I thought I was going to be rich,----- looking at the big shiny gold nugget in my hand and the others just barely visible through the sand and water of the pan I'd been swirling.
"Gold, Gold" I shouted to my mom and dad, then gave a little smirk to my older sister who was panning for gold beside me, but had come up with nothing yet.
I was 7 and our family was spending the day at Maggie Valley Ghost Town, an out west themed amusement park in the mountains of North Carolina. We had just finished riding the giant swings that swung us out over the side of the mountain and now we were panning for gold, and I hit the jackpot.
"Look mom, look at all this gold. Don't expect me to do any more chores, cause I don't even need an allowance anymore, I'll just pay you to clean my room for me or I'll hire a nice British butler named Winston, or maybe we can get Mr. Belvedere, he seems very nice."
"That's a TV show," my sister said, rolling her eyes.
"Whatever..... you're just jealous that you don't get a butler!"
My mom asked to see my new found treasure. I handed it over reluctantly, not sure if my mom was out to steal my claim or not.
"Bad news," she said. "It looks like you'll still be raking those leaves this weekend. This isn't Gold, it's pyrite.... Fool's gold."
"Fool's Gold.... Fitting you found it," snarked my sister.
Mom intervened. "Fool's Gold, looks like real gold on the surface, but see this".... she began to scrape away the top layers.... "it's not real gold. It fools you into thinking you have Gold when really you have something very common and not very valuable."
"So no Winston?"
"No, Winston," she said.
Sometimes we think we've finally found it, we've got it all figured out, we have the answer, we know the secret to success, we've got the plan and we glory in our triumph, only to find what we thought was riches was worthless, what we thought was sure fire was hit and miss and what we thought was wisdom was foolishness.
Paul let's us know that looks can be deceiving and so we all better take a moment and scratch a little deeper, and ask the tougher questions of our wisdom and of our faith.
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 1:18-25:
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. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'
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? 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
It seems like foolishness,..... preaching and worshipping a God who could suffer, a God who could die. Humans want perfection and signs of strength, not suffering and dying gods. But the cross,--- the foolishness of a crucified God who shares in our sufferings,-- compassion---, and defeats sin and death through God's own death--- that cross, the cross of Christ shatters the wisdom of the world.
And so Paul says, "I'll just preach Christ crucified, it may be foolishness to some but to those who are being saved it's the power of God."
Paul knows some people want signs, or worldly wisdom in church. Some want fancy stage and light shows, or a coffee shop in the narthex, or a well-dressed preacher with a pearly white smile who preaches the power of positive thinking and prosperity, or a hipster preacher wearing jeans, thick rimmed glasses and sporting a soul patch who can promise church growth and better marriages. Some want churches who will tell them everything to believe, everything to do, in simple easy to follow rules and columns of what's right and what's wrong.
Paul knows some people just want all the answers, want certainty, want to be told what to do. In other words, they want a color by the numbers faith, a complete picture of God.
Paul's writing to the Corinthians but he's talking to us. We want entertainment, we want the power and the positive. We want answers and easy instructions because we hate not knowing and feeling in the dark. We don't like feeling we've done it wrong, lived it wrong.
When I was in Boy Scouts, we went canoeing up the New River. My friend Patrick and I shared a canoe and a tent. He brought this tent that had been his dad's for us to use. The problem was he'd never set it up before. The first night it began to rain as we started to make camp after a long day of paddling. We dumped out the contents of the tent and it was like none of the other tents I'd set up. There were so many parts and pieces and of course no instructions. We hesitantly tried to figure it out intuitively and yes a structure kind of took shape, but that night as the winds blew and the rain came down harder, I couldn't sleep. I was just waiting for the tent to fall.
We want answers, we want definite instructions: do this, don't do this, this is good, this is bad, live this way and not this way, this is what your family dynamic should look like, etc, because we don't want to stay up at night fearing, waiting, for everything to fall apart.
So we look for direction and promises of stability and security............ and many churches have decided to provide this and let us all know exactly how God would have you diet, handle your finances, handle your marriage, how to parent, vote, worship, pray, and everything else that will make for a prosperous and stable life. and it's all packaged as the Wisdom of God.
These churches in their own wisdom would have us Never doubt, never disagree, never think what happened isn't what God wanted, never question, and never scratch at the surface of your faith.
It's what Luther called a theology of glory, or triumphalism. Triumphalism is when a church or group presents their beliefs as full and complete accounts of reality, leaving little if any room for debate or difference of opinion and expecting of their adherents unflinching belief and loyalty.
