We've heard a lot in our readings and our psalm this morning about foolishness. It reminded me very much of a website I occasionally read, called "The Motley Fool". The Motley Fool is about investing wisely in stocks and shares, and in particular giving reasons not to trust financial advice from various other institutions - particularly those who actually get to handle your money. What has particularly stuck with me about the website is something they have on their introductory page:
Our name derives from Elizabethan drama, where only the court jester (the "Fool") could tell the King the truth without getting his head lopped off. We're dedicated to educating, amusing, and enriching individuals in search of the truth.
While I was thinking about these readings, that description seemed to tie a lot of things together. In this time of Lent, of course, we particularly remember that Jesus didn't escape being killed in the way that court jesters might, but a lot of the rest fits.
To start off with, though, I'd like to consider what Paul wrote in the letter to the Corinthians we heard earlier. Paul is worried about both Gentiles (Greeks in this case) and Jews - Greeks for placing too much emphasis on reason and debate, and Jews for having different expectations of the Messiah. Paul was writing to a divided church, and no doubt part of the reason for this letter was to try to encourage unity. In this passage, he tries to show the folly of both, so that they can unite between the common truth of the cross.
Whatever the original purpose of the letter, however, it's just as relevant in the twenty-first century. The age-old "battle" between science and religion seems to be going on just as strongly now as ever. Now, I'd like to lay my cards on the table: I have a fairly scientific background. I did maths at university, and have always been interested in physics. I very much approve of applying logic and reason wherever possible. However, at the same time I think it's important to understand where logic and reason just aren't applicable. They don't show us things which are wrong - they just can't show us everything that's right. I don't believe that in my lifetime there will be any scientific, irrefutable evidence that either God does or doesn't exist. I just don't believe God works that way. I haven't heard of anything in science to suggest that God can't exist, and I steer well clear of trying to reason people into believing in God. For me, it's a faith thing.
So, with my scientist hat on, what do I make of this passage from Corinthians? It seems to be a pretty nasty attack: 'It is written - "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."' and "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
I'll admit, my first reaction to that was a bit of anger. Certainly when it comes to promoting unity, attacking scientists would seem a bad idea in my view! After some thought, however, I think I'm starting to agree with Paul. I suspect I'm thinking about things in a very different way from him, though. One of the things which constantly amazes me is how people can place so much trust in science, and yet they say they can't believe in anything so implausible as Christianity. Well, let's think about "implausible" ideas in science for a moment, shall we:
Let's start simple: aeroplanes which are much heavier than air can fly. I suspect in Paul's day - and for centuries afterwards - this idea would have been regarded as ludicrous.
On to relativity: Time "slows down" in some way as we speed up, apparently. If I were to somehow survive going the process of going into a black hole, in the last twenty minutes of my life I'd see millions upon millions of years passing in the rest of the universe. Isn't just the whole concept of time itself slowing down a nonsense? And yet it's true, apparently. When you get your head round it a certain way, it even works. I managed to understand bits of relativity for whole minutes at a time, at university. I usually had to have a lie down afterwards though.
Last example from physics: quantum mechanics. Things get really silly here. Apparently just watching something changes it, and there's a very small chance that bits of us could effectively teleport elsewhere. Very small, but there.
And one of my favourite bits of maths - Gödel's incompleteness theorem. I rather suspect that Holly is getting worried about now, but I won't go into the details of it, I promise. The basic thing it proves is quite amazing though: no decent logical system can ever know everything that is true even within that system. There will always be things which are true but which can't be proven without going outside the system. Isn't that incredible? We can never prove everything that's true - and we can prove that! If you want to know more, ask me afterwards. I won't be able to explain it well, but I know a book which can.
So, those are some silly things which scientists tell me are correct - and which I have no particular reason to doubt, having looked through the proofs myself, and having flown in a heavier-than-air machine several times. What would the wise men of Paul's day have said to these truths? They'd have called them nonsense, I'm sure. And it's not that man has made these facts exist since that time - it's the incredible universe which God created and gave order to, that is so totally baffling that the more we learn about it, the more unbelievable it seems.
I have no doubt that the same is true now, by the way - and always will be. Any man who starts claiming to really know the way the universe works is bound to look foolish sooner or later. We just can never know everything there is to know - even about the measurable things in the world around us, let alone the immeasurable things like God's love for us!
So, given that the world is already foolish, and has misplaced ideas about its own wisdom, who should God send to tell us the truth? A fool, of course! Just as we'd have looked silly telling ancient Greeks about quantum mechanics, so Jesus must have looked foolish to a lot of people in his time - and some of what he said sound pretty daft now, too, until you really look at them closely. Take the passage from John, for instance: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Lunacy! The man's clearly crackers! Until, of course, John points out that he wasn't talking about the temple, which had been under construction for forty-six years and wasn't finished for another thirty-six years afterwards. Jesus was talking about his own body - the ultimate temple, as God's own son.
He spoke the truth when it was uncomfortable to hear, as fools always have. He spoke in stories, entertaining and teaching at the same time, as fools have done through the ages. He dared to do things which others would not, simply because it was the right thing to do at the time - what a fool!
God played Jesus as the Joker in the pack - the wild card, trumping all the cards of sin we play against ourselves daily. This absurd man, the friend of fishermen and tax collectors, the man who healed people on Sabbath days and walked on water, the King who rode in on a donkey, the master who washed his friends' feet like a servant - this is our Saviour, symbol of God's eternal love for us.
Now, I said earlier that I didn't believe I'd ever be able to use reason to convince anyone that God exists. I stand by that statement - but that doesn't mean I believe that God will never use me to bring someone back to him. It just means that I can't do it on my own. Faith in God isn't about having it proved one way or the other - it's about having your heart "strangely warmed", it's about daily conversations with God which no-one could ever prove took place, but which give us all strength.
So, the main point I'd like to present you with this morning is the idea of being fools for Jesus. Follow God's Joker, and never be afraid to tell the truth, however silly it may seem to others. One man's truth is another man's folly, but the only truth that matters is God's truth. I believe that he showed us that truth in Christ as plainly as we will ever see it before we see God in heaven. We have a duty to proclaim that truth, so that through the work of the Holy Spirit in us others may come to know and recognise God, however absurd the idea may seem sometimes to earthly eyes. If we face ridicule for our beliefs, so be it - many have done so before, and no doubt will do so in the future. I'm not suggesting we abandon reason and logic - they are given by God too, and through them we can accomplish many things. Through debate and study we can learn more about God, and what God showed us about himself through Jesus. We can never see God with just reason and logic, though. We can never measure God's love, or limit his mercy or power by attaching numbers to them. The only measurement we have of God's love is that he loves the world this much [stand in form of the cross] as he showed us through Christ.
Jesus sacrificed his life that we might live - the ultimate foolishness which has saved us all through its deeper wisdom. Let's don our jester's hats and shout our foolishness aloud: we are saved, God's mercy is made available for all through Christ, and is free for the taking. Hallelujah!