Today we continue to explore wisdom and foolishness. Last week we talked about foolishness, and how there is a foolishness in loyalty, and in staying power, and in faith. Last week, we read a small portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he writes about how the wisdom of the world does not compare to the foolishness of God. Paul advocates for God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness to the world – God’s wisdom being “Christ Crucified.” In his context, those with wisdom were considered high in status, and those without it were considered low in status. And in order to address the divide between the high and low statuses, Paul is working to flip the status upside down, arguing for the Foolishness of God
Paul taking to Low Status
Paul continues this argument in today’s passage. Only this time, he starts to critique himself. He opens this passage with
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the testimony of God to you with superior speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul, who is an eloquent rhetorician, high in status, says that he is choosing to not use superior speech or wisdom. And instead of trying to be an intellectual, his proclamation is low in status, and he proclaims one simple thing: “Christ and him Crucified.”
Why is Paul trying to make things simplified? Paul is working to convince the community in Corinth that he himself is low status. It kind of reminds me of an old man trying to fit in with the youths.
He writes “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were made not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
He is saying “I am one of you!” Which I could imagine would feel awkward, because Paul is clearly high in status with his writing and rhetorical skills.
Paul is siding with the low in status, and is arguing that God is too. Paul is saying that its not about the high status wisdom in our culture, but about something simple. “Proclaiming Christ and him Crucified.”
Paul Argues Low Status has real wisdom
Pauls goes on to write that it is “God’s wisdom” that the Corinthian church should rely on. God’s wisdom, or Sophia, is the foolishness that the church should seek. Not the high status wisdom of the world.
So – the low status people – are being called to follow the foolishness of God, instead of the high status wisdom of the world. By pointing to the foolishness of God, Paul is turning what was once low status – the foolishness of God, and is calling it High Status.
What was once considered low status, is now high status. A common switch that Jesus makes – Like Inviting all the outcasts to the king’s banquet
Paul writes: “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.”
This paragraph gets a bit confusing. The words “spiritual” and “unspiritual” are not in the same sense that we use them today. Nowadays, we often talk about everyone being spiritual, but there are different ways and understandings of how one’s spirituality is practiced.
The Greek word that is translated into spirit is pneuma. Pneuma is the “highest element” within humans. Pneuma is “human thought” and the “essence of life.” Paul makes a switch. He is claiming that the people of low status within the Greek world are actually of high status when they possess the pneuma of the “mind of Christ.”
When Paul says this, he is trying to give power and recognition to those who are low in status. He sees how intellect and high status have been used against them, and is saying that the “mind of Christ,” true wisdom, which is considered foolish to the world, gives the low status peoples, high status.
Paul is offering to those who are considered low in status, considered foolish, a status of power because of their faith.
Children and Youth are considered Low Status “Foolish”
Today I would like to reflect on another group that could be argued to have low status in church. Another group that is considered unwise, and foolish -perhaps not directly, but we see it happening all the time. And I think it is fitting based on today being Senior Sunday – Youth.
Senior Statements/ What can we learn from the foolishness of Youth?
Today we are celebrating three High School Seniors in our congregation. We will be hearing wisdom from them as they share with this congregation their experiences of growing up at FMC.
We don’t know what they are going to say – whew – that sounds risky. What if they say something that makes us feel uncomfortable. Something controversial. Something we disagree with. What if it sounds foolish – do we toss it aside as Balgonie, or do we reflect on what we can learn from what they are telling us. Unfortunately, I actually do not know any of the three seniors that will be sharing – so I have no clue what their spiritual journeys have been like.
What will be your experiences listening to the “foolishness” of teenagers? Will you disregard their thoughts? Will you let them change you?
The foolishness of youth has a lot of gifts to offer a congregation – and I would like to reflect on that a bit in this sermon – Just to reiterate, When I say the foolishness of youth, I am referring to what adults might label foolish, what adults might disregard, what the “high in status” might label foolish – But I would like to extend Paul’s argument a bit, and think about how what is seen as foolish, is actually not foolish, but wisdom from God. Just like how Paul was considering how the wisdom of God is low status to the world.
The first thing I’d like to think about is how the “foolishness” of young people can “expose insincerity.”
