Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This Church Is Full of Fools!

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18 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. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

                Coming in March there is a new movie coming out – Noah.  Russell Crowe is playing the lead role.  Jennifer Connelly is in it.  Anthony Hopkins is in it – he is cast as Methusalah, Noah’s grandfather.  It has a budget of $130 million and will be complete with lots of special effects.

                I have no idea whether this is going to be a great movie – or a flop, but I do know the story is a fascinating story.  Now the Bible spends just a very brief section on the story of Noah – so to make a major motion picture, there will have to be some creative license.

                But it is an interesting story – and when you read it, you wonder about all the things that are not said in the Bible.

                For one thing, what did the neighbors think?

                I’ve lived in neighborhoods where the Homeowners Association would send you nasty letters if you left your trashcan out overnight.  And here’s Noah building this huge Ark that is 300 cubits long.  I mean, my trashcan is only about 3 cubits high.

                Bill Cosby had a routine early in his career as a comedian in which he imagined what it would have been like to be Noah.  Part of this routine involved Noah’s neighbor walking by one day and he sees the ark.  He yells out to Noah, “Hey, Noah – what is this thing?”

                Noah yells back – it’s an ark.

                The neighbor yells back, “An ark?  You want to move it?  It’s blocking my drive way.  I can’t get my camel out of my garage.”

                At one point in the routine, Bill Cosby continues in the roll of Noah and begins to complain to God, “Lord do you know how hard it is for a man my age – I’m 600 years old.  I have to haul all this wood around.  I’m going out getting two of everything – one male mosquito, one female – do we really need those things anyway.  And then you let me bring in those two elephants and you never told me that the female was pregnant. You give me no manual for how to deliver a baby elephant and all the neighbors are laughing at me because there I am under the elephant trying to catch the baby.  The neighbors are making fun of me all the time – “ha, ha ha, there’s crazy old Noah.”

                Bill Cosby’s routine on Noah is a classic comedy skit – but he nails it when it comes to the neighbors making fun of us and laughing at Christians.

                Paul is right there with Bill Cosby. 

                Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians:  For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”

                The world around us is laughing at our foolishness, for to them, we are fools.

                We see it on the playground when everyone seems to be bullying and picking on one of the children – and one child stands up against the bullying because she is a Christian and she tries to show love and compassion.  The other children might respond well – but they might also laugh and ridicule. 

                We see it when the teenager tries to be sexually pure.  The body is sending messages to the brain – “oh yeah, we gotta get some satisfaction!”  And all the other kids are saying, “Yeah, no big deal, just be sure to practice safe sex.  You’d be a fool not to.”

                To stand up against those pressures – well, the world sees that as foolish.

                We see it in adults who feel out of sync with culture.  Culture says blessed are those who are greedy, for they shall inherit the earth – but faith says, that the earth will be inherited by those who are meek.  Faith says, blessed are those who show mercy, but the world says that those who show no mercy get ahead. 

                The world looks at us and says – “fools.”

                Henry Ward Beecher, the famous New England minister, entered his pulpit one Sunday morning. On the pulpit was a letter in an unmarked envelope.  He opened it and found a single sheet of paper.  On it was one word – “Fool.”

It was meant as an insult.  It was meant to hurt the pastor. 

But the pastor was not dismayed – he held up the paper and said, “I’ve known a lot of men to write letters and forget to sign their name, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a man forget to write the letter but remember to sign his name.”

Who is the fool?  Who is the one who is wise?

                As Paul said, For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”

                To love our neighbor is fine, but Christ calls us to love our enemy --- foolishness in the eyes of the world.

                To care about the poor?  To practice generosity and to be our brother’s keeper?  To look after others and not just to look after ourselves?  To think of others more highly than we regard ourselves?  Pure foolishness in the eyes of the world.

                To believe that God sent his Son to die on a cross – to be executed between two common criminals?  Foolishness in the eyes of the world.

                To gather together in a church and eat some pieces of bread and to drink from cups the wine or the grape juice?  To call that a Sacrament?  Foolishness in the eyes of the world.

                When we live as Christ commands us to live, some will admire us.  Some will respect us.  But many will laugh at us.  Comedians with videos on youtube will insult us.  And they will call us foolish, but God will call us wise.

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.”

To live a life in which you show love to your neighbors, and even to your enemies – that may seem foolish to the world, but that is a good worthwhile life.

To live a life that helps the poor oppressed may seem foolish to some, but to God, that is a life well lived.

The world can ridicule those of us who believe we are saved by Christ, but come judgment day, knowing Christ as Savior will have proved to have been wise indeed.

I was in a classroom once in Seminary and we were asked what we wanted written on our tombstones.  I offered that I’d like mine to say, “here lies Maynard Pittendreigh, he died of extremely old age.” 

The professor smiled and said, “I’ll do you one better.  It is said that among some of the Monks of the Orthodox Church it is common to place upon their tombstone the phrase: “Here lies a Fool for Christ.”

What greater tribute could there be?

Copyright 2014
W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unity In Christ

1 Corinthians 1:9-17

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.


    Adam Rankin went to the General Assembly with a complaint.  Now for those of you who do not know, General Assembly is the national level of the Presbyterian Church.  This year the meeting will be held in Detroit and my wife and I are looking forward to going.  And every time there is a General Assembly, there will be some people who go just so they can make known to everyone else their complaint about what’s wrong with the church.
      Adam Rankin attended a General Assembly once upon a time, and his complaint was the contemporary music that was being played and sung in church.  He wanted only traditional music in the church.  The contemporary music that was being written was anti-tradition, anti-Bible and anti-Christ.  It was, he said, noise to the ears. 

            The General Assembly that Rankin went to was held in 1789. 

