God’s Foolishness and God’s Weakness
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 4, 2018 Third Sunday in Lent
I Corinthians 1:18-25; Mark 11:15-19
A student stood up at Thetford Academy recently to speak about school shootings. He wanted only to share some facts, not argue a position, but his feelings were known and before he could speak a number of students stood up and walked out. It was a nonviolent demonstration, and yet it was a symptom of the serial verbal violence that we have suffered as a society that has left us so divided that we can no longer hear one another.
We do not need more polarization in this country, we need a way forward that is grounded in the vision that we are truly all one, a vision that some may call foolish but that says a world without school shootings and polarized divisiveness is possible. Peace is possible.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Violence cannot drive out violence, divisiveness cannot heal our dividedness, but what can?
Christ’s teachings, actions and death show us a way—God’s way, the way of the universe, the way that something as soft and humble as the water of a small stream, following the lowliest path it can find, can wear a granite boulder down to sand. The Way of Christ looks foolish and weak, but as Paul said, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” As Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”
Jesus was full of God’s foolishness and weakness. He was at the highest developmental stage and deepest spiritual state that humans can attain, which meant that he was one with God and could see the oneness of all the universe, as God sees.
Jesus calls us to follow him to that same place, and the closer we get to his developmental and spiritual vantage point, the clearer it is how wise his foolishness was and how powerful his strength. He calls us to be transformed as he was and then do the same works he did to transform the world. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the wrongdoer, preached compassion, washed the feet of his followers, made himself lower than the lowest in his society and worked for the liberation of the oppressed. Today we saw him courageously stage a demonstration in the temple marketplace, the center of oppressive, unjust economic and political power.
Jesus did not lead a violent revolution, even though he had the crowds and charisma to do it. Nor did he ignore the injustice. He chose a third way.
Gandhi said, “Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence.”
Jesus was all about living in the realm of God now and establishing the realm of God on earth by both obstructive and constructive means. We need to stand up and obstruct ways that the world is not like the realm of God and at the same be actively constructing it.
God’s realm is not a place where 18 school shootings happen in one country in two months. We need to obstruct that. God’s realm is not a place where two countries’ leaders threaten to attack us with nuclear weapons, and our leader threatens to attack others with them. We need to obstruct that. God’s realm is not a place where men do violence to women, where one race or religion does violence to another, where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer. We need to obstruct that.
Violence of these kinds has no place in the realm of God. Jesus taught and modeled a realm of peace, justice and a sufficiency for all, and unconditional, all-forgiving, universal love—including love of enemies. That is what we need to construct.
So what can we do in a world where students walk out of an Assembly in our own high school when someone stands up to talk about a polarized issue?
Michael Nagler’s superb book, The Search for a Nonviolent Future, tells a story about Nagler’s spiritual teacher, Eknath Easwaran. One day Easwaran and a spiritually enlightened friend were walking through a village bazaar in India. They came upon a villager with a caged bear. The cage was so tight that the bear could hardly turn around. Easwaran and his friend saw the suffering crying out in the bear’s eyes.
Later in the day his friend was still trembling with rage and burst out, “I’m going to take my gun to the bazaar. I’m going to set that bear free and shoot anyone who tries to stop me.”
Easwaran stalled him, saying, “Wait…let me see what I can do.”
He went to the owner of the bear to try to reason with him. He learned that the man did not want to have such a small cage—he just couldn’t afford a bigger one. So Easwaran went off to the village carpenter. He explained the situation and convinced him to give him a good deal on a cage. Then he went back to his friend and said, “Suppose we could get a better cage built for a reasonable price, and the owner agreed to use it, would you put up the money?”
His friend said, “Gladly, but the owner will never agree.”
Easwaran said, “He already has.” (p 60f)
Easwaran’s friend was so caught up in his anger that the only solution he could see was violence. Easwaran was able to have a vision of a nonviolent solution and transform the energy of his own anger into the energy of positive action. He was able to extend love to the man who was causing his rage, as well as to the bear who needed his help. It looked foolish and weak compared to the brute force his friend could have wielded with a gun, but it lifted everyone involved into the realm of God.
And next we can free the bear.
And then we can free the world.
Marshal Rosenberg’s art of Nonviolent Communication brings conflicts like today’s over access to guns down to a common ground where people can work together if they are willing. Restorative Justice and healthy communication circles have refined systems for talking about controversial issues in a way that can make people feel more united rather than more deeply divided.
We heard repeatedly in our small groups last fall that we feel called to be a place where these kinds of conversations can happen. It was one of our top dreams for our future.
It may seem like a small step, but Gandhi’s Salt March began with a single step, and it led to an Empire being overthrown. What is more, we are not the only small group today trying to apply the ethics of love to end violence and establish the realm of God on earth. We are part of a movement. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that Gandhi was the first to lift the nonviolent love ethic of Jesus to become a powerful, effective social force on a large scale. We need to trust that if we do our part the best we can, the Holy Spirit whose movement this is will put our efforts to good use.
The most important thing is that we keep believing the foolish hope that God’s realm can be established, that peace and justice and the law of love can rule on this earth. It is all important that we believe we can grow developmentally and spiritually to be more like Christ, and we keep training ourselves in skills like Centering Prayer and healthy communication and nonviolence that can transform ourselves and the world.
The Apostle Paul defined the word righteousness as “faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6) Let us have faith in Christ’s vision of what our world can be, and let that faith work through our love in every encounter we have, here in church and out in the world.
This is Christ’s foolish and weak way. And it works.
Let us pray in silence …