March 01, 2021
The Lent 3B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 2:13-22 from the Lectionary Gospel; Exodus 20:1-17, from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 19 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 21 (Lord’s Day 7)
Author: Scott Hoezee
We are impressed very often by all the wrong things. In John 2 everyone was impressed with the physical Temple. It had been undergoing construction for over four decades already and was not even finished. It reminds me of the Ken Follett novel The Pillars of the Earth that narrates the construction of a European cathedral that literally stretches across generations of construction workers and craftsmen. Some projects in days gone by were so grand, the person who laid the first brick just knew that if one day the final brick got laid high up on the spire of a bell tower, it might very well be his great-great-great-great grandson who put on that finishing touch.
How could one fail to be impressed with such a grand undertaking? And in John 2 and in Jesus’ day, how could one fail to be impressed with Herod’s Temple? It maybe did not quite hold a candle to the original splendor of Solomon’s Temple but since that building was long gone, one takes what one can get, and Herod’s edifice was quite something to behold. (In another passage elsewhere in the Gospels the disciples have their own jaw-dropping moment upon seeing the Temple in Jerusalem, too—today it would be the non-stop taking of selfies in front of the Western Wall!).
Of course, we are quite sure that by the time John wrote this Gospel Herod’s Temple was also now gone, destroyed in the sack of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Commentators think that one of the reasons John makes “Temple” such a major theme in his Gospel—moving up the cleansing of the Temple to the start of Jesus’ ministry instead of near the end when it most likely did occur chronologically—was to reassure his readers that there WAS and IS still a true Temple: it is Jesus. But to get to that . . . read on!
In John 2 Jesus makes room again in the Temple for the truly spiritual business of the place to happen in ways that had not been possible once commerce and a flea market had taken over. What Jesus did literally shook things up and so the leaders asked Jesus to produce some credentials to authorize the bold and brazen thing he had just done. Jesus said “Destroy this Temple and I’ll raise it back up in three days.”
A ludicrous claim, of course. Granted, if someone were able to raze the entirety of the Temple edifice only to have Jesus wave a magic wand over the ruins and restore the whole shebang in a scant three days, that would have been beyond impressive. If a person could pull off such an architectural and engineering feat, that powerful action would be more than enough to validate any power or authority he might claim for himself.
But no one took the claim seriously. It would have been like someone’s approaching “The Pile” that was the wreckage of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center at Ground Zero after 9/11 only to say “Give me three days and I’ll have them back up again.” It took the better part of a year just to haul away the debris. Rebuilding was an obvious impossibility.
Typical of John, of course, we get a theological aside—a holy parenthetical—to inform us that the “Temple” in question was Jesus’ own body. The very Son of the Living God was standing right in front of these people but they were far more impressed with brick-and-mortar than they were with flesh-and-blood. Even if they had understood the reference to his own body, though, you get the feeling they would have been unbelieving and unimpressed by also that claim.
Unless of course it was true. Yes, it would have been ludicrous to hear someone claim to be able to restore the decimated World Trade Center site in three days’ time. But what would be more impressive: claiming you could raise back up the buildings or claiming that you could (and would) reassemble the body of every last victim who had been pulverized, vaporized, and torn to shreds in that great terrorist cataclysm?
That would surely be the grand miracle because that would not be something we could do at Ground Zero or anywhere else. Yes, we can re-build the physical structures. It just takes years to do. But we could take every second that has passed in the 13.7 billion-year history of the physical cosmos and it would still not be time sufficient to reconstruct a single human being who ever lived or raise someone up from the dust. We cannot engineer that.
Jesus does that. It happened to him first so that all may follow. That is the One who stood in the midst of that allegedly “impressive” Temple that day in Jerusalem. No one saw him for who he was. No one recognized him nor what he was really saying. But one day we will all see him for who he is. The message of Lent and Easter assures us of this. And as the Apostle Paul will later tell us, when we see him, we shall be made like him.
Thanks be to God!
Note: We have additional Lenten Resources, worship ideas, and Sample Sermons on our 2021 Lent and Easter page.
Whatever Jesus saw that set him off that day in Jerusalem, there is one little detail we should notice because it might just give us a clue as to what this should mean for us even yet today. The telling detail is John’s insertion in verse 17 of Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
If you look back at Psalm 69, you will find that it is a psalm of lament, a heartfelt cry to God on the part of the psalmist. The reason the psalmist cried out was because he was being looked down on and poked fun of on account of his faith. So the original context of the verse quoted in John 2:17 is someone who is zealous for the house of God but who is suffering because of that enthusiasm. If I tell you that I have great zeal for the ministry and the purpose of First Church, you might take that to mean that I am devoted to that church, that I am dedicated to making sure that unholy activities are kept well away from First Church. Zeal for God’s house, we think, means protecting it.
