This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
-1 Corinthians 1:25
(Preached on Sunday, March 4, 2018)
I would like to begin this sermon by reading you a letter from “Jordan Management Consultants”, located in Jerusalem. It is addressed to Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafters Carpenter Shop, Nazareth.
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but have also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all the tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully. As part of our service and for your guidance, we make some general comments much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation and comes without any additional fee.
“It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability. Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory. We wish you ever success in your new venture.”
Though we chuckle, there is a great deal of truth in that letter. That first group of disciples which Jesus gathered around him was a rag-tag, motley crew, made up of what were, in that day and society, mostly low-life types. They were not a-typical or unusual for the composition of the early church, though. Irrational as it may have seemed to the outside world, through Jesus, God was at work in a very intentional manner. There was logic to God’s activity in Jesus. But it was not the logic of the world. It was God’s logic – the logic of suffering-love.
The apostle Paul is reminding the Corinthian Christians of this truth in the letter from which we read this morning: “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.” It wasn’t just Paul that knew this about the membership of the early church. The Roman world took note, too. The following quote from Celsus, a 2nd-century critic of the Christian church demonstrates his understanding of this radical rag-tag composition of the church. He wrote:
“Their injunctions are like this. ‘Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by us to be evils. But as for anyone ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone uneducated, anyone who is a child, let him come boldly.’ By the fact that they themselves admit that these people are worthy of their God, they show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, and only slaves, women, and little children.”
For Celsus, looking at the church through the eyes of the educated, logical, philosophical Greek culture of the day, the make-up and openness of the Christian community proved its falsehood. But for Paul, looking at it from a different perspective, it demonstrated not only that God’s perspective was different from that of the world, but was something more radical. The radical make-up of the early church demonstrated that God was engaged in a radically different project than what the world expected from God. It was a project which was subversive for the world because it was overthrowing the world’s false standards. They truly believed that before God there were no difference among people and that all people have dignity and worth. Within Christian communities everyone was treated equally: slaves were equal with their master, women with men, poor with the rich, and children were highly valued. As a result, lives were being changed.
All this was happening because, as Paul sated: “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” And Paul wasn’t just talking about them. First and foremost, he was talking about Jesus and the suffering death of Jesus on the cross. The power of the cross is suffering-love. The world could not be forced to love God. You can never force love from another person. You can only draw it forth from them, by first loving them completely, even to the point of self-sacrifice and suffering for them. That is what Paul came to see was God’s plan, the wisdom of God. God would build a new world, by loving it into being. That is radical power. As the cross symbolized, it is a power able to defeat death. No other power in the world is capable of that. And if it can defeat death, then it can triumph over anything, over any other power. Such suffering-love can change the world.
But when you are living in the moment of carrying out the plan of God it can seem like the most foolish thing in the world. My friends, I know that right now, living in the moment of God’s plan for Christ Congregational Church, some of you (perhaps all of you) are wondering just what on earth God is doing in allowing Pastor Hudder to step away from serving as pastor. It seems like foolishness! But 24 years ago when a young 38-year-old somewhat rebellious, scraggly bearded, iconoclastic fashion sense, recently divorced and soon to be remarried Pastor Hudder arrived at Christ Congregational Church some thought it was a foolish choice. But together, over 24 years, we have built, together, an extravagantly welcoming, open and affirming, community, where lives are transformed, faith is nurtured, the testimony of God’s word is taken seriously and shared, and the world is engaged with a desire to make a difference in the lives of people. And that is something WE have done together, not just me. There is no one who offers a more extravagant welcome than Daniel Best. My welcomes pale next to his warmth and enthusiasm. There is no one with more passion for engaging the world in a life-changing way than Karen Kett, and Barbara Parker, and Margarita Morell, and Gloria Fuller, and actually many, many more of you. The Mission Outreach Committee functions quite well with very little guidance or effort from me. There is no one with more passion for sharing the message from our church with the world through Facebook and our website than Lorrie LeGrand. There is no one with a greater hunger for nurturing their faith, and the faith of other adults, through learning than Wally Carlson and Joan Chandler as they lead the Prime Time class. And I could go on and on. This is a strong church, not just because of the pastor, but because of all the people of this church which God has lead here and called here and given a heart for ministry and mission. And while right now God’s plan might not make sense, take heart in knowing that God’s foolish wisdom always overcomes everything, even our misperceptions of who we are or should be or what we should be doing. I know that God has not brought to completion the good work started in me years ago and that my conversion into the ways of God continues as it moves into a new arena, but I know that god is working. And I know that God is working in you and in Christ Congregational Church. You may not be the person God is calling you to be either and Christ Congregational Church may not be the Church God is calling it to be. But it will be and you will be. And one day you will see that it was all part of God’s foolishly wise plan.