Sunday, February 9, 2014

Struggling to See

2When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God...
12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.14Those 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. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. 
16  “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Poor eyesight has been a problem for me most of my life. I got glasses in second or third grade and seeing the world through corrective lenses was a revelation.  I didn’t have to scrunch my eyes to see the blackboard because with glasses the chalk letters weren’t fuzzy. The words in my books stopped moving around on the page. Getting glasses made school a lot easier.

In this New Testament passage, Paul talks about a similar experience. He’s giving the people in the church of Corinth the lenses through which to see their life and faith.
Paul encourages his listeners to make sense of their lives through Christ. He’s preaching Christ crucified—that is Christ as his least powerful and seemingly most foolish. He’s advocating a new way of seeing the world that is not in line with the logic and rhetoric of the day. He’s saying: see the world, see your lives through the lens of Jesus’ cross.

In doing this he emphasizes that lofty words, impressive wisdom, and cultural power will not help us explain the mystery of Christ. It’s something that is beyond the sensory experiences of this world. Paul calls this a spiritual knowledge.

Many of us have experiences that transcend the ordinary. Things that happen that don’t seem possible.  Maybe it’s a feeling of overwhelming and inexplicable hope in circumstances that were difficult.

Or a suddenly sensing of direction and clarity when quietly praying in a bedroom in the dark of the night.

Or looking into the eyes of a child—or even a stranger—and known that there was something beyond what you could see.

Or feeling the weight of eternity descend upon your heart during communion.

Paul says these transcendent experiences are foolishness to some people.  My guess is that at one point of another you may have felt foolish about the things that you believe about Jesus or the things that Jesus teaches.

When we try to find the words to capture and define our God or spiritual experiences, we just can’t. We feel foolish. Our words can’t do justice to what it is we think we know about God or spirituality. As Paul says, our brains aren't up to the task of processing all that God offers. 

No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, 
     what God has prepared for those who love him

Our most lofty words and deepest wisdom can’t capture the mystery of God in our hearts. The best thing we have is Jesus. Jesus as the Word made flesh, the heavenly that becomes earthly, or as author Anne Lamott likes to say, God with the skin on. We can point to Jesus’ teaching and life as examples of what we experience and what we should do. The cross becomes a corrective lens—our spiritual glasses, transforming the way we see the world.

When we look at life through the cross of Christ, we see what God’s love looks like in the world. Paul’s “Christ crucified” is the symbol of a Godly, righteous life. With it, Jesus shows us how to live—and die. 
  • Christ crucified shows us how to turn the other cheek. 
  • Christ crucified demonstrates that Jesus was serious when he said to that foolish thing about praying for our enemies.
  • Christ crucified looks like defeat and death. 
  • Christ crucified is a foolish revolutionary who lost his fight against the Roman Empire.

But, But…As foolish as it might have been, we are still talking about it. We see something in Jesus' death that is real and true and inspirational and eternal. We can’t always explain to our friends or neighbors, but we know it’s there.  

Of course, the fact that we can't really explain it doesn't stop us from trying. People have been trying to explain Christ crucified for thousands of years. Some say it’s the final blood sacrifice tying it to the Old Testament practices for appeasing God. Some say Christ is the ransom—the payment of a debt that we as humanity cannot afford. Some say it’s Christ taking on the punishment that is due to us as sinners in the hands of an angry God. Some say it is Christ getting us out of the ages-long cycle of sin and punishment by showing us what happens when we really follow his teaching, transcending the violence with true forgiveness and prayer.

Maybe they are all right. Maybe none of them are right. In the end, we have to rely on the grace of God and this foolish gift of spiritual insight to figure our what the Christ on the cross means to our hearts and minds.

But, when we admit the foolishness of Christianity, when we embrace the foolishness, we can see God at work most powerfully. What does it mean to live into the foolishness, trusting God’s gifts?  Living into the foolishness is more than just believing things about death and resurrection. The foolishness can and should impact the way we deal with money, time and people.

Trusting God’s gifts can mean tithing or giving generously.
Think about: How do you feel when you give? Are you a crisis giver or is giving a habit?

Most of us want something for our money. We like to see results of our spending. This means we are happy to open our wallets when there is a crisis or like to give to special projects. Sometimes, though, don’t always give as generously as we could to the general fund of the church. It’s the week over week giving that keeps the lights and heat on.

Living into the foolishness means being willing to go with God’s plan instead of your own.
Think about: Are there parts of your life separate from God? Do you pray about not just what you give to the church, but your whole budget?

There is a saying: show me your checkbook and I’ll show you what you really value.  It’s easy to feel like our spending is beyond our control. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed, a future to save for. Trusting God means going for God to guidance in all areas of life. Not just giving what’s leftover.

Trusting God’s gifts means doing less with our time, not more.  
Think about: Are you a good steward of your time? Do you set aside enough time to refresh yourself and to serve God?

We are a busy culture. Finding enough time to refresh ourselves is a way of honoring God. It’s a way of saying that you care for one of God’s greatest creations—YOURSELF! When you do nothing you practice sacred rest (or Sabbath keeping). Out of this nothingness often comes something. We are better able to love God and others. Out of that refreshment we get the energy to serve others.

Trusting God’s foolish gifts means being a little foolish when it comes to people. It means that we are to love not just those to love us, but love our enemies. We are to pray for those who persecute us. We are to care for people who cannot return the favor because they are too poor or too sick or in jail.

Trusting God’s foolish gifts means trusting that the crucifixion is a way to life instead of death. It means trusting that foolish line in the Apostle’s creed about believing in the resurrection of the body. Not the soul flying into the clouds for a happy ever after, but some sort of bodily transformation out the ashes or a corpse filled with embalming fluid. Talk about foolish.  

Tithing—giving away our money, Sabbath keeping—taking time to do nothing, helping people who cannot help themselves—these are not the ways to get ahead in the world. But they are exactly what the Bible tells us to do. To our ears, it’s crazy. It’s foolishness.

So is the idea the Jesus dies so that we may have eternal life. The idea of resurrection and afterlife is difficult to make sense of in our world. Our coming to God after our breath stops is foolishness, but it is our story. It is our hope.

Paul reminds us that in the midst of all this foolishness we have the mind of Jesus—the mind of Christ crucified. We have the mind of a man who loved his neighbors and enemies.  We have the mind of a man who prayed for the people who killed him. We have the mind of a man was not afraid to appear foolish and defeated. We have the mind of a man who knows firsthand the mystery and power of God and was not afraid to live it for the world to see. 

Some call it all foolish. I call it God. 

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