RSS

Category Archives: Spiritual Truths

“God Sightings!”

(a sermon for May 10, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on Psalm 139 and John 16:33)

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that there are times and places and situations when it’s very easy to “see” God.

I remember as a youth taking my guitar with me as I hiked up through the woods to a grassy hillside overlooking one of the great panoramic views of northern Maine, and sitting down to sing and to dream and to pray… all the while absolutely certain that God was right there beside me!

I remember holding each of our three children in my arms for the first time and being filled not only with the wonder of such miracle as a new life but with this palpable sense of God’s joy and pleasure in it!

I remember moments such as when Lisa and I were married… when I was ordained to the Christian ministry… countless times of worship when a word or a song or a prayer awakened in me a clear awareness that I was never alone but in the presence of a Spirit that makes everything you do not only worth it, but wonderful… all the random moments of life when all at once you know, as the poet Robert Browning famously wrote, that “God’s in his heaven [and] all’s right with the world!” 

Yes, sometimes it’s easy to “see” God… or at least to know he’s there.

But then, and I think you’ll also agree with me here, that there are other times that you’ve really got to be observant to see God… and sometimes you’ve also got to make an effort to look around!

I’m remembering a day back in seminary when my fellow students and I were all feeling rather stressed because it was toward the end of the semester when exams were looming and papers were due.  That day, at the end of one of our classes our “Hungarian Hebrew” Old Testament professor Dr. Steven Szikszai suddenly raises up his hand to bless us and then, quoting from John’s gospel, says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV) Now, I have to confess that at the time, being a very serious and studious seminarian (!), I wondered what that was all about: I mean, all we’re talking about here is surviving to the end of the semester, right, and about getting our work done; we might be feeling burnt out at the moment but it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of tribulation, or the need for any kind of divine intervention!  This is just something I have to get through on my own; no need for the Lord to come and “cheer me” in the midst of it!

But of course, all these years later I’ve come to realize that Dr. Szikszai had the right idea and that I – in my limited world view and burgeoning faith – had actually succumbed to the false notion that God is too big, too mighty, too… eternal… for my small stresses and little problems!  And friends, that’s completely wrong! I’ve discovered that mistake – what I sometimes refer to as “bad theology” – time and time again in my life:  in moments of grief and profound sadness; times when I’ve felt totally inadequate to whatever task or responsibility that’s before me; situations going on with the people I know and love that I’d love to be able to fix but can’t; problems in life and in the world that are completely out of my control; times like, well, right now with this ongoing pandemic.  For our God is big and mighty and eternal, but God is also as close to us as our very breathing, and cares about what might seem to us, at least, to be the smallest of concerns but which is, in fact, of utmost importance to God; and we know this is true because God came to us in person of Jesus Christ who has, as we confess in faith, “has shared our common lot,” and knows how we live, how we feel and what we suffer.  As the psalmist sang forth in our text for today, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”   

What that means for the living of these days, friends, is whether this time of pandemic has touched our lives in ways that we fear our ourselves for those we love or if right now we’re simply trying to figure out how to do another week of staying safe (and sane!) at home, the good news is that the God who has overcome the world in Jesus Christ is with us, right here and right now, bringing us his cheer in the midst of our strange and uncertain days.  Even today, friends, it is possible to “see” God… but as I said before, we have to be observant to discern, as it were, some “God Sightings” in our midst.

And that, I’m pleased to report, is what you all have been doing!

A few weeks ago I asked if you would send to me some of your “God Sightings” in the midst of the days of quarantine; and your response, the stories that you’ve shared, were not only inspired but inspiring!

For instance, from Joyce: “Today I was out in my front yard filling the bird feeders.  A little girl I didn’t know stopped her bike to walk up my driveway.  She handed me an envelope and said, “this is your happy mail!”  Off she went to each neighbor’s mailbox to deliver Happy Mail.  Even before I opened it I was happy!  What a special delivery from a special girl.  These are difficult times we are living in, however, it is creating special moments like this!  For that I am grateful!!!”

