6 Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Ours is a world of intelligence, wisdom, guts, and courage. Might makes right and nice guys finish last. It’s like some of the rapid-fire lines from George Carlin’s classic “Modern Man” routine:
I am a modern man, A man for the millennium, Digital and smoke free.
A diversified, multi-cultural, Post modern deconstructionist; Politically, anatomically and ecologically incorrect.
I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading.
I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting edge, state-of-the-art, Bi-coastal multi-tasker, And I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.
I’m new-wave, but I’m old school; And my inner child is outward bound.
I’m a hot-wired, heat seeking, Warm-hearted cool customer; Voice activated and bio-degradable.
I interface with my database; My database is in cyberspace; So I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive, And from time to time I’m radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, Ridin’ the wave, dodgin’ the bullet Pushin’ the envelope.
I’m on point, on task, on message, And off drugs. I’ve got no need for coke and speed; I’ve got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in the moment, on the edge, Over the top, but under the radar.
A high-concept, low-profile, Medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom-feeder.
I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps, I run victory laps.
I’m a totally ongoing, big-foot, slam-dunk, Rainmaker with a pro-active outreach.
A raging workaholic, a working rageaholic; Out of rehab and in denial.
I’ve got a personal trainer, A personal shopper, A personal assistant, And a personal agenda.
You can’t shut me up; You can’t dumb me down. Cause I’m tireless and I’m wireless. I’m an alpha- male on beta-blockers. I’m a non-believer, An over-achiever; Laid-back and fashion-forward. Up-front, down-home; Low-rent, high-maintenance.
I’m super-sized, long-lasting, High-definition, fast-acting, Oven-ready and built to last.
A hands-on, footloose, knee-jerk head case; Prematurely post-traumatic, And I have a love child that sends me hate-mail.
But I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing. A supportive, bonding, nurturing
Primary care-giver. My output is down, but my income is up. I take a short position on the long bond, And my revenue stream has its own cash flow.
I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds, and I watch trash sports.
I’m gender-specific, capital-intensive, User-friendly and lactose-intolerant.
I bought a microwave at a mini-mall. I bought a mini-van at a mega-store. I eat fast food in the slow lane.
I’m toll-free, bite-sized, ready-to-wear, And I come in all sizes.
A fully equipped, factory-authorized Hospital-tested, clinically proven, Scientifically formulated medical miracle.
I’ve been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, Pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, Post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped And vacuum-packed.
And… I have an unlimited broadband capacity.
I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean. Cocked, locked and ready to rock; Rough, tough and hard to bluff.
I take it slow, I go with the flow; I ride with the tide, I’ve got glide in my stride. Drivin’ and movin’, sailin’ and spinnin’, Jivin’ and groovin’, wailin’ and winnin’.
I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunchtime is crunch time.
I’m hangin’ in, there ain’t no doubt; And I’m hangin’ tough. Over and out!
A pretty good description of our world – where might makes right and those that have the gold make the rule! Well, NO, Paul says. This is the way the world works, true enough. This is the way the modern man functions at least according to Brother Carlin. And if you are scrappy and brave and are willing to claw your way to the top of the ladder—no matter how many little people you have to step over along the way—you can and you will achieve success as defined by the wisdom of the age and the savvy of the most intelligent among us. This is very simply how to get things done.
But not with God. Not with the way of salvation. No, here God upends it all. We are not saved by power but by WEAKNESS. We are not saved by worldly wisdom but by apparent FOLLY. We do not enter the pathway to eternal life through the portals of Wall Street, but by heading down a blind alleyway that appears to be a dead end. To riff on Frederick Buechner, this is the Gospel as Fairly Tale where everything is different than it at first appears. It’s the frog who is the prince waiting to be kissed, the blind beggar who is the most powerful man in the world, the ugly duckling waiting to blossom into the most resplendent of swans.