But that is not quite what the writer of Psalm 69 meant. His point was that because he was zealous about the house of God, his neighbors made fun of him, insulted him, told him he was a backward-thinking idiot for finding so much meaning in something as silly as a temple. Psalm 69 is about suffering for your faith. It’s about how the world sneers at us for claiming that a worship service is more valuable than anything that could ever happen in the citadels of worldly power. It takes faith to believe that what we do in worship on a Sunday morning matters in an eternal sense. It takes faith to believe that what a preacher conveys in a biblically true sermon is vastly more vital than anything that could ever emerge from the U.N. or from the office of any president, king, or prime minister. The writer of Psalm 69 believed that the ancient temple of Israel was the center of the universe, the house of God, the dwelling place of the cosmic Creator. And his neighbors saw this zeal for God’s house and they laughed out loud. How could he believe such an outlandish, silly thing?
That is the verse John throws into this story. And it tips us off that what this is all about is how sharp our spiritual vision is. Do we know what matters in life and what doesn’t, and are we willing to put up with the world’s scorn rather than give up on our faith? So maybe Jesus threw out the moneychangers because their ever-expanding emporium was eclipsing the real meaning of the temple. Maybe the temple had started to look like just any old Jerusalem flea market, and so people were forgetting that to have faith was to believe that God’s house is most definitely not just any old place. Maybe Jesus wanted to shake people up so they could remember that to have faith is a radical thing that should make us radically different from those who do not have faith.
Jesus’ fellow Jews had the wrong focus. They no longer had the radical faith of Psalm 69. The psalmist endured insult and injury because of his outrageous belief that the living God actually dwelled in the temple. But some of the Jews in Jesus’ day had forgotten. They saw it as their own accomplishment in which they could do whatever they wanted because it was, after all, their place. They had built it and it was theirs.
Jesus reminded them that it was God’s place, or was supposed to be, and if they didn’t perceive the presence of the living God there, then there was nothing distinctive about the temple at all. Jesus was a little more sensitive to such things than the average person in Jerusalem. Maybe others could walk past kiosks, cash registers, and blue light specials in the narthex of God’s house and not bat an eye, but as the very Son of God who himself would soon become the living, walking, breathing temple of God, Jesus took the affront of all this personally.
My colleague John Rottman once called my attention to a story from a few years back. It seems that one day in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man with an open violin case in front of him played his fiddle for the passersby. Quite a few children and young people stopped and stared but were soon enough hustled off by their parents. About half a dozen people stayed for a minute or two before moving on to catch their train. A couple of dozen people threw money into the open violin case. After a while the violinist had collected a total of $32.17.
But the musician in question was no less than Joshua Bell.
Three weeks earlier he had played to a packed house in Boston where tickets for the good seats went for $100 a pop (and even the cheap seats cost more than Bell collected in the subway station that day).
Unbeknownst to the distracted passersby, Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin, and he played it with not only the world-class skill that Mr. Bell possesses but he played it on a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million. The whole stunt had been orchestrated by The Washington Post to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, save perhaps for a few children who sensed something was up.
Too often in life we don’t realize what is standing right in front of us. Rather like what we read about in John 2.
Author: Stan Mast
On this Third Sunday of Lent, the RCL continues its focus on the theme of covenant. Though our immediate text does not mention covenant, it is very clear from the context (Exodus 19-24) that the Ten Commandments are part of a covenant making ceremony between the God who liberated his people and those liberated people. These 10 words are the terms of the covenant for Israel, God’s gracious rules designed to keep them liberated. Since I wrote on these very words only 6 months ago (see my Sermon Starter for October 4), I refer you to that piece for extensive comments.
Here I will add only a few thoughts related to how you might preach this text in a Lenten setting. But first I want you to notice the way the Lectionary is developing this covenant theme. Last week we focused on the third iteration of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), in which God gave Abraham one simple command (“walk before me and be blameless”) and one painful sign (circumcision) of that covenant. In that text God made covenant with one man and his family with the promise that he/they will become numerous, even many nations. Now, God gives Ten Commandments to the Nation of Israel and gives not a painful sign, but a terrifying theophany. Next week we will see how Israel broke that covenant and how God restored it.