And from Julie: “Dave and I have visited with Baby Tony and his parents several times now, through the glass door! A little odd but, necessary in these times! What a funny and happy lil guy! He laughs and snorts and just loves putting his hands up to ours on the door! He recognized us and our voices and smiles. (We do FaceTime visits with Aaron and Tony too!) As we were driving away we felt so happy to have had the opportunity to visit, even without hugs! We will have to work on blowing kisses!”  

Finding safe and creative ways to be with family definitely inspires a God Sighting:  from Gail, “This past Sunday, we unexpectedly went to see and surprise our son Carl and grandkids… Nicole, our daughter in law was in on it!! It was the best day ever … and I’m sure God approved!”

From Joyce again, who tells of visiting with her children at the appropriate social distance, and how one daughter came “to cut her Dad’s unruly hair” because “the barbershop is not an option right now.” She wrote about what a “sweet, caring moment it was.  Reminiscent of the biblical washing of feet.  A moment that ONLY occurred due to a Pandemic.”

It’s a time for trying new things… and for returning to old ones:  as Lisa writes, “One of my biggest blessings through all of this is that have more time to minister with my husband.  We used to be able to do so much together but getting older and hold down a full-time job has kept me from doing what I so enjoy… being a partner and working alongside Rev. Lowry in ministry.  Sundays and Wednesdays have become my happiest days now that I can help through the tough days of Covid-19.”  (And, trust me here, friends… I’m the one who’s blessed!)

And Susan wrote of her “adventures in babysitting:” over the past few weeks:

“I have been babysitting Aly, a seven year old, since the closing of schools due to the coronavirus; her parents are essential employees.  One sunny afternoon while walking, Aly was skipping along the sidewalk and singing away.  All of a sudden she stopped, looked back at me and said “Susan my heart is so full of joy today.”  She then turned back and began skipping and singing again.   One afternoon while outside, Aly picked up a lightning bug.  She ran to me, with her hands cupped and said “Now don’t be afraid” as she opened up her hands for me to inspect the insect.  “Lightning bugs are special too.”  Then she lifted her hands up and let it fly away.  

The wooded area behind my driveway is home to wildlife, mainly chipmunks, squirrels and birds.  Each morning breakfast is served consisting of sunflower seeds and peanuts.  Aly carefully scatters the goodies around wanting all to enjoy in the feast.  As she giggles in delight she replies “I hope they don’t tell all their cousins because if everyone comes to eat we won’t have enough food.”  

I am grateful for the gift of seeing life through the eyes of a child.  Aly reminds me daily that the simplest pleasures in life are worth noticing and celebrating.  Praise God for the little ones amongst our midst.”

And you know, the thing about this time is that for so many of us, these moments of joy and laughter are mingled with sadness over having to be in isolation, about missing family members and friends, about not being able to be together at church, and especially our concern for the people we love around Covid-19.  We’ve heard from some of you how worried you are about the spouses, and sons and daughters and grandchildren who have to be out there working, or who are at risk for catching this virus because of other health concerns… for some of you, friends, it’s very hard to see where God is in the midst of all this.

But even those moments – especially in those moments – God is there.  For instance, Ann tells us about receiving some home cooked meals from a friend and fellow church member – the lasagna was particularly good she said (!) – and how much that meant to her because she doesn’t have family around and things can get rather lonely.  And Reba writes us that even though, like for so many of us, she feels like she’s swimming in worry, the things that make her happy in the midst of these worries are “her daffodils and tulips [that] came up and opened along her walkway,” and how a quick call from a friend brightens the day.  And Deb, who’s actually been allowed to visit with her husband Bob (who’s suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease), writes that he “was having some really alert moments on Monday and was actually out of bed! I was sitting right across from him just chatting as always when he opened his eyes, wide! Those beautiful blue eyes. He smiled a sweet “old Bob” smile and said “Deborah!!”  That’s going to stay with me for a looong time!”

Friends, all through these past couple of months, we’ve been hearing about “not so random acts of kindness:” encouraging letters and cards to folks who are “home alone” and may or may not be connected to the internet; “goodie bags” of treats and inspiration delivered “incognito” to neighbors and friends (and, I might add, their pets) all throughout town;  there’s even been an “egg fairy” bringing fresh eggs to the parsonage! 

