Wise Fools

  • September 23, 2015

Christmas 2013 - Altar1 Corinthians 1:18-24

It is about this time in September each year that I conclude that we must all be fools. We must be fools, to try to fit all the things that we do into our lives. And we must be fools, to try to fit church in, too.

Why do we make time for church amidst long work days and weekend errands – or sports practices and homework – or retirements that are far less relaxing than we had imagined?

Why do we show up for church meetings, answer church emails, make church meals, pick up church supplies, or simply get to church at 9:45 on a Sunday morning?

Why do we add church to what is, for many of us, an already full plate of obligations?

At first, Paul’s message to the church in Corinth may not seem to shed much light on the subject. But wait for it.

Paul begins his letter warmly, giving thanks for the gifts of the Corinthians. He affirms that they possess among them the gifts of speech and knowledge, and every other spiritual gift as well. However, their gifts of speech and knowledge have gotten them into trouble. Finding themselves so eloquent and wise, they have used their eloquence and wisdom as weapons against one another, fighting over their faith.

Paul is worried, of course, about the conflict within the church. However, he is also worried because this conflict reveals that the folks in the church in Corinth have misunderstood something. They are treating faith as a subject for logical debate, when at its heart, faith is unfathomable. The message, the wisdom of the cross, Paul writes, defies human logic. Faith is a realm of mystery and radical trust, where the rules of rational debate get turned inside out.

Paul doesn’t come up with this idea all on his own. In the text, he critiques both Greeks and Jews for their choice not to follow Jesus, but his argument here is a gift from the faith of his birth, part of the Jewish tradition that we also draw on. It is the prophet Isaiah who tells us that God proclaims: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Throughout our scriptures, prophets and rabbis, including Jesus, try to give us a glimpse of the subversive wisdom of God. It is a wisdom of questions rather than answers; a wisdom that favors the poor rather than the privileged; a wisdom that draws us into uncomfortable and transformative fellowship rather than leaving us in comfortable solitude; a wisdom of humble service rather than worldly glory.

When I was reflecting on the strange wisdom of God this week, I couldn’t help but think of the two beloved members of our community whom we are celebrating today.

Win Hindle achieved a great deal in the eyes of the world in his leadership at the Digital Equipment Corporation. But among his priorities there was making sure that all the employees ultimately did the right thing – hardly a universal business value. Throughout his life, Win was also a devoted, loving member of his family and a dedicated and generous servant to church and community. It was these commitments that made his life so rich and rewarding, and drew the admiration and affection of so many.

Jim Barkovic has chosen a different type of service. In the eyes of the world, being a musician (and a church musician at that) may seem to be a foolish choice. A lot of school, plenty of hard work, and odd hours, without the kind of payment or prestige that other jobs can bring. But the impact Jim makes is amazing. His musical excellence, his personal warmth, his Midwestern humility, the overwhelming beauty of his work and kindness of his heart have touched so many people. As a music minister, organist, senior choir director, bell choir director, brass choir director, and musical joke-maker, Jim has played a key role in making this faith community what it is; and we know that he has touched so many others, too, at Holy Family and beyond.

Would that we could all have such strange and wonderful wisdom as these two.

Maybe we are foolish, for making this place, and this Christian faith, a part of our lives, amidst whatever else we have going on (or simply the joys of an unbusy Sunday morning; what is that like?). Maybe we are foolish — but I’m convinced it’s a wise kind of foolishness. This church, this faith, this community may be what keeps us from completely missing the point of the beautiful gift of life. When we get miserable as a result of the wisdom of the world, this may be what draws us back towards the joy and service that God intends for us.

What kind of wisdom have you received as part of your faith, as part of a faith community? Has Paul challenged you to change your mind about anything? Have you met folks like Win, encountered a quiet kindness that changed your heart? Have you experienced Jim’s music, and felt your soul open and receive what it needed?

I think there are so many good reasons for us to take on the labors of love that make this church community possible. God is offering us a deeper life, a truer life, right underneath the one we’re already living. God is offering us a strange wisdom that will turn our logic inside out, and make our hearts glad. Thanks be to God.