A Sermon for Covenant
Get Out of Line
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
February 2, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
There was once a large castle, tall as the skies and wide as you can see, a magnificent castle which all the people in the land yearned to visit. They longed to sit at the king’s table and eat of the queen’s daily feasts. But around this castle on all sides was a high wall and at the front of the castle, a large iron gate and in front of the gate, a gatekeeper, and in front of the gate keeper sat the riddle keeper.
The riddle keeper was the cleverest fellow in all the land and the gatekeeper did not open the gate without the permission of the riddle keeper and the riddle keeper did not give permission unless the guest seeking entrance answered his riddle. Day after day the riddle keeper was kept quite busy while the gate keeper was kept quite nearly unemployed for every day a long line of people stretching to the middle of the forest waited their turn to try the riddler’s riddle, and one-by-one they failed. The riddle keeper smirked in victory while the gatekeeper sighed in boredom as one after the other, no one could solve a riddle.
But one day, a very small girl who was in line with her mother was just the sort of girl who got impatient waiting in lines and so she asked her mother if she could go play instead of standing there. “Yes,” her mother said, distracted by the hungry grumble of her stomach and the worry of what riddle she would be handed.
The girl scampered off to explore the high grasses alone and chase the flitting butterflies and swirl her skirts among the floating dandelions, but as she wandered, it wasn’t long before she noticed the tall castle wall towering above her. She was a ways off from the gate now and she saw to her surprise a hole in the wall—it wasn’t large but it looked large enough for a person to squeeze through, so she went closer and sure enough, all sorts of children and shabby visitors and out-of-line fidgeters were passing freely through the hole and she followed them right in to the royal banquet.
And this, my friends, is the way the Gospel works. You can spend your days debating the riddle-keepers or you can abandon that fruitless musing of the masses, and find the crack in the wall where all can enter effortlessly.
Paul calls this crack in the wall the foolishness of the cross which shames the wise, by which he means the way of the God is unexpected and the grace of God is undeserved and the wisdom of God isn’t necessarily reserved for the gifted students. By which he means the cross of Christ stands off to the side of what you thought would work to get you through. By which he means the cross of Christ stumps the genius of this age but is more accessible than you imagined. By which he means the cross makes no fancy requirements of your intellect or wit but only requires you open your eyes and see the way it offers you.
By which he mans, if you’re following the crowd, you’re listening to the wrong advice. By which he means get out of line already and go romp around in the fields where the children play and they will share the secrets of the world with you out in the grass where the insects hop and Jesus spends his days, welcoming the wee ones one-by-one.
Paul’s advice can be confusing if you are someone who desires to be wise. After all, he says, “‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 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?” Does this mean all our sincere and humble seeking after wisdom is for naught?
The point isn’t that wisdom itself is useless; the point is where true wisdom is located, and when we are talking about the Gospel, wisdom is located in a person. As Paul says, “God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God.” Wisdom is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, and if we want to be wise ourselves, we will look like Jesus. We will embody the Good News in our lives.
It won’t be what riddles we can solve or whether we have a way with words or if we can make faultless argument—it will be whether the compassion, mercy, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ define our behaviors and inform our perspectives. You can get a lot of life’s riddles quite wrong and still be welcome at the feast. What you cannot do is stand at the gate and boast of your knowledge and bully others off with your stellar logic and expect to have any time left over to actually feast at the King’s table or share the Queen’s company. The shouters and debaters and experts of this age have little to share from the abundance of God’s feast. They feed instead on the feeling of false power, on the addiction to right-ness rather than a relationship to righteousness. They sustain themselves on the illusion of making a difference in the world by winning supporters for their opinions.
We may be tempted to associate this sort of false wisdom only with those who are quite different from us—political extremists, for example, talk show hosts, or Westboro Baptists. But the truth is we are all tempted to substitute knowledge for wisdom, rightness for righteousness, opinion-spouting for meaningful contribution, talking theory for acting charitably. We would all prefer that our opinions and our positions be what make us righteous rather than our likeness to Jesus Christ. It is so much easier to debate than it is to do the hard spiritual work of becoming merciful. It is way easier to prove a neighbor wrong than it is to love her, easier to find the intellectual flaw in your enemy than to find the spark of divine in his humanity.
Just to be clear, I am not pointing a finger at you. I am pointing it at myself. I am one who lives in the world of ideas, cares deeply about the nuances of theology, thinks long and hard about how to interpret Scripture and life honestly, faithfully, and intelligently. I will never stop caring about the world of ideas; it is in my DNA to do so. But somehow the Gospel calls me, begs me, not to allow the life of the mind to eclipse the life of the heart and the soul. The Gospel begs me to keep humanity and the person of the incarnated God front and center in all my reasoning. The Gospel begs me never to prioritize an idea over a person. The Gospel begs me to be converted again and again by the foolishness of the cross, the foolishness of a God who would choose to come and suffering with a hurting humanity, the foolishness of a God who emptied himself of power to be among the powerless.
Richard Rohr reminds those of us who think we may be a little “ahead of the game,” so to speak, with our somewhat progressive theology that really we are just playing the same power game as always, if we are getting security from the supposed superiority of our ideas. If we are still looking for control, we are still trapped. He writes, “Such ‘false enlightenment’ is either all in the head or is mere counterdependency on that which it opposes.”
Or, my friend Austin Fischer puts it this way, that we are to surrender to the comedy of theology, that is, the absurdity of humans talking about God. He says in this sense, “humility is more than good manners—it is good theology.” To attempt to speak of God—this is less of a riddle to solve and more of a comic mystery we are meant to explore—not merely with our logic but with our lives.
The Gospel makes fools out of those who would spend a life debating positions. As Jesus demonstrated, Wisdom is an all-in endeavor, requiring not just the mind of you but the heart and soul and body of you too. And it isn’t reserved for the powerful or for the nobility or for the smart or for the strong. It is for everyone who meets the person of Jesus and wisely follows him.
So may we trail close behind the Christ, discovering unanticipated entryways into bountiful feasts. May we open our eyes and our minds to see beyond the bickering of the debaters out to the wide world waiting our enjoyment; may we open our eyes and our minds to see Jesus sitting off a ways from the beaten path, beckoning us to adventure and wild grace and untamed love and reckless mercy. May we have the audacity to get out of the argument line and think the unexpected. May we be so intrigued by the foolishness of the cross that we never stop exploring the depths of its richness. To those who think they’ve got it all figured out, may we forever seem a bit reckless and ridiculous, the same way they used to feel suspicious about a carpenter from Nazareth. And in the end, may we be known, not for our positions, but for the bigness of our love. Amen.