As I mentioned above and elaborated on in the October 4 Sermon Starter, God intended these Ten Words to be Israel’s guide to continued liberty. They have just been freed from the house of bondage, having spent over 400 years under the thumb of a pagan people. That was the only life they knew. So, God gives them 10 clear, strong rules to keep them from slipping back into pagan bondage, so that they could live the life of God’s liberated children. Only if they lived this way could they be the blessing to the nations that God had intended when he began this covenant relationship (Genesis 12:3).
That original setting of the Ten Commandments reminds us that our covenant relationship with this same God is not simply a hand holding, arm swinging skip through the park. Yes, we are saved by grace and sustained by grace, but to enjoy that grace we must live as God outlines here. As Paul said in a different context, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).” Liberty is not lawless living. The law helps guard our liberated living.
I know perfectly well that Paul was fulminating in Galatians against an illegitimate use of the Law of God, particularly the “law” of circumcision. God had given that “law” as a sign of his gracious covenant, but some in the early Jewish Christian church had turned it into a requirement for salvation. Faith in Christ wasn’t enough; you also had to be circumcised in order to be part of the Abrahamic covenant and truly saved. Paul said such a theology was a wrong use of the Law of God and, playing with words, thundered that those who preached that kind of theology would be “cut off from Christ.”
Which raises the perennial question, how then should Christians use the Law of God? How should we preach on Exodus 20 on this Third Sunday of Lent? In my theological tradition, we talk about the three uses of the law. On the broadest level, God’s revealed law has a civil use. It can help restrain evil in society. Thus, it can contribute to civil order. Heaven knows we need such a voice of restraint in our culture today. So, you could use this text to call for civil righteousness, though I’m not sure who will hear that word in the wider culture. But such a sermon could serve as a reminder of how God intends our common life to function.
Closer to home, we could preach on this text focusing on a another classically Reformed use of the Law, which we often call the First Use. The Law of God is a mirror for sinners, reflecting the perfect righteousness of God and our own sinfulness. By looking into the Law, we gain a knowledge of our own sin and our need for pardon. The Law, then, is a teacher of sin and a schoolmaster that leads us to Christ. This kind of emphasis surely fits into the season of Lent. A straightforward, no holds barred sermon on the details of our sin as outlined in the Ten Commandments could remind our people how much we need salvation in Christ. Such a sermon could end with a call to repentance and faith in Jesus.
Or we could focus on the Third Use of the Law. It is a guide to gratitude. Focusing not on the guilt of our sins but on the grace that forgives our sin, a sermon on the third use of the Law would help us live the kind of lives that please our gracious Father in heaven. This use of the Law is not sub-Christian. Indeed, when Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and make disciples, “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.”
While Exodus 20 ends with a strong call to fear the Lord who gives these commands, Jesus gave his disciples a different orientation when he said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).” So, you can preach a very loving sermon on these Ten Words. Here is our loving Lord calling us to live in love, a love outlined in clear, strong commands. His intention is not to restrict our lives, but to help us live truly abundant lives (John 10:10). That would be a very welcome Lenten sermon.
When he was just a toddler, our youngest grandson had no sense of danger. He careened around the house wildly with no regard for potential harm to his person. He had a particular fascination with the steps going down to the basement. He would charge up to the brink and peer down with a delighted grin on his face. We babysitting grandparents would sternly say, “No, no!” But he continued to court danger. So, his parents put up a gate that barred his entrance. He would stand on his tiptoes to gaze over it. He would shake it. Try to open it. Sometimes shout at it in frustration. He hated that gate. Then one day, we forgot to close the gate and before we knew it, he had taken one wild step into the void. We heard him bounce down those stairs and found him unconscious at the bottom. He came to and was fine, after we nearly died in fear. Were our stern “No’s’” and that annoying gate intended to ruin his life? No, exactly the opposite. So it is with God’s Law.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Since I began teaching preaching about 15 years ago, one of the things I find myself most often urging students to do is pay good attention to their transitions. Segues, metonymy, giving listeners little verbal hooks inside the sermon to help folks track the sermon’s forward progress: all of these things are vital to good sermon writing. Too often, though, one encounters sermons that seem to make wild leaps from one paragraph or section to the next. In the preacher’s mind C follows B logically but the fact of the matter is, most people have no idea how the preacher got from B to C and need help to understand. (Of course, now and then there may be a preacher or a student who sees connections between B & C the likes of which NO ONE else could ever perceive, but that’s a different issue.)
