Love for All May Be Foolish to Some, but it is God’s Wisdom

A sermon based on 1 Cor. 1:10-18
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 26, 2014
by Rev. Scott Elliott
There’s a story that is supposed to be true about a city dweller who moved to a rural area and called the county road supervisor with a request they remove a “Deer Crossing” sign on her road. When asked why? she earnestly replied “Because too many deer are being hit by cars and if you take the sign down maybe the deer will stop crossing there.” 1

Now that’s a bit of foolishness. and it does relate to a “deer cross,” but that is not the foolishness about the “dear cross” that Paul is talking about in today’s lesson from 1 Corinthians.

Paul writes “ For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What Paul is talking about is how Jesus’ Way, the Jesus Movement, was seen by others as foolish.

See, following a man who taught the radical idea of loving everyone and responding to violence with non-violence; a man who was convicted and executed in the most humiliating manner – on a cross–  was seen as a fool and teaching foolishness. Simply put, Jesus’ Way was crazy talk and Jesus was executed because of it.

And the early church that Paul was a part of was following that very Jesus– and his crazy talk– even after he had been killed, heck even because he had been killed, and Jesus’ followers were calling it all good news! The thing of it is, this good news was not (as Paul puts it) the “wisdom of the world,” nor was following Jesus and doing such things.

Jesus told people – and WE think tells us still– that those who tend to the least amongst us inherit God’s empire, that is how we help bring heaven to earth. We are called to love everyone – everyone– and act upon that call working for justice and peace.

In the parable of the Goats and Sheep Jesus asserts that NATIONS are held accountable for how they tend to those in need, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned and the stranger.

And Jesus notes in the telling of that story that Christ is in those in need and the cultural misfits. Now, even today making the claim that God, the superpower of the universe, is in the needy and misfits is going to be regarded by a whole lot of people as foolishness.

Recently the Pope was criticized for daring to suggest we are supposed do just that, to use our resources to help just such folks. That turned out to be crazy talk to some pundits and radio talk show hosts. If it is, it’s crazy talk that originated with Jesus. I guess the world could call it Divine foolishness.

See, all that lovely-dovey-give-a-darn-for-the -poor-and-sick-and-aliens-and-prisoners stuff is foolishness to the worldly wisdom of Jesus’ and Paul’s day . . . and even still in today.

And it wasn’t just love-those-in-need that Jesus was preaching, he was preaching and practicing love of every one, even enemies. In Jesus’ first sermon he preached that he came to let the oppressed go free, and in his life’s work he showed that love is the key to let the oppressed free. He taught that God loves everyone, you, others and me. And he taught we are to love like that, unconditionally.

The message of the cross is that this love wins! Love takes the victory.

This church’s embrace of these notions that love wins, that God loves everyone and we are to too, has got folks in this church in trouble since the start, because it’s foolishness to the wisdom of the world.  Over the years we’ve been called fools and worse.

On July 26th of this year– exactly six months from today two great birthdays occur, the church’s 180th and, of course, you all have the other birthday on your calendar, my 37th. . .okay 57th.

In preparation for our 180th birthday I’ve been doing some research with Janet in the achieves. One thing is for sure since our church has been around it’s been promoting the message of the cross that we are to love and love wins, and so, the church has over the years been seen as foolishness by many of this world.

The clergy and members of this church started out being harassed since we began in 1834 fighting for the foolish-to-the-world-Christ-like idea of ending of slavery.

We were, as one of our early church historians put it, “conceived by abolitionists, born in the throes of anti-slavery and cradled in conflict.” (1904, Church Manual, p 52).  That’s an honorable heritage nowadays, but it was violently opposed at the time even though it is unmistakably in line with the Gospels.

Our anti-slavery message was so loathed in town back in the day that mobs stormed our church meetings, and night vigils were held at the church to protect the building. (Ibid. , p 48, 49). This was very scary stuff.

