“We are fools for the sake of Christ…”
I Corinthians 4:10
I suppose it’s tritely predictable to choose this text for a column to be published on April 1. Nonetheless….
In spite of some interpretation to the contrary, it doesn’t seem that Paul is really recommending “foolishness.” This text oozes sarcasm and irony (if you doubt that, read the entire context starting at verse 8!). It’s really a text about power and influence. More precisely, it’s about the hoary ecclesiastical instinct on the part of many church folk (clergy and laity alike) to want to run things….to be seen as smart and powerful and important and influential. It’s about control.
Control is not inherently bad – neither you nor I want either our own car or the one we are meeting on the highway, to be “out of control!” But when religion is allowed to devolve into structures by which to force others to do what I think they should do…. there’s trouble afoot.
Among the many ways that New Testament faith can be understood is as a protest movement against religious structures of oppressive control. The Galatian letter is the ultimate statement of this thesis. We are a people called to covenantal freedom – not a kind of freedom that does whatever the heck I want no matter what…. but a kind of freedom that seeks good – good for the other and good for me, as well.
The 20th Century writer Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) is in vogue among many Americans in these days, and it’s not hard to understand why. Her philosophy appeals to the American myth of self-reliance and self-made-ness. But it’s hard to reconcile those themes with the themes of social solidarity that run back and forth and over and under the entirety of the New Testament.
The structures and external trappings of faith – in this case Christian faith – have always evolved (contrary to the assertion of some), and they will always continue to evolve. But the heart of the matter remains quite constant: That God eternally exists in community and has created humankind to do the same. We boldly assert that humans were never intended to be alone and in fact aren’t alone for we have God and each other. We insist that any attempt to claim one without the other (choosing only God or only our neighbor) is distorted and ultimately unfaithful.
I enjoy a good joke as well anyone, but jokes don’t sustain when life is hard and the chips are down. On those days we need God and each other…. not just one or the other, but BOTH.
Let us strive to shape our congregations that they become manifestations of deep community – with God and with neighbor. And that’s no April Fool’s joke!!
UCC in Iowa