Tuesday, 03 April 2012 00:00

"A Fool's March", April 1, 2012

“A Fool’s March”
I Corinthians 1:18-31
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
Palm Sunday
April 1, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

It’s so wonderful to enjoy Palm Sunday at UBC.  It’s full of great memories. We have the brunch, the unusual use of the space, the connection with tradition and the memories of the tables set like those across the years. We remember when we first took that walk outside carrying our palms. We remember the faces of those who were there before, just as we look at the people who are here for the first time. We remember the story, told over and over again, year after year as we enter this holy week.

Palm Sunday is a strange day.  It is a day when people, chomping at the bit for a change in leadership in Jerusalem, took to the streets to make it happen.  They walked outside with their palms.  They heralded their leader on a donkey to fulfill the scripture about the military messiah needing to ride just such an animal.  And they cut down palm branches.  They spread out clothes.  The chanted and they sang and danced through the streets.  It was an audacious and very political march.  It was a defiant march that said to the Romans, “we are not afraid of you.  We will not be puppets to your machinations.  We have safety in numbers.  We will take to the streets.  We will declare our own king.  Hosanna to the son of David.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Not in the name of Caesar, but in the name of God. We will initiate the restoration of Jerusalem.” They were thrilled when Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers. What a great march this was.

But we all know that the march was just a march.  After Palm Sunday, the crowd disappeared.  They started fighting amongst themselves.  They lost their cohesiveness.  And within a week or so, the same crowds called for Jesus to be crucified.  It was a fools march.  But it was not a march of fools.  Jim Wallis said at a Baptist Peace Fellowship Summer Conference, “Demonstrations are good.  Marches are good.  But organizing is better.”  A march makes us feels good.  It shows that we are to be taken seriously, or that’s the illusion. It gives us a media moment.  But does it sustain a movement?  I don’t think so.  A march that is the culmination of a lot of community organizing and where everyone sees it as a part of the long-term strategy is much more effective.


Thursday was the JustFair Lobby Day at the state capital.  While it was important to be there with other clergy at the noon rally, all in our clergy garb advocating for fair treatment for our LGBT sisters and brothers—a good photo-op, it was more important to spend the three hours before the rally with other clergy doing some organizing.  Each of the 50 clergy agreed to call six other clergy each week for the next five weeks to encourage their leadership and support in defeating the marriage discrimination amendment.  Think of how many more we can touch that way.

I’m not sure Jesus was ready for a march.  The Bible seems to say that Jesus didn’t want the people to make such a fuss.  He knew that people weren’t ready for this kind of movement.  He wept about how they did not understand.  Even his disciples didn’t seem to understand.  They seemed unclear on the concept of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. And when the crowd saw the donkey, they spontaneously took to the streets.  The people joined them and they were there for the demonstration and not much else.  Jesus and his people had not organized the Jerusalem people.  They spent most of their time in the outstate regions.  So it’s no wonder that the march broke down.

This past Thursday, 5,500 people gathered on Northrop Plaza wearing hoodies, carrying skittles and signs decrying gun violence and racial profiling.  It was a heartfelt, earnest and powerful march.  It’s a march that is happening across the nation.  I’m glad it is happening.  But the real work happens after the march.  Once awareness has been raised, we then need to find ways to implement real and lasting change.  I hope and pray that such a movement is under way.

When Gandhi led his salt march in the 1930’s, it was after months of training and organizing. It was an extremely effective movement.

When protestors sat in at lunch counters in the southern US in the early 1960’s, it was an extremely well-organized movement.  People were trained in nonviolence.  They were trained to do the heard work of changing minds and hearts.  People called it a fool’s march, because it was destined to fail. But we all know what happened later.

The Apostle Paul, when he was trying to explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people, proclaimed foolishness as central to the strategy of the Gospel.  Foolishness is what the world will call the movement of the Spirit.  But it is God-inspired foolishness.  It’s what sets the world on end.  It uproots previous plans.  It proclaims good news to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, it sets the prisoners free, fills the hungry with good things, and proclaims the acceptable year of God’s favor.

