Sermon preached by the Rev. Jennifer Copeland on April 1, 2017 at First United Methodist Church, Mocksville for the Western North Carolina Conference United Methodist Women’s Legislative Day.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 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. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
~I Corinthians 1:25-29
Well friends, we’re starting off this morning by insulting everyone in the room. Paul has told us we are not wise, not powerful, not of noble birth, the implication being we are foolish, weak, and base. Because God chose these things—fools, weaklings, and the lowly—that’s somehow supposed to make us feel better about ourselves. I feel better already; how about you?
Of course, these few verses, chosen to coincide with the great observance of April Fools’ Day, are perfect for the work we want to do here today. They are part of a larger section that many of us are familiar with: Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is like an April Fools’ joke.
The most powerful expression of God’s presence in the world, the embodiment of God in the life of a singular human being…died.
April Fools’ — he rose again three days later! Funny, huh?
Paul could give Stephen Colbert a run for his money with the wit he has wrapped up in these few verses, but like Colbert, the truth that slices through the humor is what cuts us to the quick. It’s actually not funny that Jesus rose again three days after his death because death is not funny.
Still the resurrection is like the punch line of a well-told joke. It is completely unexpected. We forget that nowadays because we’ve been doing holy week and Easter for two thousand years now and we know how the story ends. But we didn’t always know how the story would end, and Paul’s audience clearly thinks it’s all one big joke.
It’s Paul’s task to convince them – and us – that it’s not a joke. That, in fact, God has turned the world upside down. Or perhaps, more accurately, we should say God is turning the world right side up. Imagine if we all got up from our seats right now and stood on our heads. I would ask you to do that if I could stand on my head, but since I can’t, I won’t ask you to do it, either. But imagine if we were standing on our heads, imagine how odd everything in this space would look. Imagine bouncing along on your head throughout the day and having the flowers right up in your face while your feet reach for the sky. The world would look quite different if we were all upside down. We would all look the same to each other because we would all be upside down together, but those other people we might run into out there in the world would look very different. They would look like shoelaces and ankles and we would have to strain to see their faces.
But what if the world is what is upside down and everything we’re seeing right now is wrong side up? What if Paul is right? God’s foolishness is wise; God’s power is weak. What if all of this, this world, is the joke?
I sometimes feel like the things around me are a joke and seem foolish. What makes the most sense to me is not what we have. The things that seem so practical to me are the opposite of the way the world works. Take hunger, for instance. In the wealthiest nation in the world that throws away nearly forty percent of the food we produce, there should be no hungry people. And yet in North Carolina, one in four children is food insecure – a large concentration of them right here in the Triad. They may be eating supper tonight, but they don’t know if they’ll have lunch tomorrow. If we were to make a joke of that, we would say:
- What do you get when people who hold 40% of the world’s wealth throw away 40% of the world’s food? HUNGRY CHILDREN.
Cue the laugh track; only nobody’s laughing.
We have hungry people because of production and distribution and quality control on our food, particularly produce and fruit, the healthiest things we can eat. We have hungry people because we have an economic structure that traps people in poverty, so even if they can get to the food before it’s wasted, they can’t afford to buy it. That’s not funny; that’s upside down. And yet this way of living with hunger in our wealthy, wasteful society is currently right side up. I feel like I’m standing on my head, looking at things that should be so obvious and yet continue to be so obfuscatory.
This world is upside down, friends, and it’s not funny. God has shown us repeatedly that God does not see the world the way it is, the way it looks to us.
- God used Jacob, the second brother to be the bloodline through which God’s people would be saved. The world would have picked Esau, the oldest brother, the strong hunter-warrior. God worked through Jacob, the trickster.
- God used Joseph to be the one opening the way for his family to find food in Egypt rather than die of starvation in Canaan. The world would have picked Reuben—the oldest and the one who spared his brother’s life; or the world might have picked Benjamin—the beloved youngest. You know how youngest children always get everything. God didn’t work through either one of them. God worked through arrogant Joseph.
Over and over again we have examples of God working through the one the world would not have picked:
- mumbling Moses
- dallying David
- and even now Pharisee Paul
A Pharisee, the nemesis of Jesus. But this Pharisee, Paul, gets the punch-line of the joke.
We should be used to this by now, the upside-down-ness of God’s reign. And yet we aren’t. We still look to might and money as the barometer of how well we are doing. We look at those who have more might and money than we do and assume they must be doing something more right than we are, something we ought to learn how to do.
Yet in this world of might and money, right side up, people are hungry, upside down.
When God reigns, upside down, people are not hungry. Right side up, might and money, do not run the world. And as people of God, we belong upside down where things are right side up. I suggest spending a little time on your head today, looking at the world right side up. If God has God’s way with us, God’s way of seeing the world will become right side up and all these things we are used to seeing will look like the joke they really are, upside down.
May God have the last laugh, laughing with us on the day every child always has enough to eat. What a day of rejoicing that will be. Laugh out loud. Thanks be to God. Amen.