Someone should have told this to the poet of Psalm 19. Because somehow or another between verse 6 and verse 7, the song seems to make what looks like a wild leap. This could also be an example of another very bad sermon-writing mistake: the Step-Down Introduction. This happens when the preacher begins with an image that everyone assumes is leading them down Path A but suddenly it turns out the preacher had been going down Path B all along and now the congregation has to backtrack to catch up. A sermon that begins by talking about how important teachers are makes all the listeners think that the value of good role models is the subject at hand. Except then the preacher suddenly starts to talk about tax vouchers for private education and most listeners are left to think, “Whhaaaat?? I had no idea that THIS is where the preacher was going with all that!”
For Psalm 19, the opening imagery has the reader scanning the skies. The sun, moon, and stars are dazzling us with their brilliance and with their silent—yet unmistakable witness—to the Creator God. Long about the time you are getting all enthused by these celestial wonders, suddenly the writer of this psalm takes hold of your face and forces you to look down at some dusty Torah scroll where you can consider God’s Law. And that is then where the rest of the poem spends all its time: on the beauty, splendor, richness, and sweetness of God’s statutes, commands, rules, and laws. And since we are in the Law department anyway, the psalm ends with a kind of confession in asking God to straighten out within us anything that God’s Law reveals as being crooked.
As for the sun shining in the sky? By the end of the psalm it is as though that image had never been conjured in the first place.
Soooo . . . what gives? Was this originally 2 short songs that someone thought loosely to stitch together? Or can we do what the psalmist elected not to do; viz., figure out what made sense in his mind to connect the wonders of the firmament with the wonders of God’s Law? There are a few possibilities we could consider.
One possibility is that the psalmist is so enthused about the beauty of God’s Law that the beauty one sees on a starry night or when observing the brilliant course of the sun across the sky on any given day really did seem to be practically the same thing. Whatever God makes or does is splendid. The sun? Sure. Lovely. The Law? Also for sure. Gorgeous. They are kind of the same after all.
A related possibility is that both the creation and the Law are so downrightly orderly, and perhaps this is the connection the psalmist saw between verses 1-6 an then verse 7 and following. There is majesty to be perceived in how God laid out the architecture of the cosmos and also in how God laid out the structure of God’s Law. The universe coheres. There is a logic to it all. There is purpose in it all as well—neither the physical world nor the spiritual realm are simply a random, booming, buzzing confusion. It’s a symphony not a cacophony. It all forms a cosmos and not a chaos.
Certainly it is true that sometimes the world seems pretty chaotic. But you get the feeling that if you pointed that out to this psalmist, he would have a ready-to-hand explanation: life seems random and the world looks chaotic precisely because people are NOT following God’s blueprint for life as contained in the Law. Life on planet earth would be as regular and orderly and happily predictable as the courses of the stars above if only we did what God told us to do. Follow the rules, color inside the lines, learn to live happily within the area proscribed by God’s moral boundary fences and all would be well.
People don’t do that and hence this psalm’s closing prayer for God to forgive but also to heal and to straighten out whatever within the psalmist is not in plumb with God’s rules. The Lenten note with which this poem concludes is no doubt the reason it is assigned for the Season of Lent in the Year B Lectionary.
Life is meant to be beautiful—as beautiful as the stars above. And God has given us the great gift of a Law that can help us achieve that beauty.
Of course, Psalm 19 might sound other discordant notes for some people. Rules are very often not one’s favorite thing in life. Most folks don’t get all swoony when looking at a list of rules the way the psalmist clearly feels when looking at God’s Law. We often chafe against regulations. You can start a heated political argument almost anywhere by saying either “I think the government needs to regulate the economy and the environment more than it currently does” or alternatively by saying, “The best government is small government—keep your nose out of my business!”
Of course, on the human level not every law or regulation is perfect. But not so with God’s Law. It always aims at making our lives better. Its goal is ever and only just one thing (and it is the best thing): Shalom.
Helping us to see and celebrate that beautiful prospect is what Psalm 19 is all about. It is what the sun, moon, and stars are all about too.
Note: We have additional Lenten Resources, worship ideas, and Sample Sermons on our 2021 Lent and Easter page.