So here we are on April Fools Day.  We’re doing things a bit differently than is conventional.  We’re trying out a different order to worship.  We’ve had communion around tables, not in stately processions.  We walk outside.  It feels like summer and we Minnesotans are used to two feet of snow on the ground on April 1st.  Like those early crowds, we carry and drop palms and flowers.  And we try to get inside their minds.  And we wonder, how we will be able to be the fools God calls us to be.  “God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world,” says the Apostle Paul.

Paul knew what it was like to be called a fool. Paul knew what it was like to BE a fool. He wasn't quite as foolish as say Elijah who walked around dressed like a caveman performing miracles. Paul wasn't quite as foolish as Ezekiel who kept having visions of wheels in and among wheels turning this way and that way up in the middle of the air. Paul was a different kind of fool.

At one time, he was an establishment sort of guy. He liked to have everything neat and in order. He saw the world was run by strict laws and he sought to follow them to the tee. It did not matter if the laws were just or not, it just mattered that they were the laws.

But somewhere on the road to Damascus, Paul had to let go of his strict adherence to scripture. He had to let go of his doctrinal determinism. He had to let go of his propensity to judge others. Paul had to give all of this up, because he got a little taste of the lunacy of Christianity.

You remember the story. Paul, a Pharisee was walking to Damascus having just officiated over the stoning of Stephen. When suddenly, a bright light shone upon him and blinded him. Many people are so caught up in their holier than thou wisdom that they are blinded to any perspective but their own. This goes for people on both ends of the political and religious spectrum.

Paul shouted, "Who are you?"

"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." From that moment on, Paul knew that the people in Jerusalem, about whom he had laughed for their outrageous and courageous witness, were proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ. Paul began to also preach in the name of Christ, but not until after three years of training.  He needed that time to reorient his priorities, to rethink his wisdom, and be trained in a long-lasting form of discipleship.  Like Jesus, he preached that we must love one another. Like Jesus, he preached that we must not judge one another. Like Jesus, he embraced the outsider, the poor, the marginalized. And he also found joy. He sang and danced Greek dance, broke bread with former enemies. He reveled in the new life he had as a Christian. And just like those before him, he was called crazy, misguided, maladjusted, in need of some serious Biblical repentance.

"Paul was foolish," they scoffed in the board rooms of the Pharisaic council, "to give up his luxurious life in order to preach this foolishness. Doesn't he know that to do such is to get thrown into prison and to be perhaps put to death."

I Corinthians 1:18 says, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God." My friends, Paul knew exactly that. He knew the consequences of his actions. He also knew that the only Christian way was the way of the cross. Standing up for Christ, being Christ’s hands and feet often entails persecution, misunderstanding and in extreme cases, death. That is God’s foolishness that is stronger than all of our wisdom. Paul was proud to be called a fool for Christ. Perhaps we could be, too.

What Paul knew, what we know, is what happens after the march of fools.  The crowds go away, patting themselves on the back for the great demonstration.  Only a few holy fools stick around when the going gets tough.  And the powers and principalities use their most significant weapons to shame and tame the movement.  They call them fools.  They persecute the leaders.  They discount the movement.  They use scripture to denounce them as blasphemers.  They even have legal trials on pent-up charges.  It’s all a display to point out the foolishness of the movement. And it’s all very effective.  Almost everyone falls away.  The crowds who were on the march on Palm Sunday shouting “Hosannah” will soon cry “crucify him.  He’s to blame for our lot in life.”  And the focus goes onto him while the powers and principalities keep doing their dastardly work.  It’s the way of the world.  There’s wisdom to its order.  It’s comforting to live in order, not in chaos.  People choose order instead of chaos all the time.  It’s a wise move.

But the Easter message is that such power is temporary.  There is a greater power out there that is from God.  It looks foolish, but it is the power of God.  God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.  We are called to embrace the foolishness of the Gospel.  It’s foolish to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  It’s foolish to turn over the tables of the moneychangers.  It’s foolish to embrace the outcast and the shunned.  It’s foolish and it’s incredibly good news.  Paul said, “God chose what is foolish to shame the wise.”

