Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Glendon Harris once told a story that illustrates the value of the acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). An elderly woman went to a store and inquired about a heating stove. The clerk was hep on heaters. He had mastered the manual. He set forth the facts on how the stove was insulated, how many BTU’s it could develop, and all the other data that might be of interest to someone with an engineering degree. At the close of his presentation, he asked, “Do you have any questions.” Pulling her shawl a little closer around her shoulders, his gentle customer asked, “Will it keep an old lady warm?”
While it is probably always best to keep our communication simple, Paul is saying much more than that when he urges the Christians at Corinth not to complicate the Gospel message with sophistry. Paul is hardly a bumper sticker theologian. We cannot sum up his thoughts with “Jesus is the answer,” “Honk, if you love Jesus,” or “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” The message of the cross, while it should not be entangled with the ancient wisdom of the orient, is a profound mystery that defies explanation.
Sunday’s lesson begins at verse 26, but Paul began this particular thesis back at verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Human wisdom — conventional, oriental, or Hebraic — teaches that right behavior results in rewards. Some human activities are thought to guarantee specific outcomes. Jesus contradicted those ideas very early in His ministry with His topsy-turvy ideas and startling words in the Beatitudes. But the most amazing and irrational thing of all was not just words. It was what He did not do at His arrest and what He did do on the cross.
My homiletics professor cautioned young would-be preachers about using the words: “naturally,” “obviously” and “of course.” He said that many people are prone to use them at precisely that moment when what they are about to say is the least obvious or natural. While Jesus’ activity at His trial and crucifixion is both a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, it is the obvious and natural action of a loving and gracious God.
One of the saddest facts of life for us humans is that we can be so absolutely sure of our rightness when we are so absolutely wrong. Because of their background, tradition and history, the Jews of Jesus’ day might have believed that God could love as much as Jesus loved. But they knew He would absolutely not let Himself be strung up (a curse) by a bunch of pagans (Rome) — absolutely not! Because of their superior intellect, their discovery and practice of great logic, the Greeks knew that bigger is better … is more powerful … is not about to be defeated by what is lesser, etc. Therefore, the Greeks knew that no god could, let alone would, be defeated and tortured and killed by normal humans — absolutely not!
Paul said that God made foolish the wisdom of the world. God’s wisdom is a little confusing. The Jews were convinced that being right was best. God knew that being good was better. The Gentiles thought that might made right — that power would prove who was best. God knew that love was still better. The party rivalry of the Corinthians made each little group or faction think they were better than the others.
Paul reminded them of their situation before he came and preached the Gospel to them. They were not particularly wise, influential or of noble birth. God did not choose Corinth’s elite for His church. Paul said, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
You may think that Paul should have closed there, urging the Corinthians to stop their boasting altogether. He didn’t stop with that. As a matter of fact Paul wanted them to boast: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
God’s reversal of human wisdom is also revealed in Sunday’s lesson from Micah. The prophet sets a stage for a controversy between God and Israel. The setting is a universal courtroom. The Lord is the Accuser, Israel the accused. Mountains and hills seem to be the jury. God’s complaint is in the form of questions: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.” Before any answer comes, God recounts His acts toward Israel, and they are all acts of mercy. Then Israel tries to come up with proper responses to God’s acts.
Those possibilities also come as questions: “Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” Human wisdom being what it is, when the Lord doesn’t respond, the questioner assumes more is better: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?” Still no response — ultimate sacrifices must be required: “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Finally, the Lord responds that He has already shown mankind what is good. He looks for a response in kind to what He has given: “To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
It is interesting to look around at signs in people’s offices. I saw one above a desk that announced: “It’s hard to be humble…when you’re perfekt.” Similarly, one on a computer said, “This computer makes no mistaks.” Finally, in a very large office, filled with workers, a sign declared: “Everyone in this office is an example of humility (one way or the other).”
I am typing this piece on a computer. When I verify the spelling, the computer balks at the misspelled words on the above signs, but when I tell it to ignore those errors, it does exactly as I say. Computers only do what they are manufactured and programmed to do. Sin and pride have programmed human beings with a wisdom that is foolishness before God. Those who think they are perfect, or at least closer to perfect than most, cannot walk humbly even with God. They walk arrogantly with everyone. Those who look away from God’s mercy, and look instead for His approval, show no mercy to others.
The world is full of people whose minds are stuffed with human wisdom, but they lack God. They desperately need to know that Jesus did not do what was expected in the Garden of Gethsemane. The mob that came to get Him suspected He might be God and, if He was, they were in deep trouble. When He didn’t call in the cavalry (12 legions of angels), they decided He wasn’t God. They didn’t know how much God loved them and loves you.
The world also needs desperately to know what Jesus did do on the cross. Some of the people at that scene also suspected He might be God. If He was, then He wouldn’t die, He would simply come down from the cross. Not to mention that, once again, they would be in deep trouble. When He didn’t come down from the cross and squish them like annoying insects — when He did die — they “knew” He wasn’t God. They didn’t know how much God loved them and loves you. The people of the world need to know and we need to tell them. It is our mission.