Perhaps it is a bit of a silly joke—and it may or may not relate as well as it might to the subject at hand—but here goes: A man newly arrived in New York City hails a taxi. He gets into the backseat and gives the driver his destination address. The driver takes off on the streets of Manhattan and as they approach a red light, the taxi driver sails on through. “What are you doing!?” the passenger cries out. “Don’t worry” the driver says, “My brother Felix does it all the time!” Soon they come up on another red light and again the taxi drives through the intersection. “You’re going to get me killed” the man sighs. “Don’t worry—my brother Felix does it all the time!” Finally they come up on another intersection and as they get to it, the light turns green. The passenger breathes a sigh of relief even as the taxi driver screeches to a halt. “Now what are you doing?” the passengers asks. “Hey,” the driver replies, “My brother Felix might be coming from the other way!”
There is a certain inescapable logic to the existence of most laws. We can flout some laws, break some laws, ignore some laws but not only do we do so to our peril, the orderliness that laws make possible has a funny way of reasserting itself too. It seems to have something to do with how the world got made in the first place.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Author: Doug Bratt
In a wonderful Sermon Starter on this text (from which I drew numerous ideas for this Starter), Scott Hoezee suggests that there’s a danger in spending as much time in church and around Christians as some gospel proclaimers do. That’s that Christianity becomes commonsensical to us. That we also wonder why Christianity doesn’t make sense to everyone else too.
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s Paul neither claims nor even hints that Christianity makes sense to everyone. He, instead, insists the gospel message is nonsensical, “foolishness” to at least some people.
The apostle, in fact, uses some form of the word “foolish” not once but four times in our text’s 7 verses. The root of the Greek word that we generally translate as “foolish” or “folly” is moros. It’s also the root of the English word “moron” that we sometimes angrily or casually throw around.
So it’s as though Paul is basically saying the message of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross is naturally “moronic.” That the message of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross is, dare we say, a little crazy.
Of course, the gospel of the cross isn’t foolish to God’s adopted sons and daughters. The Holy Spirit has graciously convinced God’s people that the gospel is, in fact, true. God has graciously persuaded us that that message is “the power of God” that’s greater than all of humanity’s power, intelligence and wisdom.
But if I Corinthians 1:18-25’s proclaimers and hearers are to carry its gospel into a new week, it’s good to remember that it naturally seems foolish. To riff on one of Hoezee’s images, reading the gospel is naturally a bit like walking into a car dealership and spotting an attractive car.
You sit in it, turn on the radio, move the seats back and forth, maybe even take it for a test drive … and then walk away from it. You decide the car is not worth any more of your attention. It’s basically foolishness to you.
We might think of our text’s Corinth as a kind of ancient New York City or Toronto and its citizens as spiritual “test drivers.” Corinth was, after all, a kind of crossroads where multiple traditions and languages converged. Its citizens exchanged ideas the way others exchanged money for goods. Corinthians also liked to “test drive” the “cars” that were various religions.
So they would have felt very much home in a 21st century West that increasingly loves to be spiritual without being religious. Our culture has become a veritable flea market of ideas, philosophies and religions. We’re constantly trying them on to see if they fit us. Westerners also shed ideas and religions about as often as we scrub away dead skin follicles.
To the spiritually curious Corinthians, says Paul, the whole gospel seemed like complete foolishness. The idea of a convicted felon being the bearer of God’s forgiving love was about the wildest thing any Corinthian intellectual worth her weight could imagine.
What’s more, the concept of a crucified but resurrected Jesus didn’t make much sense to many of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries either. Since at least some of them were expecting someone to live to pave the way for God’s coming, they assumed the Messiah would kill the pagans, not be killed by them.
Yet the whole idea of the gospel didn’t seem foolish just to sophisticated Greeks and Jews. It also seemed moronic to ordinary Corinthians. They seemed to be looking for some kind of reasonable god who would stick with and help them when the going got rough. But Paul offered them a God whom most others abandoned when the going got tough.
Yet the whole gospel thing looks little more reasonable to our contemporaries than it did in ancient Corinth. “Come on,” at least some of them say, “you’re trying to tell us that someone had to die for us to live?” Our neighbors, co-workers and even some of our loved ones wonder what sort of vengeful God would demand that. In fact, even Christians sometimes struggle to understand what about Jesus’ death on the cross transformed us from God’s enemies into God’s beloved children.
A few well-meaning Christians would like to do something about the Christian gospel’s “foolishness.” They want to help Christians communicate the gospel to thoughtful modern people. Some have tried to package the Christian faith in a way that our contemporaries find more palatable. So some gospel proclaimers have, for example, made the gospel more “reasonable” by basically shrinking Jesus down to a teacher of good morals.
