Fools For Christ: The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Oh Lord, uphold Thou me that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing . . . For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God.
You know, I wonder if our readings for this morning should have been put in a different order? I know we always read the Gospel last, and that is as it should be, but today I think Paul’s words from 1st Corinthians should have been read last after having read both Micah and Matthew. I mean, if you pay attention to Micah when he tells us that God requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, then you realize that how Micah says we ought to live looks different from how the world tell us we ought to live. On top of that, when you read Jesus telling us that it isn’t the proud, the wealthy, the mighty, the happy, or the warriors who are blessed by God but the poor in spirit, the mournful, the humble, the peacemakers, and the persecuted who are really the blessed ones – you might wonder what is going on. You might wonder why these teachings seem so contrary to the ways of the world, why God’s wisdom seems so at odds with the world’s wisdom. You might wonder why Micah, and more to the point Jesus, turn things upside down.
In today’s readings, it is Paul who makes sense of it all. It is Paul, Christianity’s first theologian, who gives us the explanation and makes all the pieces fit. Paul tells us the ways of God are different from the ways of the world. In fact, the ways of God often appear as foolishness because they are counterintuitive and backwards when compared to the ways of the world.
For Paul, you can’t understand the ways of God until you understand the mystery of the cross. Because in the mystery of Christ crucified, God turns things upside down. In the cross, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life, despair becomes hope. In the cross, God takes an instrument of torture and death and turns into a means of eternal life. In the cross, God takes the ultimate expression of repressive power, crucifixion, and turns it into the means by which all of us can find true freedom. In our lessons for today, Micah and Matthew tell us what God values, and Paul warns us that if we value what God values then the world may well consider us fools. But what could be better than to be fools for God.
Fools for God, that’s what Jesus wants us to be. At its best, Christianity is deeply countercultural and if we are serious about following Christ, if we are serious about living God’s way in the world by blessing the poor, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, by striving for justice and kindness, then we may indeed seem foolish, if not a little crazy. People thought Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose statue is one of the centerpieces of our human rights porch, was crazy for speaking out on behalf of the poor. They thought he was crazy to risk his life speaking out against the evil and oppression of the Salvadoran government. And when he was murdered because of his work and his words, there were many people who thought his tragic end only confirmed his foolishness.
On March 7, 1965, when John Lewis and six hundred marchers started to walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge many thought they were crazy to expose themselves to so much danger. But Lewis and the others knew what they were walking into, they knew there would be violence, but they also knew that in their passive resistance, in their perceived weakness, they would in fact be showing God’s strength. Many of them may have been fools for Christ, but in their refusal to meet violence with violence they knew they were in fact building the Kingdom of God and changing the world.
Did you read the article in the Post the other day about the farmer in Alabama who secretly paid for people’s prescriptions? His name was Hody Childress, and it was only after he died that his kindness came to light. Let me share with you some of that article. “Hody Childress was a farmer living off his meager retirement savings in the small town of Geraldine, Ala. About 10 years ago, he walked into Geraldine Drugs and pulled aside owner Brooke Walker to ask if there were families in town who couldn’t afford to pay for their medications. ‘I told him, ‘Yes, unfortunately that happens often,’ recalled Walker. ‘And he handed me a $100 bill, all folded up.’ Childress told her to use it for anyone who couldn’t afford their prescriptions. ‘He said, ‘Don’t tell a soul where the money came from — if they ask, just tell them it’s a blessing from the Lord,’ she said. The following month, Childress returned to hand Walker another folded-up $100 bill. And he repeated this every month for years, until he became too weak late last year to make the trip.” (Washington Post, January 19, 2023)
Isn’t that a great story? Here was a man who barely had enough income to make it himself and yet every month for more than ten years he anonymously gave $100.00 to help people who would not otherwise be able to afford their medications. Hody wasn’t martyred for his faith like Bishop Romero or beaten to a pulp like John Lewis, nevertheless, Hody was one of God’s holy fools – humble, faithful, compassionate, doing what he could to bless others, building God’s Kingdom brick by brick. Hody died on New Year’s Day, but one of the things that I love most about this story is that Hody so inspired people in his town that they are continuing his work and they have started the Hody Childress Fund to continue to help those in need pay for prescriptions.
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Friends, if we are going to attempt to live a Christian life, then likely as not we are going to find ourselves at odds with the world. Because we live in a world where for many people there is nothing higher than self, where all values are relative, where this is little or no sense of, or appreciation for, any notion of transcendence. As Scott Hubbard writes, many people live in a world where, “We cultivate hobbies, and follow celebrities, and read the news without knowing why we exist. We stumble through an unthinkably vast cosmos, circled round by unthinkably intricate wonders, too distracted to ask, “Who made this?” We develop firm opinions about politics, and care not whether souls live forever, and where. We look often into our mirrors and seldom into our deep and fallen hearts.” (Scott Hubbard, desiringGod.org, July 21, 2022) Moreover, as we have seen so painfully and vividly in recent days with the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers, not to mention the deaths of hundreds of Americans in 40 mass shootings just so far this year, it is clear that we are still unwilling to look into the mirror of our fallen country and confront some of our national sins.
So, in closing, what are we to do? If we aspire to be holy fools or fools for Christ, what are we supposed to do? I recently learned about a term in economics called, “shadow work.” Perhaps you have heard of it? It was a brand-new concept to me. Shadow work refers to a special kind of unpaid labor. It includes the kind of unpaid labor involved when you are at home assembling a bookshelf from IKEA, or in my case trying to assemble a bookcase from IKEA. It’s the work we do at the self-checkout line in Wegmans, or the labor involved when we pump our own gas at the Exxon station. In short, Shadow Work is the work necessary for completing a purchase that has been left to the consumer.
So, what are we to do? Simply put, we are supposed to do God’s “shadow work”. That’s the work Eugene Peterson says nobody gets paid for and few notice but work that makes a world of meaning and value, a world of peace and purpose, a world of love and hope and faith – in short, that builds the Kingdom of God. That’s what the faithful were doing who rallied around Archbishop Romero. That’s what the people were doing who joined with John Lewis and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That’s what Hody Childress was doing without fanfare or thanks, every month for years as he walked that hundred-dollar bill into his pharmacy in the hope that it would become a blessing to others.
In truth, I think holy fools are the world’s sanest people and there need to be more of them. More of us doing all the shadow work we can. Protesting when we must, loving others whenever possible, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, working to bring peace, standing up for justice. You name it. God has called us. Micah and Jesus have told us what to do. Sure, much of it is counter to the ways of the world, but remember,God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are . . . Paul knew the truth of it. May we be wise enough to be just that foolish. Amen.