Children’s time is a space that can make many of us nervous. I have heard of stories where parents are nervous to have their children up front, because they are scared of what they might say. One of the reasons I think this can be the case, is because of the lack of insincerity that can exist in church communities. It’s not the parents fault – but the communities. During many church services or Sunday school classes, we do not address some of the most obvious questions – questions that adults have been taught to stuff down and ignore in themselves. So, when kids innocently ask- Is that story real? Does God actually do that? And the community uncomfortably asks – can they ask that question?
Teens continue this trend – only it gets more challenging and more blunt – Why should I believe any of this? Why is church important? Why do we do this ritual or that one? Is the pastor telling the truth? Young people have the ability to expose insincerity
The fool asks the obvious questions that no one seems to ask anymore, and in doing so, exposes the insincerity, the deception, the hypocrisy, and the corruption. Teenagers rock at this, and it makes those who are “high in status” very uncomfortable.
And it’s terrifying – especially if there is something to hide. If there is a sacred object that cannot be touched by criticism. This terror is the reason why many folks don’t want to have to deal with youth ministry.
The thing is – these questions are badly needed. The church needs to have its insincerity exposed. In a religion that in the west is shrinking quickly, the church needs the questions that it has stuffed down deep, to come to the light, in order for the community to reform and grow and change. And only a fool is willing to risk asking I remember hearing youth, while working in youth ministry, ask challenging questions that seemed so simple, and I remember thinking, man, I wish I had the guts to ask that.
However, what many churches have done is take all of those young people and their “foolish” questions, and place them far far away. all together with a youth pastor and a couple of adults, so that the rest of the church does not have to deal with the exposure of their insincerity.
We all need to hear the foolishness and questions of the wise teenager. To banish their wisdom does not solve the discomfort, it only makes the spreading disillusionment with religion grow. It does not make the young people feel valued, nor does it provide the community with necessary hard questions to reflect on.
I am not saying this congregation has had success or failure at valuing the foolishness of teenagers – I don’t know this space well enough to know that. Regardless, I think this is good universal fodder to reflect on.
Less pessimistic, idealistic
I have named the critical side of youthful foolishness, however, there is another side that feels equality daunting to those with high status. Youthful Optimism – idealism. How many times does the “low in status” teenager brimming with idealism, foolishly bring their ideas to the “high status” adults. Only, to have it pushed away as foolishness.
I have heard that there were foolish youths that had interest in changing Jesus’ skin color in one or both of our stained glass windows, to something more accurate. I am perhaps foolishly bringing this up, not knowing any of the back story or the conversations that have happened. But hearing this piqued my interest.
Thoughtful ideas like these are ones who those with high status need to encourage and affirm, and seriously entertain – even if they do not come to fruition. They are thoughtful, and hopeful, dreaming of a future church where teenagers belong, now. These ideas are foolish, can be seen as too expensive, or again touch something too sacred, but would give young people a type of ownership within the church community.
While churches cannot run with every optimistic idea out there, It is important that the congregation see that this wisdom, and not dismiss it as foolishness. And at best take a risk hoping it has the potential to revitalize a church.
In 2018, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 9th grader, started the School Strike for Climate. Thunberg, with lots of courage and idealism, created a movement that would push for change and education about climate change. It grew to a global scale. The backlash was horrible. People shamed her for her naivete, childishness, lack of education, and being a puppet of her liberal parents’ politics. Her critics did not want to give her any credit for her courage, leadership, and intellect.
Now, Thunberg is in some ways an unrealistic example. Young people do not need to have created world wide movements, nor do adults, for their impact on a community to matter. However, when teens offer important ideas, even a small community like ours has the opportunity to both learn from them and be changed by them. However, if a community is not used to strengthening its “learning from youth muscle,” young people will not offer their idealism because they are ignored.
Mark Sudermann, whom I was given permission to share with you all, recently shared with me how he remembers as a young person what it was like to come to older adults with ideas and optimism, and being disappointed to hear their pessimism on trying new things. And now in recent years is experiencing what it has been like to have lots of experiences, and to feel that pessimism that can come from it. And as a result, feels more hesitant in trying new things. I imagine this is a common experience for folks as they age.