These are the things that bring us joy, certainly, but these are things that bring us hope as well:  as Joyce wrote us, “Earlier this week I went out to our composter along the woods in the backyard.  I had vegetable peelings and 2 very sad and slimy cucumbers to deposit.  As I was throwing them into the composter something bright and yellow caught my eye.  There on the ground in harsh soil, poking up through dead leaves was a mini daffodil plant!!!!  A gift to me last year that I had carelessly tossed out after it bloomed.  What a little survivor!!!  So I found a pot, spade and potting soil to enjoy this gift again!  I had to think it was a sign and reminder that even through dark times we can survive and thrive again!!  It made me smile and filled me with hope!”

And then, as conclusive proof that God’s at work, here’s what Carol Ann wrote us: “Here’s something that will work:  Two FREE prescriptions GOD gave to mankind to keep males+females well:  Laughter AND Tears! They help both the sick get well and keeps the well well, all the while spreading the Love of The Creator to all Creation!”

“Believe it or not,” she goes on, “trees thrive on what we breath out as we laugh out loud! So… take in a deep breath and double over with a big belly laugh!  Then, let it all out! You’ll make every GOD-made tree happy and well, just like you!”

That pretty much says it all, beloved:  God is here… right here, right now, right in the midst of the 2020 Global Pandemic, right here among us as God’s own people, right here as East Congregational United Church of Christ… bringing us in this season of anxiety and fear HIS hope, and strength, all peace in believing, and… his cheer.  And what better blessing can we have: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Tags: , , ,

To Shake and To Shine

(a sermon for February 9, 2020, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Matthew 5:13-20)

“You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world.”

I’m not sure who researches these things, but here’s a fun fact: it has been said that that salt has more than 14,000 uses!  Now, mostly when we think of salt we think about its use in cooking or to bring out the flavor in food; it’s also something that doctors warn us against using in excess!  But it’s also used for the protection and preservation of food, it softens hard water, it helps to regulate boiling, and sometimes it’s even used as an ingredient in fertilizer. It’s salt that gets thrown on our doorsteps and walkways this time of year, which helps to melt the ice that’s frozen there and keeps us from slipping and falling; the same principle, by the way, that’s essential in the making of homemade ice cream!  

Salt is also medicinal in nature, useful in healing or cleansing certain ailments: one of the very first things that doctors recommend in this perilous cold and flu season is, in fact, to gargle with salt and water; and it’s worth noting that our salty tears go a long way in soothing sore eyes (to say nothing of what it does for our saddened souls!).  I even read something recently that said that the amniotic fluid that protects unborn children is slightly saline; that is to say, salty (!)… so in fact you and I actually come into this world protected and preserved, at least in part, by… salt!

Of course, this appreciation of all that salt can do is nothing new: in biblical times, salt was overwhelmingly viewed as a valuable resource. It’s mentioned time and time again throughout the Old Testament in connection with Israel’s covenant with God, specifically in regard to the purification and offering of sacrifices; salt was, symbolically at least, considered something of a sign and seal of that relationship between God and his people!  So salt served a religious purpose, to be sure; but did you know that in Jesus’ day, salt was also often used as currency?  That’s right; special salt rations given to early Roman soldiers were known as salarium argentum, which the Latin forerunner of our English word “salary…” and in fact, it’s where we get the expression, to “be worth one’s salt!”

So… all of this to say that when, during his “sermon on the mount,” Jesus said to them, “You are the salt of the earth,”  he was speaking of much more than simply something to add some flavor to an otherwise bland meal; Jesus was referring to that which was, and is, a necessary element of life… and of one’s relationship and life with God!