In 1837 a professor from Oberlin was leading an anti-slavery meeting at church and was chased out by a mob known around town as the “Mount Vernon Meat Axe Club.”

A year earlier a minister was chased by a local lynch mob and only avoided being lynched only because women from the church encircled and protected him. Groups of church teens were formed to also routinely encircle and escort the minister to and from church for his safety.

This wonderful community of the loving God has long sought to surround and embrace and protect not only ministers and the building, but most especially the oppressed, knowing all the while that living the “message about the cross is foolishness,” except to those working for salvation from the lesser way we could all be.

As we put in our new brochure in our 180 year history

We have never shied away from doing what is right for Christ’s love. We’ve opposed slavery and helped free slaves.
We’ve marched for civil rights.
We’ve stood up for peace.
We’ve fought for equality of women.
We are – and have been– at the forefront of LGBTQ rights in the county.
We help those in need.

We have done all of this because we take very seriously the message of the cross that love wins, that God is love, and that we are to be God’s love. So we try to act according to Jesus’ supreme commandment to love God and to love our neighbors. And we know the good news as, God loving everyone, no strings attached. As the Bible repeatedly puts it, God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.

We have over our 180 year history believed and proclaimed that steadfast forever love.

We believe and proclaim that we all get steadfast forever love no matter how God created us, whether, black, white, brown, disabled, male, female, Straight or LGBTQ. We are all loved equally and entitled to just and fair treatment, not just in this church, but out in the world.

Sadly, some folks–including other churches and clergy– think this is foolish and sinful.

The Bible proclaims all of God’s creation is very good (Gen 1:31). But  people get angry about this love-for-all-whom-God-has-made stuff. And so like our predecessors, we will still hear that we are fools for Jesus’ all-embracing-no-strings-attached love.

This church’s 180 years of being foolish to the world for love is in a grand tradition, as the New Testament records that the early church itself took this foolish-love-for-all stuff to the extremes Jesus’ teachings logically lead to.

Peter is remembered as having received no less than a command from God to call no one profane or unclean. Acts 10: 28 records in no uncertain terms that Peter reported to the early church leaders (and I am quoting) “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” That’s kinda hard to literally read any way but as a command – a command– to not “dis” people for how God created them.

So it should really come as no surprise, but it does, that earlier in Acts 8 (26–40) Phillip is led by God to baptize and bring into the church a Ethiopian Eunuch (a eunuch is a non-heterosexual male).

The word “eunuch” in the Bible has gained some scholarly attention in recent years. We tend to hear it as a meaning someone who’s been physically altered to be non-heterosexual, but it’s thought by some scholars to include a more general reference to any male who did not have intimate relations with women, not just those made physically unable, but also those who choose to be celibate, as well as those born without a desire for women.

References to men born without that desire, it’s argued, meant Gay men.

It’s interesting to apply this understanding to a text in Matthew 19:12 where Jesus notes the three types of eunuchs, starting off with the phrase (and I’m quoting Jesus here) “there are eunuchs who have been so from birth…”  That would mean Jesus, without recrimination, observed that some men are born not desiring women.

If that is what Jesus meant, then we can also hear this as meaning such men are created by God. And being a part of creation means not only that God made Gays, but it also means they are ipso facto very good part of creation. Which we know is the truth about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters!

This actually lines up with modern science which has for decades concluded that non-heterosexuality is a natural part of creation, so it also makes sense that the early church would welcome all whom God made– and that we should too.

That would also explain why Jesus seems to have mentioned these non-heterosexuals as a matter of fact without a hint of the chastisement that we hear coming from some modern quarters of Christianity.

Now we don’t know if the Ethiopian Eunuch was a natural born eunuch or not, but we do know either way he was non-heterosexual and so it cannot be denied that one of the first, if not the first person, the Holy Spirit causes a church leader to bring into the fold, was a non-heterosexual. How cool is that?

In fact one can argue he was the very first outsider, non-Jewish person, that the church lovingly brought into its fold.