Much of the Christian landscape today is dotted with triumphalism, like dandelions in an untreated yard. A theology of the cross is what treats, critiques, and maintains Christianity, when we ignore it, triumphalism begins to grow.
A theology of the cross is honest with the world: the questions, the hardships, and the doubts. Sometimes that means saying "I don't know" and living with the questions.
"I don't know", is a completely acceptable response in scripture. The teachers of wisdom, the prophets, the evangelists, and the disciples all sometimes have to say, "I don't know." God is mysterious and we don't have all the answers. Randy and I don't have all the answers. No church has all the answer.
Let me let you in on a little secret. Pastors don't know God better than you do. We all can know God just the same, we all have that opportunity. Pastors may know the resources of faith better, the Bible, the history, the tradition, but that doesn't necessarily mean we know God better.
I know lay people who have known God intimately for a lot longer than I have,....... whose deep relationship and knowledge of God shows in how they live their lives and is a comfort and an inspiration.
We all can know God just the same and have that relationship with God. We all catch glimpses of God's backside glory, we all may hear that still small voice and try to determine what it said, what God is calling us to...., and we all can say "I don't know" when we try to understand just exactly the why, the when, the how's of God.
It is okay to not have all the answers, not to know with 100% certainty who God is, what God wants, and what to do. The opposite of faith isn't questions and doubt.
The poet Alfred Tennyson, who lived through most of the 19th century, said, "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds..." And George MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister and one of C.S. Lewis' main influences said this: "Doubt is the hammer that breaks the windows clouded with human fancies, and lets in the pure light."
It's a great disservice to our faith and our lives to punish doubt, to equate doubt with faithlessness, to assume wisdom equals certainty and folly equals doubt.
The only antidote to religious triumphalism that assumes its way is the only way, its will God's will, --- is the readiness of communities of faith like our own to permit doubt and self-criticism to play a vital role in the life of faith.
The cross, while it assures us of God's love and victory--- also casts doubt on our own motives, and our own faithfulness. It makes us ask the tough questions of ourselves. Are we like Caiaphas who was willing to sacrifice one to save the many?, are we like the Pharisees missing God in their midst because they focused too much on the letter of the law? Are we like the crowd, so quick to turn? Are we the soldiers who just follows orders? Are we like Peter who would deny as soon as our own lives are at risked, or anything is risked being taken away?
The cross questions us.
And the cross critiques us, and sometimes we need that, to remind us why we need be saved, to remind us that we don't have all the answers to living a perfect life, that we don't know why there is suffering, and that sometimes we honestly don't know why we keep causing it. The cross reminds us why we still need the foolishness of God,
because it is foolish for God to love us who constantly disobey, who take things for granted, who worship idols, who mock, who think we know it all, who demand signs and put our hope in wisdom.
It's foolish to forgive time and time again, its foolish to give so many chances, its foolish to live among us knowing that if you speak the truth to us we'll kill you for it, it's utter foolishness--- but it's that foolishness, God's foolishness that is right now saving us. It's the power of God, lifting us up from our troubles, forgiving us again today as we confessed our sins, its that foolishness that invites us to a table to eat and drink and commune together, .........that atones, that makes us all one.
I thought I had obtained all the riches I would ever need, I thought I had all the answers, but came to find I had fool's gold and a fool's head. I don't want to have a fool's God.
And maybe that means I can't just color by the numbers, maybe that means my picture of faith won't be exactly like yours, may that means that my picture of God won't be completely filled out, maybe that means I won't have all the answers and all the assurances that I want, but I will have the God of the cross, who even now is saving me and is saving you.
I tossed the fool's gold back in the trough in front of me. There was no point in keeping it, it had been exposed for what it was, worthless. I kept panning for gold, and you know what? I did find some. No big nuggets, just a few small specs that were put in a little vial for me.
Not much to look at really. Pretty worthless by the world's standards, not really even enough to weigh to get a value. And yet.... maybe that small bit can be enough....., maybe a few flecks of gold is enough to make a young boy happy at an old west ghost town, maybe 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish is enough to feed 5,000,.... maybe a handful of uneducated foolish disciples are enough to preach the good news to the world,.... and maybe one man who was also one God, dying on the cross is enough to end death, and give us life.
And you know, Maybe one small piece of bread and a little cup of juice is enough to remind us, enough to draw us in, enough to connect us to Jesus Christ. Maybe a little foolishness, God's foolishness, is more than all the wisdom in the world, and maybe that's enough.