1 Corinthians 1:18-24
14 September, 2014
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Feast of Fools
Christ was a fool.
We are fools.
Thanks be to God.
What? Is that not enough? I suppose you think I should talk a little longer. Break it down a little more?
Well, today is the day in the year that we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross. In a story worthy of Indiana Jones, legend tells that in her quest to discover as much as she could to prove the existence of Jesus, Constantine’s mother, St. Helena came to the site that was traditionally said to be the place of the Skull, golgotha. Residing at this place was a temple, erected by the Emperor Hadrian, there was a temple to the goddess Venus. The story goes that in her quest, Helena had the temple razed, destroyed and below the foundations of the temple she discovered the three crosses. And at that site she had built the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, this this was also the site of the tomb of Jesus. As the brick were laid, almost immediately pilgrims came to venerate the holy cross. To come to the holy relic and remember and give thanks for the gift of the cross.
On September 14, 326 – the site of the holy cross was consecrated and so began the fest of the Holy Cross.
For centuries there has been a fascination with the cross. For centuries there have been arguments as to whether it should be depicted with Christ upon it of removed. For centuries this symbol has been the domain of fools.
I mean, think about it, we claim as our chief symbol a device that was used to commit capital punishment. It would be like the United States electing to make the electric chair its national symbol.
The cross was a device used by the Romans to inflict the most brutal form of punishment upon political enemies. Being beheaded devoured by wild beasts would have been welcome relief to a prisoner being crucified.
Death on the cross was a slow and painful death. One suffocated to death by being slowly strangled by ones own weight. There was not only the pain of being nailed to the cross, but the mental anguish of hanging there naked knowing that there was nothing one could do to save oneself.
The cross was used as an instrument of terror by the Romans to keep their precious peace. Crucifixions did happen behind garrison walls only witnessed by those invited guests. No, they were public lynchings where some would gather and picnic to witness the spectacle. Bets would be placed on how long death would take. But as some reveled others were repelled. The purpose of public execution was to teach a lesson to anyone who might consider rising up against Rome.
The historian Josepheus tells of a response to rebellion that led to 2,000 people being crucified, lined up like street lights along the road. Peace was kept by the threat of terror.
Not only was it used as a device of death for Rome, it was seen as a place that marked God’s curse by the Hebrew People. In the Torah, it is said that one who is killed on a tree is cursed. But the curse goes further saying that if one is killed on a tree they must be buried before sunset or the very land will be cursed. The Romans would leave the dead bodied to feed the vultures, and the bodies would not be buried. Death on a cross was a double curse.
And it is this which we venerate.
It is this thing of curse that that we lift high. It is this tree upon which Christ was crucified. It is foolish.
We are fools. Christ is a fool.
It makes no sense at all for us to hold up this instrument of death. It is a scandal for those who want to see God in signs and miracles, and it is foolishness for those who are seeking to know all the answers. It makes no sense at all for us to lift high the cross.
There is enough death around us, why be reminded of it.
Why be reminded of death when daily the news speaks of blood shed in our streets?
Why be reminded of death when the dogs of war are howling the blood soaked strains?
Why be reminded of death when children and adults are trapped at the border, seeking shelter from the shadow of death?
Why be reminded of death when daily we try to hang on to life the best we can?
It is foolishness.
Why not just say that we know we are saved and we will get our golden crowns in the great by and by? Why not just say let the world go to pot, but give me Jesus? Why not put on blinders and say that I am not worried about what what will happen when I die? Why not?
All of this cross talk is foolishness.
It is especially hard for us as citizens of the United States. We are a people who celebrate the individual. We lift up the ones who succeed, who show us the American dream revealed. We celebrate hard work and individuality. We praise those who climb up the ladder of success. It is in our DNA.
And in the American Church this is the same story. The story of the church in the Untied States has been the story of individual salvation. That when one turns to Jesus, nothing else matters. That once saved, glory is mine. Oh, that will be glory for me.