Let us remember that some of our greatest leaders were called fools. Ben Franklin was called a fool for flying that kite in that lightening storm in order to prove his theory about electricity. Leonardo Di Vinci was called a fool for inventing the helicopter centuries before it was to be used as a military gunship. George Washington was called a fool for leading a revolution against the powerful British empire. Harriet Tubman was called a fool for risking her life to free slaves. Lucretia Mott and the other suffragists and abolitionists were called fools for advocating for equal rights for all people.

Walter Wink says that the wisdom of this world is the domination system. The foolishness we are called to embrace is antithetical to that system. It is standing up to that system that makes us fools and outcasts in the eyes of the world and beloved in the eyes of God.

One of the foolish things that many of us did this week was buy a lottery ticket.  Come on, admit it.  I know that I imagined what I might do with the windfall.  I imagined the nonprofits I could endow.  I imagined finally getting rid of our old boiler and fixing our leaky roof here at church.  I thought about sending my kids to college.  And if I remembered to do so, I probably would have joined the fools march to the gas station to buy a lottery ticket.

It is estimated that people spent 1.5 billion dollars on lottery tickets this week.  Can you imagine?  The Star Tribune reported that this money could fund several presidential campaigns, make a dent in struggling state budgets, or take away the gas and grocery worries of thousands of middle class citizens.  (“Somewhere in Maryland, winner bought a fortune”—AP story page A2 March 31st)  The AP article did a bit of figuring.  Since it costs $6,129 to feed a typical family for a year, the cash spent on tickets could fill up the plates of 238,000 households.  The money spent on lottery tickets could fill 685,000 gas tanks annually.  Just think.  We make the fools march to the lottery office because we believe the folks in Washington or St. Paul won’t give us a chance.

Diana Butler Bass tweeted this yesterday: “In 2010, of all the new wealth created 93% went to the top 1%. 99% of us got to split 7%. And the media barely reports on it, but dedicates story after story to long lottery lines and gilded dreams of a 1 in 176 million chance to win $650m? I'm so sad.”

The wisdom of God says that we are to look deeper than the quick fix, the easy march.  The Holy Week march upsets this very system.

John Sundquist, the former ABC leader once wrote: "People who are insane enough to live for persons other than themselves will find they have more power than prestige. They will find they have more spirit than status. They will discover they have more courage than comfort. And these are not bad trade-offs at all. That is the lunacy of love."

How about on this April Fools weekend, embracing the foolishness of Christ? The lunacy of love? Perhaps during this last week of Lent, we can look at the world through the eyes of one who is called a fool. Perhaps we can see the world, or our corner of it, through Christ’s eyes. Perhaps as we pray and reflect about that perspective, we will be called upon to act just a bit foolishly.

As foolish Christians, we find ourselves, thankfully out of step with the masses. We are constantly singing a different tune, energized by an unseen electricity, and empowered by a Spirit which knows no bounds. Our zeal for God-centered justice is called by some, fanaticism. Our willingness to be inclusive of all parts of the human family is quite mad. This fanaticism. This unbalanced passion. This zeal. This foolishness comes from the truly foolish one whom we follow. For this foolish one is the rock upon which the church is built. This foolish one used the foolishness and the harshness and the absurdity of the cross to claim a whole new vision. This foolish one calls on us during this Lenten journey to pick up our own cross and follow. We are to be organized and intentional about our work. This foolishness is actually the greatest wisdom.

And our foolish posture on behalf of others will say more than any words said from this or any other pulpit or platform. St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach all the time. If necessary, use words." Sisters and brothers, as we do that, we may just be fools for Christ.

That is the stand of Christians. That is who we are.

Fools of Christ arise and live your creed to be foolish followers who march to the tune of the lunacy of love. March to that tune, for the right kind of fools march sets the world right again.  That’s what we long for.  That’s why we’re here. Let’s continue God’s fools march past Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday, past the anguish of Good Friday, to the empty tomb and beyond, proclaiming the mystery of the one who calls us to be holy fools for the sake of love.  And when we join with others on that fools march, who are in it for the long run, then the Good News of the Gospel becomes real.  Let us join each other on that fools march.