Sermon for March 7, 2021 Third of Lent “An Opening Mind”
The year is 56 of the common era and for the most part the energetic and optimistic start to the Way of Jesus has all but faltered. There was great hope for the early church in Corinth but as the years passed and one generation gave way to the next things began to fall apart. The Gentile converts wanted to keep the teachings and idols that were important to them and the Jewish converts were no better as they dragged their history and bias with them.
As a cosmopolitan city on a major trade route, news arrived quickly and news of Corinth spread just as fast. It was also the home of many temples that seemed way more interesting than the church. The temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love) is a prime example. After all, humans have always known that sex sells better and is more appealing than self-denial and charity.
It is into this milieu that Paul arrives with all his tools as an agent of Jesus’ teaching.
Carla Works is a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She writes that Paul “reminds the believers of the topsy-turvy nature of the cross. God chose the most shameful thing in the world, because the values with which the world operates — where some have privilege and status at the expense of others — look nothing like God’s reign.” She goes on to explain that our translation of the word for “foolish” is more polite than a literal translation. The Greek word for ‘fool’ sounds a lot like our English word for ‘moron.’ So Paul is saying that the pagan world considers belief in Christ to be ‘stupid.’
But Paul doesn’t let the Jewish believers off the hook, either. Remember that Corinth is a very cosmopolitan city. The young church there is made up of both Jews and Greeks, and the Jewish intellectuals are not living out their trust in Christ any more faithfully than the Gentile Christians are. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? … For Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wisdom …” Paul writes.
It’s easy for us to shake our heads at those foolish Corinthians. That is, until we read Paul’s question, “Where is the debater of this age?” And suddenly we remember all those arguments we’ve been following, or maybe even been part of on social media. Arguments about politics and moral issues, arguments about rights and rules, arguments about values and opinions – arguments that do not, in any way, point people to the saving grace of Christ.
And every time we engage in these arguments, even as silent observers, we fall into the same trap the Corinthian church did. We’ve let the ‘wisdom’ of the culture around us have more influence on our thinking than the realization that God loves us so much he redeems us. And yet, “has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Leap ahead a couple thousand years and here we are in a major city in New Brunswick, a hub of transportation, trade, commerce and delightfully varied entertainment and culture. The teachings of Jesus arrived at the same time as the first Europeans with their idea of what to do with the land (that they disregarded and discounted those already here is another long sad story). That teaching flourished, waned, had successes and failures along the way until we arrive at today.
We are invited into Jesus heart with the wisdom of children. For me that means opening our mind to wonder, curiosity and love. It also means there is plenty of clutter that needs clearing out to let the good flood in. We are on the edge of a new reformation and most in churches, all churches are clinging to dwindling power with all might. For centuries the church has told us that we are wretched sinners, that we are lower than dirt, that we need the church for redemption. I use that language intentionally because it has been the church’s need to control and have power over.
And yet Jesus teaches us that resurrection and grace are the pathways to life in abundance. Jesus reminds us in John that no matter what happens, even if the temple is destroyed, even if everything we know is taken away… in three days I will raise it up. The wisdom of children and the opening mind of adults know that what is being raised up is a community where love, respect, inclusion, justice and thanksgiving replace brick and mortar.
My colleague Beth shared this funny story of change and how challenging it can be: “Let’s talk about ketchup for a moment. Yes, that red stuff made from tomatoes, spices, sugar and vinegar! Do you remember ketchup in the 1980s? Up to that point, how many meals had you spent way too much time trying to get the ketchup out of the bottle, and ONTO your food. Shake the bottle! Shake the bottle again! Particularly if it was new. Tap the bottom of the bottle! Take a clean knife and see if that would help the thick rich condiment to find its way onto your burger and fries! Have spent more time getting the stuff out of the bottle than actually eating your fries! Well, an enterprising man named Paul Brown came to your rescue. He saw the problem and had a solution. Store the bottle upside down. But it would either tip over or leak! He tried to solve the leaking problem by inventing a leak proof valve that would dispense ketchup the instant you wanted it! AND after 111 failed attempts, he was successful. Soon it was on all the shelves. It was the same old ketchup but the bottle was close to revolutionary! I’m not sure at what point they also flipped the label but when they did everything was hunky-dory! The right amount of ketchup came out of the bottle with just a simple squeeze. The only challenge, I gather, was to get customers to reverse their habits – and teach them that putting your ketchup in the fridge upside down would not spell the end of civilization!”
Jesus teaching will turn lives upside down. The new reformation is coming and we are not sure what it will look like and that is scary and exciting, Jesus will do the rebuilding, and it will be about heart and spirit. In the time of Paul and today that may just be what is required. So I am wondering…do you store ketchup with the lid up?