To understand this, Paul writes, we must—now to riff on Yoda—“unlearn what you have learned.” Forget graduate studies in business or law. Forget the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or Dale Carnegie’s best tips on how to win friends and influence people. God is going to take you back to school and its curriculum is decidedly unworldly, other-worldly, foolish, weak, ineffective. It’s graduate studies in the unlikely, a Ph.D. in the simplicities of Kindergarten. It’s a parallel universe in which the weak are strong and the foolish are wise and dead-end cul-de-sacs lead somehow to shining streets of gold in a kingdom without end.
And it is THE CROSS that defines this whole new world. Because it was in the discomfiting, shameful, accursed death of God’s own Son that the shining brilliance of all this counter-wisdom burst forth. It was the darkest moment in human history that led to the light. It was the death that led to life. The cross shows us God’s way of doing things like nothing else ever could
Oh, yes, true enough: the whole Bible had all along given hints and whispers of God’s penchant for unlikely heroes and non-starter methods. God starts a new nation with a pair of childless senior citizens. God got the whole world to choose from and God picks . . . Abram and Sarai? (Buechner again: “Shall a child be born in the geriatric ward? Shall Medicare pick up the bill?”) Again, and again he chooses the younger over the preferred older child: Jacob, not Esau; Joseph, not the other eleven. He rescues his people by tapping a spokesperson who stuttered: Moses, not the better orators in Israel. He gave that nation its greatest king by choosing the runt of the litter, David, the younger and less strapping son even as God kept saying things like “People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.” The prophets said it again and again: it will be a shoot from a stump that is the sprig of hope. It will be the despised one from whom people hide their faces, the uncomely one, the sheep led to the slaughter that would be messianic arrows pointing to the way to redemption.
When that Coming One arrived, it was a goat’s feed trough that was his cradle, poverty-stricken people who would be his earthly parents. A carpenter’s son from the No-wheres-ville, Nazareth would be the one who would spout parables no one could understand and who would say again and again that the greatest treasure, the eternal kingdom, the stuff that will really last that will look like the tiniest seed, the invisible yeast, the widow’s mite. He’d suggest that the meek who will inherit the earth, the weeping ones who would find laughter in the end, the last, least, lost, and lonely who would be God’s favorite kind of people.
Yes, yes, this Jesus person had been saying stuff like that all along but it was only at the end, only when he accomplished all salvation by dying on a cross that it became crystal clear that all along God had been truly serious about the best things coming from the least likely places. It was only when an instrument of cruel execution became somehow the gateway to real and eternal life that we recognized the things of God.
That is also why, as Paul points out, that people like the Corinthians themselves were God’s kind of people. They had not been power brokers in Corinth, not celebrities, not highly touted scholars, not the beautiful people gracing the covers of magazines. No, they had been simple, ordinary folks, looked down on by the world, despised by the power elite for the way they dressed in off-the-rack attire from Boscov’s, for the crudeness of their vocabulary, for the modesty of their single-story little cracker box houses or their $15 Super Clips haircuts. But guess what, Paul says, that makes you unlikely people a perfect fit for God’s unlikely Gospel of hope that centers on an old rugged cross. That makes you Beatitudes-grade people, superstars in the eyes of God, weaklings and earthen vessels containing all the power there is in God’s good creation.
That makes you Grace People. That makes you welcome targets for the Grace that comes from a bloody cross. It’s all right there in front of you, Paul says: the power of God, the wisdom of God, the salvation of God: it fits faulty and normal folks. Righteousness, holiness, redemption: it is all ours because by faith through grace we have been given the eyes to see deeper into the structure of things than what appears in the news headlines of the day, then what gets the TV’s spotlight, then what passes as today’s latest, greatest set of tips for successful living. We see down to what C.S. Lewis called “the deep magic of the universe” and its awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping reversal of all things we thought we knew.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. This is the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we not be modern men and women or boys and girls according to the culture, but be fools for Christ who see wisdom in the death and resurrection of our Savior. Let us be those “who would” boast in Christ and serve faithfully!!
Commentary provided by Mindi Mitchell, Frederick Buechner, George Carlin, Kyle Fever, Mary Hinkle Shore, Scott Hoezee, Brian L. Cole, Charles L. Aaron, Jr and Scott McKnight.