Wisdom and Folly

Matthew 5: 13-20         Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

1 Corinthians 2: 1-16              February 5, 2017

 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting things to those who are spiritual.

Prayer:  May your wisdom, O Holy One, be our wisdom in Christ.  Amen.

 There’s a moving scene in the motion picture Titanic when the ship’s stern is starting to angle up, and everything is chaotic, and people are running everywhere.  Amid all the turmoil, there stands a string quartet, still playing their music.  As they finish the last piece of music, the leader, knowing the disaster that awaits, says to his fellow musicians, “Well, that’s it then,” and he wishes them each good luck.  And with that, they all start to leave.  The leader, however, stays back, and starts to play the violin by himself.  And, what was moving to me was not so much that he stayed back and began to play, but it was what he began to play that moved me.  If you weren’t a church-going person, you wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what he was playing.  But, all church-going people in the audience I hoped recognized the music  as a wonderful old hymn called “Nearer My God to Thee.”  That hymn is in our hymnal, by the way.  And, as he began playing, quite unexpectedly, one by one, the other musicians came back and begin to play the hymn with the leader.

Common sense (aka “human wisdom”) would have said that those musicians would have done anything to try and save themselves.  Maybe go back to their staterooms, maybe retrieve their valuables.  Maybe try and get on a life boat.  Something!  Certainly not come back and play an old hymn of faith, a hymn about being close to God, a hymn about being in God’s home, safe and at rest.  But, human wisdom didn’t have enough sway here; faith in God did.

 You’ve heard perhaps the quote by American playwright George Seaton who said, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”  I think that’s true.  I also think the reverse is also true: “Common sense tells us to believe in things when faith tells you not to.”  Faith is trusting in God’s wisdom, which often does not correlate to common sense.  And trusting in common sense, or human wisdom, quite often does not have a correlation to God’s wisdom.

In other words, what is God’s wisdom often is folly to us, and what is human wisdom is often folly to God.  And, by folly I mean ‘nonsense.”  Last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” or better, “Happy are those who are impoverished spiritually, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  That doesn’t make sense to us.  We’re supposed to be rich spiritually not impoverished, aren’t we?  But, that’s wisdom to God.

 Today we hear Jesus say that we are the salt of the earth.  Sounds crazy!  What do we use salt for?  Mostly to season our food.  What happens to it?  It disappears and dissolves into our food; it uses itself up in making our food taste better.  And, we’re supposed to be like salt?  Using ourselves up to make our world better?  Disappearing sacrificially to make someone else’s life better?  It’s foolish to us.  But, it’s wisdom to God.

Jesus says we are the light of the world.  That’s nuts, too.  The world is a pretty big place.  And, just how are we the light of the world?  How can one person make a difference?  Shoot, how can even one church make a difference?  It’s folly to us.  But, it’s wisdom to God.

Human wisdom tells us that we have to concern ourselves with things we need… material things.  Things to help us feel more in control.  Things that give us an advantage.  Things we need to live in this world.  That’s human wisdom.  But, that’s folly to God.  God says, “Trust me and my goodness, and my wisdom.”

 On the other hand, divine wisdom is thought of as foolishness to those for whom profit, power, consumption, and control are the end-all goals.  Those who “have a lot” often scoff at sacrificial living.  The emphasis is to get more.  The effort is to win, often by bullying or silencing one’s opponents.  The respect of others as fellow human beings, let alone concern for the well-being of others, is hardly ever on the radar of those who live by human wisdom these days, it appears.  I have to wonder, though, is it all folly to God?

Paul goes to great lengths to explain to the Corinthians and to us that the great truths of our Christian faith are taught not by human

wisdom, but are taught by the power of the Spirit.  For the message of the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the whole human race, is a message that comes when we receive the Spirit of Christ, and that Spirit of Christ in us comes from God.  So, those who’ve received the Spirit of Christ are much better equipped to discern what the Spirit is saying and live it out.  All that may sound like folly to many in our society, but it’s the wisdom of God.

 It’s the “live it out” part that is perhaps the crux of it all.  When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world,” that’s pretty straightforward.  You areit’s done.  God in Christ did it!  Jesus doesn’t say, “you should strive to be salt…”  It’s not “you must be the light…”  “You should be salt,” or “you may turn into light if you work hard enough at it.”  None of that.  You are salt.  You are light.  You are beloved!  The gospels say that Jesus redeemed the world… so you ARE redeemed.  Paul says, “You are spiritual.”  You are justified by God’s grace.  You ARE!  This is not taught by human wisdom, but is taught by the Spirit of God.  I believe this is the essence of who we are, first and foremost.  It is the lens through which we can view all of life and all of our circumstances and all others.

Now, the trick is to live that way!  Not just in our personal lives, but in our public lives, too.  Not just in church, but in our families, and businesses, and governments, and civic organizations, and schools.  Not just when it comes to religious issues, but social and political issues as well.

It troubles me, considering the issues we hear about on the news these days, that many in our society don’t live as salt, as light, as redeemed, as spiritual people.  I have to wonder why the church seems one of the few places where the wisdom of God is talked about but it appears to me that so few people strive to live that wisdom out.

Over the years in ministry I’ve gotten a chance to hear of the internal struggles some churches have worked their way through.  I can’t tell you how many times churches struggle with being a church and being a business—it is both.  The rub comes with trying to be both and rely on God’s wisdomwhile everywhere else in our world, the human wisdom of the business world prevails.

Even here, as Pastor Fred, Consistory, leaders, Cris, our Treasurer, all our commission/committee leaders, you, and I look ahead at the details of our ministry, we do so looking at numbers, we do so looking at programs, we do so looking at how to reach people beyond our church’s membership in meaningful ways, but we cannot place our total reliance on the minutia associated with all that human wisdom, I don’t think.  We’re invited to place the greatest emphasis on spiritual discernment, on prayer, on our relationship with God first.  Sounds like folly?  Or is it wisdom?

So, I believe that if you look at a decision that needs to be made in your life, or when we hear ideas or strategies in our church or political decisions or stances in our society that sound like are full of human wisdom, would we do well, I think, to put them into our prayer life, and then ask the question, does that idea, does that decision square with God’s wisdom?  If it does, it might look foolish.   If it looks foolish, that might be a good indicator—it might be the wisdom of God—even though it may not make sense to us, but we go forward on faith in Jesus Christ.

On Thursday, I drove past a local church in Mount Joy and the sign said, “Faith makes a fool of what makes sense.”  When I looked up that quotation, I found out that it was the title and the last line of a poem written by someone called “GraceJunkie.”  What a name!  The poem is quite long, but it’s meaning was clear.  An excerpt of the poem is, I think, a good way to end today:

It’s common sense to know that there is no life in the tombs

It is common sense to know that nothing lives in the catacombs

Someone who showed me that no matter how dead a situation is, there is life.

Someone who showed me that no matter how dark your surrounding is, You’re the Light amidst the strife

That someone is Jesus Christ and All-encompassing law is Faith in its essence

Now I see and know, Faith makes a fool of what makes sense.

(by GraceJunkie, https://deepundergroundpoetry.com/poems/244821-faith-makes-a-fool-of-what-makes-sense/ retrieved February 3, 2017).