God’s weakness and foolishness

This is my sermon from yesterday, on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and Matthew 5:1-11.

Paul writes: “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” It seems like such a strange way to think- how can God be foolish or weak? Weakness and foolishness are words we don’t associate with God.

Remember who Paul is writing to- some folks who are one of the first Christian communities, but they are falling into a terrible trap of comparing each other’s gifts, trying to figure out who’s the greatest. Paul wants those who are following Jesus to be different, to act differently than the world, but the people in the Corinthian church are still following the way the world sees greatness and wisdom and strength. The result of this in the divisions that Paul mentioned in the earlier part of the letter that we read last week, and that he goes into more detail about later on.

So I was thinking of our world today. The way our world sees strength and wisdom vs weakness and foolishness.

And this week I saw a bit of both pop up in the news.

This past week was Bell Let’s Talk Day- yes, it’s just one day promoted by a company but it’s an opportunity to try to end the stigma around mental illness.

It’s an important message, because there is a stigma- it’s one of those things people don’t like to talk about. Because it seems weak to have a mental illness. Even today, people don’t like to talk about going through mental illness- there’s a discomfort that goes with it that doesn’t go with a physical illness. I know this because I went through depression, many years ago. And I saw a counsellor, and I went on anti-depressants, and many people I know don’t know because it’s hard to talk about. Because it looks like weakness to so many.

The other thing I saw happening this week was the debate about refugees and immigrants re-opened after the Executive Orders in the States closed the American borders to anyone from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria and paused the Syrian refugee program. The point of this to keep the States safe, this is seen as a smart move, a wise move, in a world where we don’t know the intentions of the people we are letting into our countries. To keep open borders in the world today is seen as being foolish and naive.

These are just two examples of what the world today sees as weakness and foolishness. To see more, you can look at the things Jesus lifts up in his Beatitudes:

the poor, the mourning, the persecuted, the meek: these are the weak;

the peacemakers, the ones seeking justice, the pure in heart, the merciful, these are the foolish.

Our world sees strength in being rich, healthy, successful, powerful and wisdom is lived out in winning battles, getting your own way, getting revenge.

And yet Jesus says- these people that seem so weak, these people that seem so foolish- these are the ones that God’s blessing rests upon, these are the ones to whom I am sent.

And Paul says- even more than that, remember that Jesus himself would have been counted among both the weak and the foolish. Remember the cross- it is a sign of both weakness and foolishness that the one we follow today, Jesus, God’s Son, would be put to death in such a terrible way and that he would not fight back, but would forgive the people who did it.

Paul says, we live in a world where people demand signs and wisdom, where leaders feel the need to look strong at all costs, and yet we proclaim Christ, which is just Greek for Messiah, which means the Anointed One, God’s chosen, we proclaim Christ crucified. So God’s wisdom and strength is at odds with what the world see as strong and wise,

Paul says God chooses the weak and the foolish, to shame, or as another translation says, to confound the strong and the wise. Now I want to be clear that I don’t think this means it’s God’s will for these times of weakness and pain to occur- God doesn’t actually will anyone to be poor, as a virtue, or to be ill, or persecuted, as a test, God doesn’t will death on anyone, and for others to be left behind to mourn- in fact I think that’s a really terrible thing to think about God. I certainly don’t think God sent me depression as a test, and, even though I think it helped me grow as a person, I don’t think God sent it to me to do that. But, in this imperfect world, bad stuff happens, and it can happen to us: we can experience illness- mental or physical, chronic or acute, or experience grief and loss, or poverty, or failure, and when it happens, in our moments of apparent weakness, the world that is obsessed with looking strong, often turns away. And that’s why mental illness can feel so terribly lonely, and can be so hard to recover from.

But God does not turn away. God is right there, present with us, even more so in our times of weakness. And God calls us to not to turn away, but to stand with those who the world sees as weak, to speak about things people don’t want to talk about, and say, guess what? 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness, and everyone knows someone who has had it. Calls us to say, it’s time to stop pretending this is something that only happens to handful of weak people, and it couldn’t happen to me or anyone I love. But it happens often, to young, old, men, women, rich, poor. Calls us to say: maybe this seems weak in the eyes of the world, but God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. God’s strength is there even in the times that looks like weakness. And God knows how much strength it actually takes to speak up about the struggles we’re facing.

And God, whose Son did really foolish things like forgive, and make peace, and not fight back, and teach about love, and give freely, without expectation, or extreme vetting, calls us to be foolish like that too.

God calls us to be a voice for those who rights are taken away, for those who have had doors closed to them, for those who are mistrusted, to speak up about injustice and say: maybe this seems wise in the eyes of the world, but God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. To God what is truly foolish is to let fear control us. God knows how much wisdom it actually takes to see beyond the lines of nationality, race, religion and the other things we use to divide one another.

As Christians, we follow Jesus, who started his life as a refugee, who was poor and homeless. And he lived his life foolishly: he spent time with those the world had written off: the sick, mentally ill, those considered sinful, he challenged those in power, he lifted up those considered weak, he preached about God’s blessing being found where the world would not expect it, that the weak and foolish were the ones to whom he is sent and he taught openly about a different way to be in the world: a way of love, compassion and justice. Let us go, and live foolishly too.