Which, as we’ve heard in our text for this morning, is why it makes sense that nearly in the same breath Jesus also says, “You are the light of the world.”  Because, yes, light is essential to our lives as well: to begin with, light keeps us from stumbling around in the darkness and banging into furniture in the middle of the night(!); but we also know, especially in these long dark nights of wintertime, how essential light is to our physical and emotional well-being!  Literally, figuratively and spiritually light does illuminate and brighten the dark places of our lives and shows us the way to go; light helps us find things, but also tends to reveal the true quality and character of what we find. And of course, biblically speaking our very existence has everything to with light, from the very first words God spoke at the time of creation (“Let there be light.” [Genesis 1:3]) to that moment in the fullness of time of the coming of Christ, “the true light, which enlightens everyone… coming into the world.” (John 1:9).  From the very beginning, now and forevermore, it is light that gives us life!

And it’s with all of this in mind that Jesus says to them, “You are the light of the world.”  And, “you are the salt of the earth.”

It’s arguably one of the most familiar and oft-quoted passages found in the gospels.  In the words of Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, these two exhortations of Jesus represent the “great and holy attributes and promises of discipleship.”  Jesus’ words offer us the flavor, if you will, of life as it is defined by the coming Kingdom of God!  But here’s the thing, friends; and it’s what transforms this sweet and all too familiar bible teaching into a challenging reality in these days of confused situations.

It’s personal.

Because you’ll notice here that Jesus is not talking about those who are poor in spirit, or meek, or pure in heart, as he does just prior to our reading this morning, nor has Jesus been telling the multitudes on that hillside that they ought to be like salt and light; in at least one sense, this is not a call toward a new kind of lifestyle that someday they might manage to achieve.  No, that’s not what Jesus is saying; Jesus says, you are the salt of the earth… you are light – and not a mere sunbeam, mind you – but “the light of the world!”  This is who you are already!   Everything that is essential for life and that which brings it meaning and purpose and vitality – salt and light – is already right there inside of you, and always has been!   It’s a gift of God’s truly amazing grace: a gift of life and love and mercy that exists within each and every one of us here; and it’s everything we need for the living of these days and as a child of God!

However… (!)that said, the real question is not whether or not we’re salt and light but rather what we’re going to do with that.  You know the saying about how “with great power comes great responsibility?”  Well, it is also true that this blessing of being salt and light comes with responsibility.  Karoline Lewis writes, “It’s one thing to know and to claim your identity. It’s another thing entirely to live it.”  And here’s Jesus to say we have to! And why?  It’s “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven coming to pass here and now and not just in our future.”

In other words, our response to this gift of amazing grace that God has given must be to reflect that grace in the way we live and the way that relate to others.  Otherwise, what is the point of the gift?

That’s what I love about this passage: in Jesus’ words there’s not a lot of wiggle room!  You are the salt of the earth, he says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Now what’s interesting about that statement is that even in Jesus’ time, people understood that salt, in and of itself, does not lose its flavor; salt is always going to be, well, salty!  So the effectiveness or value of salt essentially comes down to the one making use of it; and if we are salt, it follows that it would be you and I that brings forth its flavor and vitality!  Otherwise; well, actually, The Message  translation of this says it all: “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  It’s no accident that the Greek word used for salt having lost its taste is moronos; that’s right, where we get our word, “moron,” or “fool.”  If salt becomes tasteless and useless, Jesus says, then it’s also foolish and if it’s foolish, then what good is it?

And the same standard applies to the ways that you and I are light: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, [where] it gives light to all in the house.”  Light is not light unless it shines!   To quote Karoline Lewis just one more time, in these verses, “Jesus reminds us that knowledge about God cannot exist as simply knowledge… It is not enough to know about God. As disciples, we have to be the activity of God in the world. We are called to live out our identity as salt and light.”

Or, if I might put it another way, as disciples we’re meant to shake and to shine. We are to shake and shine in a way that by our very actions fulfills the law of God; so that “[our] righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” and assures our entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

That’s the sum and substance of the gospel for this morning, friends; and as I suggested before, Jesus doesn’t provide a whole lot of grey area where this is concerned.  Every day and in every way, as Jesus’ disciples we are to shake and to shine.

And that’s great, except…I don’t know about you… but there are days – times and situations – when I just don’t feel like shaking or shining… at all.

