Exodus 20:1-17; I Cor. 1:18-25
A Rabbi and a Presbyterian minister walk out of a restaurant following a delightful lunch. As they prepare to go their different ways the minister says, “Keep the faith.” The Rabbi smiles and responds, “Keep the Commandments.”
There are few biblical texts that have played as large a role in Church and public life as the Ten Commandments. From their setting in scripture, to the contemporary debate about their public display, the Commandments embody God’s will for human life as fully as any teaching.
I have served churches in West Texas and Eastern North Carolina where the debate over displaying the Commandments in public places is still is alive and well. My fear is not in the Commandments disappearing from our halls of justice but rather their disappearance from our places of worship. As churches continue discussions over the display of the American Flag in our sanctuaries, it has been quite a while since someone has approached me about properly displaying the Commandments within our hallowed walls. Perhaps as we reconstruct our fellowship hall a priority might be finding a place where the Ten Commandments could be reverently and properly exhibited. Is there a better expression of faith and moral behavior? Simply put the Commandments are a reminder to love God and our local and global community with all our hearts.
Perhaps the Commandments are not displayed on our church walls because they have never been fully displayed within our hearts. This is not something that just happened recently. No sooner were the Original Commandments “chiseled into stone,” than they were broken. The community of humankind has always been in a dialogue concerning where one places its ultimate trust. Political and economic realms are necessary components of the human equation. Yet both, all too easily, turn moral imperatives into conditional suggestions.
If I were a Puritan, this would be the perfect time to do my best Jonathan Edwards impression and begin ranting about sinners in the hands of an angry God. Instead, I want to risk breaking the Second Commandment by raising the issue of God’s Foolishness.
In the first chapter of I Corinthians, Paul uses the word foolishness ten different times. In verse 18 he states, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those perishing.” In verse 25 Paul goes completely overboard. He writes, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Hopefully you are asking yourself how Paul’s statement concerning the foolishness of God is related to the Ten Commandments.
I don’t know a lot about computers and even less about robotics. I do know that certain machines can be programmed to perform particular functions perfectly every time. Assembly lines have become far more effective as human beings have been replaced. I know machines have drawbacks but if I were on an assembly line doing the same thing for eight hours I cannot guarantee you my production would be perfect. My mind wanders; I get tired; some days I am more efficient than others; eventually I would begin thinking more about my next job than the job at hand. I know science fiction writers have a field day imagining robots developing the ability to eventually take over the world, but today, problems in robotics come from faulty programming rather than some android named Spartacus.
God chose not to create robots. We are not preprogrammed. While I am certain perfection was desired, it hardly seems to be the end results. We have the ability to think, to dream, and to travel roads different than our creator might have desired. We have our cherished free will, which can be as much a burden as a gift. There is the curiosity to move outside God’s guidelines. We are tempted by the allure of power and wealth. We even declare ourselves to be God through endeavors we believe are for the betterment of OUR narrowly defined communities. How vulnerable of God to entrust us with such responsibility.
I think vulnerable is the perfect word to use when discussing the foolishness of God. In The Westminster Confession God is described as, “infinite, eternal, all-sufficient, unchangeable, almighty, all knowing, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth.” That is an impressive list. I believe Paul would have added, “God is vulnerable.” This is a dangerous thought. While vulnerability suggests weakness, it also suggests the willingness to take risks. Can there be a better expression of vulnerability than God giving humanity the ability to make choices?
The choice God offered, from the beginning, is both simple and complex. Will we put God above ourselves? Will we put others ahead of ourselves? Will we choose to serve rather than be served?
The Commandments are offered, and sometimes they are followed, and sometimes they are not. Make no mistake the Commandments are not only hard; they leave a lot of room for discussion. And yet for over 4,000 years they have been the centerpiece of both our faith and ethics. 2,000 years ago, God tried again. The embodiment of the Commandments walked among us. This foolish God used weakness rather than power to expose and confront the existing mores of not only that moment but of any moment.
For the Romans, or any dynasty, might makes right.
For the Jews, or any religion, institutions trump truth.
For the Greeks, or any civilization, knowledge presupposes revelation.
But God isn’t interested in power, or institutions or human wisdom. God is interested in eradicating human obsession with its own salvation and replacing it with a universal desire to care for each other. God knows that dynasties crumble, institutions go bankrupt, and human wisdom is limited. But God also knows dynasties and institutions don’t die without a fight.
Take the example of Jesus. What was his crime? He fed the poor, he lifted up the oppressed, he gave hope to the hopeless, he offered sight to the blind and he did it all in God’s name. Dynasties branded him a revolutionary. He challenged the presuppositions of the wise and confronted the teachers of the Law. Institutions accused him of being blasphemous. But you know what really got him killed? He was gracious, merciful, slow to anger and steadfast in his love toward ALL of God’s people. He preached peace, he didn’t steal, he didn’t lie, and he didn’t crave that which wasn’t his. What kind of world would we have if everyone acted like that?
Jesus was so naïve, so vulnerable, so foolish. People in power eliminate anyone espousing such a lifestyle. And so he was crucified, exposed on a cross, lifted up for the entire world to see what a fool he had been.
Then God responded! God said, “You can ignore me, criticize me, and doubt my existence but you can’t kill me. Life is a gift;
Life is a miracle;
Life is my grace upon each of you.”
Many folks complain little has changed in the world since the death of Jesus. We are still dominated by power hungry folks who expose the worst in the human spirit. My answer is with the resurrection of Jesus, God did not revoke our privilege of free will. Instead God left us with a symbol that calls into question everything we value.
If we are star struck by the so-called beautiful people, the Cross symbolizes the simplicity of Christ.
If we are impressed with power and unrestrained violence, the Cross represents self-sacrifice of Christ.
If we are mesmerized by eloquent speech, the Cross recalls the poetry of God.
If we are paralyzed to act because of fear of reprisal, the Cross evokes the promise of God’s eternal grace.
The Cross speaks the truth when lies are easier. The Cross embraces gentleness when force seems necessary. The Cross applies justice when the oppressed are kept silent. The Cross offers forgiveness when revenge would taste so good.
The community of God is formed around what seems to be utter foolishness. Why should we care for folks we barely know? Why should we forgive folks we can barely stand? If someone hurts me, why not strike back? If someone lies about me, why not speak ill of them? Why not raise my voice or my fist in anger? What happened to an eye for an eye?
Imagine losing a son or daughter to the ignorant, or selfish, or evil actions of another. Imagine holding complete and absolute power over the person who destroyed your very life. Imagine looking that person in the eye and saying, “I love you despite what you did.”
God’s Foolishness replaced an eye for an eye. The Cross intercedes; the Cross rescues us from ourselves; the Cross lifts us up that we might lift up the fallen, the downtrodden, the ugly, the forgotten, and particularly the powerful. The Cross exposes each of us to the vulnerability of the grace of God.
Then God not only saves us, but reminds us that we still have the free will:
To claim One God,
To abandon the idols which entice us,
To refrain from misusing God’s name,
To keep the Sabbath,
To honor our elders,
To abstain from:
And coveting that which is not ours.
In this day and age we need to keep the faith, and keep the Commandments. What better way to become fools for Christ. Amen.