The prosperity Gospel has take root here because it echoes our ethic of if I do it myself, God will bless me. The image of God gets covered by the Idol of self.
The American Church has forgotten the cross and begun to worship at the altar of the individual. Because the cross is ugly. It doesn’t fit into the the American ethos. It is foolish and doesn’t make any sense.
All of this cross talk is foolishness.
It is foolish because we are looking at it from the point of view of rational and sophisticated people. We want there to be logic behind everything.
But Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.
We think of fools as simple folks who allow themselves to be duped by the world. But in actuality, a fool was a subvesive. A radical. A truth teller who used prophetic imagination to speak truth to power. Christ was a fool.
From the moment of his incarnation, Christ was a fool. His very presence sent tremors of terror through the titans of power, so much so that his death was desired.
He was the fool sitting on the temple steps as a boy challenging the conventional wisdom of those who the world thought were wise.
He was the fool who walked into the wilderness seeking temptation after being anointed God’s beloved.
He was the fool who stood in the synagogue and dared say he was God’s anointed one to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.
He was the fool who told his disciples not to respond with violence, but stand strong and turn the other cheek. To walk the extra mile. To stand naked. To be fools against he conventional wisdom of the world.
He was the fool when gathered the wiggling and questioning children into himself.
He was the fool when he touched the lepers. He was the fool when he sat with the sinners. When he loved the adulterer, the tax collector, the gentile.
Jesus Christ was a fool when he, like the court jester, would poke at and needle the pharisees, trying to get them to see the foolishness of the Reign of God.
He was a fool. He was a fool when he was in the governors court and stood in silent protest. He was the fool when he was dressed and mocked in fake royal garments and had a sign posted above his head. He was a fool when he let himself be crucified, because what kind of king would allow that.
Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.
Jesus died on the cross, so that we could become fools.
On the cross of foolishness we see something other don’t see. We see a foolish God who came and lived and walked among God’s people. We see a savior. We are fools.
We are fools because when we see the blood in our streets we see Christ crucified.
We are fools because when we hear the dogs of war braying the song, we hear Christ crying, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
We are fools because when we see the innocent killed, and the guilty prosecuted we see Christ crucified. We are able to use our imaginations and see the cross of Christ in our midst. The fool Christ continually crucified for those who are being saved.
In the foolishness of the cross, there hangs the death of the world. On the cross hangs the strange fruit of human arrogance and sin; of our brokenness and blindness. On the cross hangs a foolish God who gave all of God’s self. For us.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God!
The foolishness of the Cross is the Wisdom of God!
The wisdom of God takes a symbol of death and terror and transforms it into a tree of life and and stake of solidarity. The wisdom of God takes that which the world calls foolish and turns it on its head.
The wisdom of God take the cross and on its wooden beams states in unequivocal terms you are not alone. You are not alone in your pain and your suffering. You are not alone in your questions and your doubt. You are not alone when you are afraid or when you are in grief. You are not alone because I am with you.
The wisdom of God is wisdom that empties itself so fully that God is visible in all of our suffering. The wisdom of God is wisdom that takes humanity not just as a collection of individuals, but rather a people of God.
The wisdom of God takes a broken and dysfunctional church and uses it despite itself.
The wisdom of God is a wisdom that sees the foolishness of an instrument of death and terror and says – that ain’t all there is. That isn’t what all of this is about. Come on and bring death and terror, but in my foolishness – I will mold it and make it life and hope. I will take the cross, the worst you have to offer – and turn it into the best I can offer. I will take all of your your hate, your death, your isms and turn them into foolishness because I AM.
The wisdom of God says that the wisdom of the world dies on a cross, but my wisdom is foolishness and Death isn’t the final answer. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because it doesn’t make sense when one can only see death. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because I came and died in order to defeat the wisdom of death.
This is the feast of the Holy Cross. This is the Feast of Fools.
Christ is a fool. We are fools.
Thanks be to God.