Sometimes I’m having a lousy day (yup, even ministers have bad days from time to time!); maybe I’ve been hurt somehow, maybe I’m overwhelmed and stressed out with stuff going on in my life and I’m not feeling so inclined to offer flavor and brightness to those around me!  Actually, I suspect that maybe you do understand this because you’ve been there; we’ve all been there!  I mean, this week alone (!); all it’s taken is to see, hear or read anything on the news to make one want to completely withdraw from any kind of light-giving activity!  Simply put, on a day like this, in times like these, given the way we’re feeling how can Jesus ever expect us to “let our light shine before others,” much less in a way that “give[s] glory to [our] Father in heaven?”  Sometimes you just don’t want to be salt and light!

I remember once some years ago in a prior parish, I’d been asked if I might help out at our local soup kitchen; and while I had volunteered  for that duty joyfully and eagerly, I must confess that when the morning arrived for me to do that, I was neither joyful or eager for the experience!  Bottom line, for some reason I still cannot recall I was in a foul mood that morning, a situation made worse by the fact that our church had contributed this huge, heavy, hot, sloshing over pot of stew to that luncheon, which I had to carry the three blocks between the nearest place I could park my car and the soup kitchen three blocks away!  Trust me here, for me there was absolutely no flavor or brightness about this particular act of discipleship!  In fact, I’d decided that as soon as I’d dropped off this stew at the soup kitchen, I’d make up some excuse and get out of there fast!  But of course, I couldn’t do that; the kitchen was short-handed and they needed people like me to wait tables… so me and my foul mood grabbed a coffee pot and started moving from table to table.

I’ve always said that one of the great things about working at a soup kitchen, be it the Friendly Kitchen or elsewhere, is what you don’t expect from the experience.  I mean, you’re expecting to see the effects of poverty and homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness; you expect to be amazed and horrified about how rampant (and local!) hunger truly is.  You expect and are unsurprised by the kind of “troubles” you witness in a place like that, and especially by how many children are there with the adults!  But what you don’t expect, what ends up surprising you, is what a joyful setting a place like that can be: the kind of laughter and lively conversation that happens around those tables; the gratitude that’s expressed for simply another cup of coffee; the kindness of people who have absolutely nothing of value to offer except to ask you how you’re feeling on this random Saturday morning that you would have rather spent elsewhere.

Suffice to say that my mood changed rather quickly… and I left there humbled and very aware of my responsibility to be salt and light for the sake of the kingdom… to shake and to shine as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Shortly before he passed away, Eugene Peterson, the preacher and writer who wrote the paraphrase of scripture I draw from so often, The Message, was asked what he would preach on if he knew that it would be his very last sermon.  He answered that he would probably just focus on what the people around him were already doing every day, and then try to help them to do it in ways that glorify God.  “In my last sermon,” Peterson said, “I guess I’d want to say, ‘Go home and be good to your spouse.  Treat your children with respect.  Do a good job at work.’”  

At the end of the day, beloved, it all comes down to being salt and light in this often difficult world where we live and with all the people we know and love… maybe even with a few we don’t (!)… but always letting our light so shine “so that they might see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” 

So might it be… so might we shake and shine.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

©  2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , , ,

Blessed Foolishness

(a sermon for February 2, 2020, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

I strongly suspect that within each one of us there exists a desire to be thought of as… wise. That is to say, as one who is considered by others to be intelligent and knowledgeable about things; as someone who’s mature and discerning and filled with all manner of insight.

And on the face of it, there’s certainly nothing wrong that that (!); after all, as it says in the book of Proverbs, it is “the LORD [who] gives wisdom, [and it is] from his mouth [that comes] knowledge and understanding.” (6:2) So to want to be thought of as wise would seem to be a laudable pursuit in life. However, that said, it should be added that one must take care in this endeavor; for wisdom, like beauty, is very often in the eye of the beholder.

I remember once toward the end of my first year of seminary, I happened to be in attendance at a student and faculty reception; a “meet and greet” with the graduation speaker that year.  And as is more or less required in an event like that, together with a couple other of my classmates, I was making my way toward my Old Testament and Hebrew professor – Dr. Stephen Szikszai – to say hello and to meet our seminary’s guest.  Now, to be honest, I was never particularly comfortable in a setting such as that, so my hope was to get in and out of there as quickly and smoothly as possible.  But Dr. Szikszai, God rest his soul, would have none of that; he greeted me from halfway across the room with the same rich and booming Hungarian voice that students at Bangor had long both respected and feared: “Ah!  Here ist vun of my Hebrew scholars now – Meester Lowry!”

