Foolishness

Here William Willomon preaches a sermon on one of my favorite texts, 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. An excerpt:

One of the dangers of being in church as often as I am is that it all starts to make sense. I speak of the Christian faith so casually and effortlessly that I begin to think, “Fine thing, this Christianity. Makes good sense.” And then I find myself believing all sorts of things in church that I wouldn’t let anyone put over on me in the real world. That which people would choke on in everyday speech, they will swallow if it’s in a sermon. That’s a blessing for those of us who get paid to preach Christ crucified.

And so Kierkegaard could say, “Christianity has taken a giant stride into the absurd,” and again, “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock and it is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them.”

It’s when the absurd starts to sound reasonable that we should begin to worry. “Blessed are the meek. . . .” “Thou shalt not kill.” “Love your enemies.” “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor.” Be honest now. Blessed are the meek? Try being meek tomorrow at work and see how far you get. Meekness is fine for church, but in the real world the meek get to go home early with a pink slip and a pat on the back. Blessed are those who are peacemakers; they shall get done to them what they are loath to do to others. Blessed are themerciful; they shall get it done to them a second time. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; they shall be called fanatics.

Thornton Wilder’s Heaven’s My Destination is a comedy about a poor soul who attempts to put the Beatitudes into practice. The results of his piety are predictably disastrous. He causes a run on the bank by refusing to accept the interest on his savings account because he does not believe in usury. Other customers, overhearing his argument with the teller, suspect that something is amiss at the bank and begin demanding their money. The implication is that adherence to the Beatitudes results either in comedy or tragedy, depending upon your sense of irony.

As Paul says, when you hear the gospel not with Sunday-morning ears but with Monday-morning ears, it can sound foolish indeed -- tragically foolish or comically foolish, depending upon one’s point of view.

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