Yet as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock and it is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable of neither inflicting deep wounds nor healing them.” If God’s beloved people can get that through our heads, we can share what looks like foolishness with even the smartest, most sophisticated people we know.
Of course, few of the Corinthians who’d faithfully received this foolishness seemed to be Corinth’s “brightest and the best.” In fact, most were people whom their neighbors overlooked, exploited and pushed to society’s margins. Corinth’s Christians were people whom their contemporaries viewed as “fools.”
To make things worse, those Corinthian Christians sometimes also acted like fools. They struggled to live in ways consistent with the gospel message. Some sued each other or refused to sit together at the Lord’s Table. Other Corinthian Christians separated themselves from the church because they thought they were more spiritual than other members.
“But God …” says Paul in verse 27 (that falls, regrettably, outside this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson). It’s one of the apostle’s phrases he loves to use to describe an apparently persistent human problem that God graciously stepped in to fix it. The whole idea God’s salvation through Christ’s death on the cross is naturally scandalous and foolish. But God, Paul insists, through Christ’s death saves “those who believe.” God graciously transforms what seems like foolishness into something the Spirit equips us to receive with our faith.
The apostle notes that Corinth’s Christians had been “nobodies.” But God, adds Paul, graciously made them “somebodies.” Not necessarily the kind of people their world recognized as important, but the kind of people that really mattered. God, says Paul, chose those Corinthian “nobodies” and called them through Paul’s proclamation of the crucified Christ. God made those Corinthian nobodies into God’s adopted sons and daughters.
Some who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson share Corinth’s Christians’ humble status. Others are among society’s wisest and most influential people. But it seems that growing numbers of people think of both lowly and powerful Christians’ faith as “foolish.” Of course, not all of our neighbors, co-workers and friends think of God’s people as superstitious or extremist. But they may assume that what we believe is foolish.
No mentally healthy person wants to look ridiculous. We don’t want to return to middle or upper school where our clothing, grades or choice of friends sometimes made us feel foolish. Even God’s dearly beloved people naturally want people to admire, or at least tolerate us.
So it’s tempting not to “boast” about our Christian faith, much less, the Lord. In fact, the most natural response to contempt for Christianity is to somehow hide our faith. Or to talk about it hesitantly, as though it’s something we almost have to apologize for.
That’s one reason why Christians’ faithful involvement in the local church is perhaps more important than ever. As our culture views Christianity (and Christians) with growing contempt, God’s adopted sons and daughters need to hear God and fellow Christians repeatedly remind us that we’re not foolish. We need other Christians to encourage us to keep “foolishly” following Jesus Christ. God’s dearly loved people need God and Christian brothers and sisters to tell us we’re not “nobodies,” but God’s dearly beloved sons and daughters. We need other Christians to encourage us to keep sharing the foolish gospel in loving and patient ways.
Yet we also remember that no amount of wisdom or cleverness will convert anyone to Christians’ ways of thinking about God and God’s ways. While Christianity makes sense to Christians, none of us thought our way into God’s kingdom. Even C.S. Lewis, who followed a largely intellectual path to his conversion, always credited the Holy Spirit for his transformation.
So both those who proclaim and those hear this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson share our faith and lives with people with deep love and humility. But we never forget that only what Paul calls “the power of God” at work through the Holy Spirit can save anyone.
Yet perhaps more than anything God’s people need to cultivate a healthy relationship with the Lord in order to truly live as what perhaps growing numbers of our neighbors think of as fools. We need to pay more attention to God’s voice than our culture’s. After all, our true value doesn’t lie in what society thinks of us. It lies in God’s view of God’s people as God’s beloved children who for Jesus’ sake deeply please the Lord.
Ronald Numbers’ biography of Seventh-Day Adventism’s founder, Ellen White is entitled Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. In it he describes the deep disappointment many of White’s contemporaries felt when Jesus failed to return on the date predicted by William Miller.
Numbers notes that a few of those people’s disappointment allegedly drove them to commit suicide. 32 others, the director of the New York Lunatic Asylum claimed, became insane because of their disappointment over Jesus’ failure to return on October 22, 1844.
A link between mental illness and religion sounds old-fashioned and, dare we say, foolish to 21st century Christians. Yet it’s wise to remember that, as Numbers notes, 19th century American psychiatrists generally believed that excessive religious zeal often caused insanity in people already predisposed toward mental illness.