By the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
From this Sunday’s Reading from the Christian Scriptures:
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:20b, 21
I recently had reason to consider carefully the intent, movement, and interpretation of this passage. Paul is laying out for us what he sees as the Superior Path for encountering the salvation of God – the only path available, I believe he means, for us to grasp the extraordinary gift of salvation.
Paul, a Pharisee by training, was deft in his knowledge and manipulation of Mosaic and Midrashic Law. He was a student of perhaps 20 – 30 years in a field whose reputation and skill was running logical circles around opponents and causing confusion and exasperation for most. As a religious lawyer, the success of Paul and his colleagues was dependent upon a sharp wit, a quick tongue and training in philosophy. After an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, a Graduate Degree in Liturgy, and as a law school graduate, I discovered that as wonderful as education is, this training is best defined for me as ‘mental gymnastics.’
“…the wisdom of the world…” referred to by Paul is exactly the kind of “mental gymnastics” that fills an apprentice with a headful of ideas, arguments made and resolved thousands of years ago, and with questions which may never touch ground. There IS value in this kind of learning, yet Paul thinks it a distraction from the true message of Jesus Christ. “…the world did not know God through wisdom…” The caution Paul is laying out here is that, from his viewpoint, neither intellect, education, academics, training, nor brainpower are valid paths to God. Instead, Paul insists, it is the “foolishness of our proclamation” that renders as “saved” those who believe.
The “foolishness of our proclamation,” as Paul repeats through most of his letters, is that the STORY of Jesus is absolutely ludicrous; it makes no sense, it is absurd. Think of it: A teacher, deemed a revolutionary, arrested by political powers, tortured, mocked and crucified becomes the source of eternal salvation. Not only is Paul casting the story of Jesus in a harsh light, but he is also confessing that retelling the story in the hopes of convincing people of their liberation is equally as absurd!
But tell the story, Paul must. Hearing the story is the only pathway to becoming a believer. For Paul, setting aside his years of theological, logical, and philosophical training was the only way to convey the truth of Jesus: not clever arguments, not even crafty sermons are avenues to God.
As European, people-of-our-head, academically-steeped, and mostly Caucasian, Anglican Christians, we have lost the value and place of story in our faith community. When good people these days sit to have a conversation ABOUT God (the “about” is purposely put in italics – as talking ABOUT someone is vastly different than being in RELATIONSHIP with someone), they speak of our biblical understanding, our theological proofs, our liturgical history, and rarely of the experiences of God that caught us off guard and knocked us to our knees (or, even better, onto our backsides) and thus transformed our lives.
The story of our relationship with God — of how God has transformed me — has become less “noble” in conversations about faith. Further — and I think this is another reason story is roundly discounted — the personal aspects of a relationship with God is entirely subjective and, thus, untestable by logic, reason and debate. With such constraints, the path of least resistance is to have a “common story” to tell, one that is developed by the dominant theological culture.
James H. Cone (1938-2018) was a theologian and Professor at Union Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including God of the Oppressed. In that book, you can encounter his theory about the gravity and the importance of story:
“We are creatures of history, not divine beings. I cannot claim infinite knowledge. What I can do is to bear witness to my story, to tell it and live it, as the story grips my life and pulls me out of nothingness into being. However, I am not imprisoned within my story. Indeed, when I understand truth as story, I am more likely to be open to other people’s truth stories. As I listened to other stories, I am invited to move out of the subjectivity of my own story into another realm of thinking and acting. The same is true for others when I tell my story.” (Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed, Revised edition, 1997. Page 94.)
[Cone goes on to say that dominant cultures tend both to deify their own perspectives while simultaneously demonizing the stories of the marginalized and oppressed. We have much to gain, he posits, into the nature of God from listening to the stories of African Americans, Native Americans, and I would add ANY group whose stories of faith have been cast onto the trash heap of history.]
Telling our story, according to Cone, becomes the means by which I tell my truth (about the relationship I have with God), and creates the environment in which we hear the stories from other people. Hearing their stories encourages my own transformation as I realize that my story is not exclusive or “right,” but just one facet on a jewel that creates a peep hole into God’s relationship with us all.
As Christians in community, family of St. John’s, I am encouraged by the many ways available to you to share your faith-stories: Adult Forum, with EfM, at the Bishop’s Committee Meetings, Bible Fellowship on Wednesday evening, Caregivers, and at the Parish Council. It is encouraging because in these groups, relationships are being built and sustained – not from a common pursuit in academia (nor by trying to replicate a Corporate Business Model of interaction), but from personal stories of God’s revelation to us, and the common faith that connects us. In my judgement, a community of faith bent on sharing stories, of listening and sharing their hearts, is a strong community whose vitality is measured in joy and love.
Be as foolish as St. Paul: find ways to tell of the ludicrous ways in which God has chosen, rescued, and called YOU, and how that call liberates us all from isolation, loneliness and fear. ⬛️
Our online regular online gatherings for this week — Sunday, March 7 through Saturday, March 13 — are below. If you aren’t on my Saturday e-blast that contains the worship links and the Wednesday Bible Fellowship, email me and I’ll add you.
• Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday Morning Prayer, 9 a.m. Here’s the worship bulletin for Sunday, March 7.
• Adult Forum, Sunday, 10 a.m. Part two of a four-part series. Our guest leader is Linda Allport who will survey a selection of ideas from our Judeo-Christian heritage. We’ll explore Jewish theology, excerpts from the Gospels & the Epistles of Paul as well as ideas from early and modern Christian thought. Together we’ll learn how these threads pull together and influence our 21st century Christian ethic. If you didn’t receive my Saturday e-blast, please email Linda for link.
• Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday Evening Prayer, 8 p.m.
• Bible Fellowship Wednesdays, 6 p.m.
Children’s Ministry News:
“Corey Gonsalves here, Director of St. John’s Children’s Ministry. Today I’m sharing the link to our third Sunday in Lent Godly Play story. This particular story is about Jesus’s baptism. Coming up shortly we have a craft project for our children the week of March 22. If you’d like your child to jump into our next art/craft project, I need the head count by this Wednesday, March 10. Thanks! When the craft supplies are ready to be picked up or dropped off I’ll let you know.”
My (Rev. Christopher) Zoom office hours are Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Here’s my Zoom link.
Rev. Karen’s Zoom office hours are Thursdays at 10 a.m. Here’s Rev. Karen’s Zoom link.
In the name of Jesus,