Even all these years later, I cannot begin to describe to you how that hit me: he called me Hebrew Scholar!  Michael Lowry: seminarian, pastor, and… Hebrew Scholar!  I’ve got to tell you, that sounded pretty good!  I remember to this day what an immediate ego boost that was.  I mean, I’d had no idea that Dr. Szikszai thought of me that way; I was a pretty good student, I guess, but a Hebrew scholar?  Hey, this was great!  Of course, the thing about a comment like that is that you don’t want to be all puffed up about it – you at least want to appear humble – so I just said, “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that…” In retrospect, I guess my feeble attempt at humility didn’t really come through, because to this Dr. Szikszai replied, “Dun’t get carried away, Meester Lowry.  Being a scholar does not make you smart!”

Alas, it as a glory short-lived, but oh, so sweet!

Now, I’m not sure if Dr. Szikszai intended for that to be a “teachable moment,” but nonetheless in that rather humbling experience there was a profound lesson to be learned; and not simply that generally speaking, “we’re not as smart as we might think we are!” It’s also that true wisdom is a relative thing, and in many ways might actually have to do with more than one’s course load and academic standing!  The seeds of wisdom might well be nurtured through the proper accumulation of knowledge, perception, intuition and decisiveness; but its harvest comes in knowing how it’s to be used and when!  As one of my seminary classmates said to me at the time, presumably to offer me some small amount of comfort in the face of that minor humiliation, “Don’t worry… it’s not that you’re smart that counts; it’s how you’re smart!”

Oh, well; lesson learned!  What’s interesting about all of this, though, is that the world in which we live actually has some very clear definitions as to what constitutes intelligence and wisdom, and so often it’s equated with other matters of life and living: things like guts, and courage. and the survival of the fittest; the ability to come out on top in a “dog eat dog” world, where might makes right and nice guys finish last. In the words of Scott Hoezee, of Calvin Seminary in Michigan, “This is the way the world works, true enough.  And if you are scrappy and brave and are willing to claw your way to the top of the ladder – no matter how many little people you have to step over along the way – you can and you will achieve success as defined by the wisdom of the age and the savvy of the most intelligent among us.  This is very simply how to get things done” in this world and in this life.

In this world, perhaps; but in what is the good news of our text for this morning, it’s is most decidedly not the case with God… for ours in the God who has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

You know, one of the things that has always moved me about this particular epistle, Paul’s first to the Church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth, is that it is in fact addressed to a people who were at once diverse and deeply divided as a Christian community.  The truth is that these Corinthians spent as much time bickering with one another as they did on matters of spirituality, and the irony was that what they bickered over the most was over who was the most spiritual!  Never mind that they were each and all “called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” who Paul refers to as “both their Lord and ours;” it’s that they have these factions within the Church of Corinth had these very different ideas about what that all meant.  And since they were given to a whole lot of one-upmanship and a great deal of pretention, a whole lot of this pretty much came down to who, as regards life and faith, could be counted wise – that is to say, the wisest – amongst them!

So into this debate comes Paul, reminding the Corinthians and us that the true meaning and understanding of our Christian faith will never be discerned through human thought and wisdom precisely because “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom;” and that divine foolishness “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts the discernment of the discerning; to quote Scott Hoezee once again, proclaiming these “mysteries of God that all coalesce around the cross of Jesus Christ,” this message that  “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved… is the power of God.”  

The ways of worldly wisdom have to do with logic and correctness and power; but that’s not how it is with God nor is it the way of salvation.  No, writes Hoezee, “here God upends it all.  We are not saved by power but by weakness.  We are not saved by worldly wisdom but by apparent folly.”  It’s the whole world – and everything we ever thought we understood about it – being turned upside down and inside out; and it all happening because of the cross, “the ignominious, shameful, accursed death of God’s own Son that the shining effulgence of all this counter-wisdom burst forth… the darkest moment in human history that led to the light… the death that led to life.”  The cross shows us the wisdom of God like nothing else ever could; but along with that, there’s something else: in the process we learn to live with the kind of wisdom that comes in a life of faith.