I am not arguing that we ignore experiences that come from a long life. But like Mark, I am interested in encouraging that we hold youthful idealism in tension with our long lives of experience. How can we as adults be open to learning from the foolish idealism of Youth.
Camp is Foolishness, Led by Young People
The last idea of foolishness, I would like to consider on Senior Sunday, is camp, and how its youthful foolishness gives us the wisdom to imagine new ways of being.
The other weekend I had the chance to go to camp Friedenswald with 5 of our highschoolers.
Having worked at Camp Hebron in central PA during the summers of college, it was great to find myself back in the context of camp. It is surprising how some things seem universal in the camp experience.
Absurd songs that somehow are both meaningful and hilarious. Motions to songs that many of us wouldn’t be caught dead doing in public. College kids running around with strange clothes, hair, and walkie-talkies – organizing and leading the whole thing.
I wouldn’t put it past camp to write letters of love and fly them around the worship service in the form of paper airplanes.
Camp feels very topsy-turvy. And I think many of us go to camp to be flipped upside down for a brief moment. The world flipping gives us some perspective on back home.
Perhaps, we go to camp to live in communal cabins and eat in a dining hall as a relief from individualization of home living. Or go to camp to use our voices and bodies in different spiritual practices like absurd singing, dance and motions, in different ways than we do during a church service at home. Or go to camp to spend our time in the woods as a relief from cars, roads, towns, and business as usual.
I was inspired by our College kids from FMC led a huge chunk of that weekend. I was also inspired how our high schoolers jumped right into camp mode. Usually it takes me a couple of hours to get warmed up and comfortable enough at camp to start doing embarrassing motions to songs that I inevitably love. However, I looked over to our 5 youth while we were singing during that first evening worship, and they were doing all sorts of nonsensical motions to camp songs I never heard of.
Nonsense can speak at the heart of truth, in a different way than logic and wisdom. There is wisdom in the nonsense of camp. Wisdom that many of us are willing to prioritize and even pay for in our vacations and spiritual retreats. Nonsense or foolishness can place the way we do things in perspective, and with reflection, have us imagine new ways of being.
I remember coming home from camp as an 11 year old and feeling incredibly sad that I had to leave this foolish magical world to come back into reality. I knew that I had experienced a world quite different than the one that I lived in back in Lancaster.
Experiencing other ways of living in community – ways that feel even foolish, can stir our imaginations for how we live back home. And I believe part of the camp’s ability to do this comes from the fact that it is run by young people, who have a conglomeration of the ability to expose insincerity, optimism, and the willingness to jump into the nonsensical and the new.
Our churches deeply need the wisdom of children, doing crazy goofy things, to stir our imaginations, so that as a whole congregation together, not just the adults, we can grow spiritually.
Conclusion: The Wise Fool
The last two Sundays, I have sung the praises of foolishness. As a congregation with a lot of high status adults, there is always something to learn from the low status of the “foolishness of youth.” Can we continue to find ways to value wisdom in youthful foolishness? Can we see the youth as not the future of the church, but as wise contributors to our church here and now. Can we high status Adults, like Paul, see the foolishness of the low in status, like the Youth, and see the wisdom in their experiences and allow ourselves to be led by them.
Not that we need to get rid of the wisdom that comes from high status and the world. Paul was very clearly still using the wisdom of the world to make his arguments. However, foolishness keeps this kind of dominating wisdom in check. The combination of foolishness and wisdom can be an asset to the evolution of our communities.
While this two Sunday series is about the “calling to be foolish” – it’s also about recognizing the need for balance. We live in a world that values the wisdom of the world, and I am hoping that Paul’s words and my reflection can help us infuse a bit more foolishness into our High-Status-wise-world. We need both – We need “wise fools.”
Wise fools, with loyalty to others, but wisdom to set boundaries. We need wise fools with staying power, and the wisdom to know when to leave. We need wise fools who have the ability to expose insincerity and the understanding for the need of institutions. We need wise fools with the optimism of youth, and the wisdom of experience. We need wise fools who are open to nonsense and new ways of living, as well as the need for tradition.
May we as a congregation take steps towards wisdom and foolishness.