            The contemporary music that he complained about was that which had been written by Isaac Watts.  Most of the music of Isaac Watts had been controversial.  It split some churches in two.  It divided families.

            You may not know the name Isaac Watts, but you will recognize some of the more than 600 hymns he wrote.

            Joy to the World, the Lord has come.

            Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past.

            These hymns were considered radical at the time they were written 300 years ago.  People loved them and people hated them – and these songs divided the church.

            We look back, and think – how silly for the church to be divided over such things!

            Back in the 1980s, a little church in South Carolina, the Rocky River Presbyterian Church, split over the election of an elder.  Helen was the first woman to ever be elected to serve as an elder in that 150 year old congregation, and some people didn’t like it.  And it split the church.  The new church took the name New Rocky River Presbyterian Church and they proclaimed that they would never allow a woman to have a position of authority, because they believed that is what the Bible taught. 

            Now what makes that so interesting is that not long ago they called a new pastor.  You guessed it – they called a woman preacher!  Everyone in the church was thrilled.  What split a church 30 years ago is not even a cause for embarrassment.  It has been forgotten.

            The story is told of the Centerville Presbyterian Church in Centerville, Georgia.  Apparently they have the record for the number of times congregations can split. 

            Centerville is a small town of about 5,000 people. It all started with one original Presbyterian church in town had an internal conflict around 1911 over whether to take up the offering before or after the sermon. The new split became the “Centerville Reformed Presbyterian Church.” Just four years later another church split occurred over whether to have flowers in the sanctuary or not. The church that split off was renamed “Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church of Centerville.”  Seven more splits took place between 1915 and 1929. 

            At one time one of the congregations took on the name Holy Presbyterian Church, which led to the next group calling themselves the Holiest Presbyterian Church.

            You know how many Presbyterian Churches exist in Centerville, Georgia, today?


            Divisions do nothing but destroy the church.  They hurt the Kingdom of God.

When Saint Paul wrote the Corinthians, he was addressing a series of problems in the church.  The first of these problems was the division. 

People were aligning themselves with different groups.  Some said they belonged to Paul, other Cephas, or Peter.  Another group aligned themselves with Apollos.  A few said they were the true followers of Christ.

            Today we see a continuing effort to divide the church.

            No longer do we align ourselves with Paul or Peter or Apollos – today we say some of us are Baptist, others Episcopal, others Methodist and others Presbyterian.

            Today we talk in terms of how some of us like contemporary praise music and others like traditional hymns.

            Or it may be other things that divide us.  We may be conservative or liberal.  We may be a Republican Church or a Democrat Church.  We may be --- well, you get the idea.

            In the Presbyterian Church there are some congregations leaving the denomination.  We’ve seen this here in Orlando, but this is not the only place we have seen this.

            Divisions in the church. 

            Sometimes it hits very close to home – a discussion in a Sunday School class, or even in a family, can lead Christians to feel separated from one another.  “Oh, that person is one of ‘them,’ but I’m one of ‘these.’” 

            You know what is interesting about what Paul says about the divisions taking place in Corinth?  Nothing – he doesn’t say anything.  Well, nothing other than they exist and that they had labels.  He doesn’t say what one group believed or what the other group did.  He doesn’t seem to care what divides them.  He is more interested in what UNITES them.


            Nothing else is as important to Paul.

            Now, some of the things that divide us are important and are worth the time to discuss.  Should gays be ordained?  What is the best way to help to the homeless in our community?  How do we help those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol?  Yes – these are absolutely important.  But we can only come to the right decisions about these issues if we stay focused on Christ, and the mandate that he gave us to love God and to love each other.

            Today we ordain and install new officers for our church – some to serve as elders and others as deacons. 

            One of the ordination vows for both deacons and elders – and also for pastors – concerns the promotion of “peace, unity and purity” in the church.

            Saint Paul would have loved this particular ordination vow.  For him, few things were as important as the unity of the church. 

            In our New Testament lesson for today, he wrote that we should all be in agreement and that there be no divisions among us, but that we should be “united in the same mind and the same purpose.”

            Now that does not mean that everyone has to think the same way – having the same mind does not mean we all become Republican or that we all become Democrat.  It does not mean that we all become conservative or liberal.  It does not mean that we all have to agree on the biblical concept of marriage or whether or not to ordain gays.  It does not mean we have to agree on what color to paint the Sunday School classroom. 

Walter Lippmann made a statement once that I find insightful — “When all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

What being of one mind means is that we stay focused on the one thing that we have in common – Jesus Christ. 

Most of us focus on our differences – that’s the human thing to do.

Paul wants us to focus on what we have in common – Jesus Christ.

            In Rwanda, there are two important groups of people.  One is the Hutus.  The other is the Tutsis.  In 1994 violence erupted between the two groups.  In the span of only 100 days, almost one million people were killed. 

            What is the difference in these two groups?

            They have the same religion.

            They speak the same language.

            Their skin color is the same.

            Geneticists have difficulty seeing any differences.

            But the two groups focus on differences – whatever differences there may be, and the consequences were frightening.

Ernest was born in Rwanda.  He now lives here in America, but he recently said that when he was growing up, he did not know the difference between the Hutus and the Tutsis.  It wasn’t until he went to school that he learned that they were different.  During the first week of school, teachers asked the Hutus to go to one side of the room and the Tutsis to go to the other. In fact, Ernest was not alone.  Most children didn’t know what they were and had to ask their parents. And once their parents told them which group they were part of, that is when the troubles began for Ernest.

These people who shared so much in common, focused on their differences rather than their similarities, and as a consequence, more than a million of them died.  Instead of working together for their country, they almost destroyed their country.

            Whenever we lose our focus on the one thing we have in common - Jesus Christ, that is when our troubles begin.


Copyright 2014

All Rights Reserved

W. Maynard Pittendreigh