Speaking of my seminary days, I’m reminded here of a class in which one of my fellow seminarians was asked to present a paper about his own personal journey of faith – in other words, to tell the story of how he came to a belief in Christ and a sense of being called to the Christian ministry — but as soon became very evident, this man’s paper was an attempt to prove God’s existence through a series of interconnected mathematical proofs!   Now, you need to understand that this particular classmate had come to seminary after having already had a career as a mathematician and college professor.  I can also tell you that his hypothesis about God was clearly brilliant; and we knew this because he went on for over 15 minutes, and not a one of us understood a single word he said! But here’s what I remember: when he was finally done, the professor (who was very kind indeed) asked the student, “And what conclusion did you reach from this?”  And, after a long and painfully uncomfortable silence, all this student could do was shrug his shoulders, grin a sheepish grin and say, “I don’t know!” 

You see, try as we might, our human wisdom, however extensive or accumulated, can neither define nor direct our knowledge and understanding of God; neither can it ultimately serve to formulate the priorities and doctrines of a life grounded in faith!  In fact, it’s just the opposite:  true faith means living out of that place between our human wisdom and God’s blessed foolishness, this foolishness which “is wiser than human wisdom;”this overarching awareness that our strength and our hope, our joy and our peace, all that which is good and blessed about our lives, and indeed life itself comes to us “in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

It’s this blessed foolishness that as Paul says (himself quoting from the eloquent words of the prophet in Isaiah 29:14) “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts “the discernment of the discerning.”  And it is what makes us who we are as believers and, might I add, as the church of Jesus Christ… and if you don’t believe that, “consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Actually, there’s a little bit of, shall we say, a comeuppance in Paul’s words that were not entirely unlike that which I received from Dr. Szikszai! Remember, these Corinthian Christians prided themselves on the depth and superiority of their own wisdom as regards matters of spirituality and faith; and yet, Paul is very quick here to poke a hole in their inflated egos: “Consider your own call,” he says.  “…not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong.”  Or, if I can use the version that’s set for in The Message, “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose those ‘nobodies’ to  expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies?’”  God chose what is low and despised in the world so that “none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God.”  (Don’t you love that?  I can hear the Corinthians now: “Well, thanks a lot, Paul… I guess…”)  But that’s the nature of God’s blessed foolishness: that it’s those who in the view of society are foolish, weak and low who come to know the true wisdom of God; and through whom God’s reign is established!

In Christ, you see, true wisdom is always going to be imbued with a sense of humility and lowliness that will set you apart from the rest of the world every time.   It will indeed, at times, lead you to be reviled, and persecuted and looked upon by the world as weak and foolish; and if you’ve ever had occasion where you’ve stood firm and opposed to others on some issue because of faith, then you may well know what I’m talking about.  And yet, if you look around at any real change that happens in this world, the kind of loving action that transforms human life and moves society a bit closer to the kingdom of God, that’s where you’re going to find someone who was willing to foolishly divest themselves of the kind of kind of power and prestige borne of human wisdom.  That’s the place where, as in the utter foolishness borne of the cross, you will see great wisdom, true sacrifice, and a world being saved.  Jacques Ellul actually says this very well when he writes that “in the world everyone wants to be a wolf, and no one is called to pay the part of the sheep.  Yet the world cannot live without this living witness of sacrifice.”  It is the mandate of true wisdom, writes Ellul, that “Christians must offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

And as I said before, it is such sacrifice – the stuff of holy and divine blessed foolishness – that makes us who we are as Christians, you and me; and not only that, it’s what calls us forth as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May it truly be said of each one of us, beloved, that today and every day, in everything we did, we willingly and joyfully embraced that foolishness, all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom and through whom comes all of our wisdom.

Thanks be to God. 

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: