March 4th (Lent 3): Foolishness!
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
The Apostle Paul says in our 1 Corinthians reading today,
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
My fellow Bethesda-ites: I am sorry to say this, but we are fools!
You all are pretty educated: PhD students, professors,
Teachers, high school and college graduates,
And you are just pretty darn good at what you do.
So, let’s face it: often, the tenets of the Christian faith can seem absolutely ridiculous.
One example of this foolish speech, I think, will suffice to prove my point:
We Christians have the task of understanding that we worship a God
Whose Son has come to us in the flesh,
Lived as a walking, talking human,
And died on a cross…
But was also God.
Human—needs water, air, food, sleep, Netflix, a good newspaper to survive.
God—needs nothing, created all things, is infinite, incomprehensible,
Does not need Netflix nor newspapers to survive.
Fully human. (Raise left hand) Fully God. (Raise right hand) (Clasp hands)
In one “hypostatic union.”
Who can even explain this mystery?
Even after 2.5 years of divinity school,
I just have to sort of throw up my hands.
And here’s the thing, fellow Lutherans:
This absurd claim is enshrined in so many forms in the faith
That we cannot get away from feeling foolish.
Take the ancient creeds, for example—yes, the creeds we recite every Sunday.
The Creeds are nuts, folks.
You have all said, and will say later today, the following,
Which is part of the Nicene Creed.
Take a listen:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human.”
The creed writers really want to get the point across that this Jesus is God–
TRUE God from TRUE God—(right hand)
And human–TRULY human. (left hand)
This is no comic superhero.
No Spiderman who became who he was by a radioactive spider bite,
Nor a Hercules-type figure, one of the many in the pantheon of gods.
True God, Truly human.
This foolishness even shows up in hymns.
If you feel so inclined, please turn to hymn number 322.
In this hymn, “Oh, Love, How Deep,”
We sing of Jesus’ entrance into human flesh.
You can almost sense the mystery and struggle around this subject in the melody.
I’ll sing the first verse, and you’re welcome to join me if you’d like:
“O, love, how deep, how broad, how high, beyond all thought and fantasy, that God, the Son of God, should take our mortal form for mortals’ sake!”
(Please keep it open—we’ll return to it.)
Did you sense the mood shifts in the melody, from joyful to grave?
But then we speak of love beyond all thought and fantasy, and we find our melody feel troubled—we cannot fully conceive of this love!
That’s disconcerting for us curious humans who have a thirst for knowing.
Then, we move to talk about God, the Son of God.
Ah, good! God, even Son of God is a comfort for us!
But then we speak of God taking mortal form for mortals’ sake???
That just seems so… strange, for God to seemingly condescend to our level,
To mire God’s self in the brokenness of this world
In our brokenness and mortality.
God takes on our mortal form.
This is far different from any cultural deism
That tries to place God far away from us in time and space.
The deist’s God acts as the original spark of the cosmos,
But has since retired far away
From any human foolishness.
We, on the other hand, believe in God incarnate.
This skin and flesh and bone and spirit Christ.
Of course, beyond creeds and hymns, we most certainly cannot escape
This foolishness in the Bible.
In the Gospel text today,
Jesus gives us a glimpse into the fullness of his foolishness.
Near the high festival of Passover,
Jewish folks would go on a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
They would prepare in the outer courtyard to offer their sacrifices
To God, whose earthly home was in the Temple.
And Jesus goes and makes a prophetic sign-act out of it.
(This means Jesus shows the people a message of God through a
Particularly strange act.)
Jesus causes an absolute ruckus by driving the money-changers and cattle out,
So that people cannot come to worship their God properly.
This causes the Jewish folks to ask Jesus, what’s the deal?
Why are you stopping us from worshipping God properly?
Show us a sign so we might know who you are.
Answer for yourself!
And, my fellow Bethesda-ites, Jesus responds with a statement that is literally
Years ahead of his time.
Have you ever said something that nobody understood for a while,
But then they got it?
It reminds me of the parent-teenager relationship.
The parent says, “Can you clean the living room?”
And then the teenagers just don’t get what was said—it’s gibberish!
So, the teenagers look at the parent like the parents are the idiots.
But usually, they figure out what’s said and go do it. Usually.
It’s okay, teenagers: I still do it, too.
Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
It’s not the Jerusalem Temple Jesus speaks of:
It is Jesus’ body.
What sort of absolute foolishness is this, folks?
He speaks of his own resurrection.
From his own death!
But nobody gets it.
Nobody understands it for three years,
Until the disciples have that “Aaah!” moment after the resurrection.
But, Jesus has a point: It’s to point people to the presence of God…in himself.
God in the flesh!
This is the story’s significance in the Gospel of John.
Jesus is telling the angry people:
“The presence of God is within me, within my flesh and bone.
Pay attention to me, not to what’s going on in the courtyard!
I am God with you in the flesh, people! Hello!”
Jesus the apparent fool knows what nobody else knows:
That something foolish to the world is being done in him as both God and human,
And that this apparent foolishness will be complete in his death and resurrection.
In this church season of Lent,
We are asked to grapple with this foolishness
In preparation for Easter:
That Jesus Christ—God and human—will die and be resurrected.
Moreover, the foolishness is not just a fact that’s out there:
It affects us in the most intimate of ways:
This incarnation of God is for us and for our salvation.
We cannot avoid it—it’s in our creeds, in our hymns,
And in our Scriptures.
What are we supposed to do about this foolishness, Bethesda-ites?
My suggestion: We call ourselves fools for Christ,
We proclaim this foolishness in word and deed,
And we embrace the ludicrous story of which it is part:
The story of God incarnate in the flesh, who healed, taught, loved, died,
And rose again, for us all.
We are fools for Christ,
As God participates in foolishness for us all.
In the sixth stanza of “Oh, Love, How Deep,”
We sing again that strange melody once more.
Please join if you would like.
“For us he rose from death again; for us he went on high to reign; for us he sent his Spirit here to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.”
Oh smart congregants of Bethesda, let us embrace our Christian foolishness.
Thanks be to God for such foolishness.