See the early church, like Jesus, had a wide embrace and inclusiveness–   they let in and embraced every type of person God made.  And make no mistake about it they were thought foolish too.

Now it’s my experience that a lot of Christians, especially clergy, tend  not to admit that the Bible has conflicting thoughts on a myriad of topics and has been used to support un-Godly conduct. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bible was used to support genocide, slavery, segregation, misogyny.

Jennifer sent me an article listing examples of the Bible being used to support un-Godly conduct.( It’s a blog by Rachel Held Evans at http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/bible-clear )

In 1637  Captain John Underhill, defending the Puritan decimation of a an entire Native American tribe claimed:

 Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We have sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.
in 1846  Rev. Leonard Bacon in defense of American slavery claimed.

The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation that will get rid of everything.

In 1869 Rev. Justin Dewey Fulton in his treatise against women’s suffrage wrote

 The Bible is the revealed will of God, and it declares the God-given sphere of woman. The Bible is, then, our authority for saying woman must content herself with this sphere…Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class. There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel’s cheer to the favor of God and the love of the Christian community.

In 1960– 1960– Bob Jones Sr. in a treatise against integration wrote

Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble….These religious liberals are the worst infidels in many ways in the country . . .  They do not believe the Bible any longer; so it does not do any good to quote it to them.
They have gone over to modernism, and they are leading the white people astray at the same time; and they are leading colored Christians astray.  But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent orthodox Christian can read the Word of God and know that what is happening in the South now is not of God.”

The ugly truth is that we can, if we want, find and interpret passages in the Bible that support just about any kind of hate. We can find verses that oppose the “foolishness” of Jesus’ Way, of love– real love– for all.  But we have to ignore a lot of the Bible to hate or defile others.

We have to ignore God’s command to call no one profane or unclean and Jesus’ commandments to love others and do to others as we want done to us.

Claiming God wants less than the well being of the one YOU want to oppress is a mistake Christians often can be heard thumping the Bible for.

You can tell it’s who the claimer wants to oppress because they don’t have the same passion for Biblical rules that apply to them. You don’t hear anti-LGBTQ clergy insisting that clergy should only marry their virgin kin (Lev. 21:14),  or that they have to kill non-virgin brides (Deut 22:20), or they need to cause abortions for suspected cheaters (Num 5:11-31. These are Bible edicts!

I am glad they let go of those old rules, but they are literally in the Bible, at least as literally as the ones they claim allow them to bully and oppress our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Jesus taught and practiced a Way that understood God loves everyone and that we were to have the same compassion and desire for the well being of everyone that God has. We are supposed to love all people. We’re not supposed to call anyone profane or unclean. We are supposed to love everyone. We are supposed to do to others as we want done to us.
Here’s the thing loving our LGBTQ brothers and sisters fits right in with Jesus’ Way and the early church tradition of following that Way.

Rome and the ancient world thought this Way was nonsense, was foolishness. Most in Rome thought it was ridiculous to live and move and have our being as if all humans matter, as if all were in, and a part of, God. Rome reacted violently against followers of the Way.

This church’s following of Jesus’ Way has caused in our 180 years some to react with acts of violence and mean words aimed our way.

I’m so sorry to report that is true. I wish it were otherwise, but Jesus’ Way of all encompassing love is foolish to much of the world.

We of course cannot give up on that call just because others think it is foolish. But we also need to make sure that we respond with love, not hate in return.

Let us pray that we have the strength to be fools for God’s love.

Let us pray that we have the strength to love those who oppose God’s unconditional love.

Let us pray for those who oppose Jesus’ Way of love for all.

Let us pray for those who revile and persecute us.

Let us pray for their well being.

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King taught, let us not loath the hateful actor, when we loath their hateful deeds.

Finally, let us continue to embrace the message about the cross, that love wins, that God is love and that we are to be love in the world.
That message may be foolishness to those perishing with hate but to those of us working for salvation from the lesser way we could all be it is the power of God!

AMEN!

ENDNOTES
1. http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art17703.asp

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