Gump, fool though he was, made Dan feel special and valued. And, at the end, because of Gump, was at peace with himself, and with God.
Yes, Forrest Gump was a “fool” who certainly was not wise by any standards of this world. But this “fool”, simply by being good, kind, loving, and forgiving – changed the lives of Jenny Curran and Lieutenant Dan in a way that no amount of “knowledge” ever could have.
So it is with us as Christians. Jesus is the “fool” who keeps on loving us, and forgiving us, time and time again – even when we get angry with him and put him down – and even when we abandon him and go astray. Fool that he is, Jesus keeps on looking for the good in us and keeps letting us know that we are of great value to him.
We also are invited to become “fools” like Jesus. To be willing to love and forgive. To be willing to be humble. To be willing to be weak rather than strong. Yes, to be “poor in spirit”, to “mourn” be “meek”, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, to be merciful, pure in heart, be workers for peace – and even be willing to suffer persecution.
Being “fools for Christ”, and “fools with Christ” – that is what we as his disciples are called to be. And when we live in this way, that is when we experience a joy within that nothing in this world can ever overcome. We are indeed, as Jesus says again and again and again in today’s gospel, “BLESSED.” And then through us, we can also be a blessing to others!
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270