21 Lenten Study 04 – Third Sunday in Lent

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

God’s vision of one creation, one world, one harmonious family of humankind seems impossible to many people—especially to those who build walls, create division, and call for separation and exclusion. For many, unconditional love, unmerited grace, reconciliation between enemies, joyous acceptance of the immigrant and stranger, and racial equity and equality, make no sense whatsoever. God’s great wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of many people who have never experienced the love of Christ in their own lives. But for those who follow Jesus and have listened to the Apostle Paul, God’s wisdom is the greatest truth of all. It is our privilege and task to help God’s wisdom make sense to a foolish and prejudiced world.
Bryan Stevenson’s second principle for creating a more just and inclusive world is: “create space for the narratives of integrity and truth while resisting narratives of fear and division/othering.” Through normativity, most of us define truth as that which makes the most sense to us, personally. This means that we create a subjective truth based on what we have learned, experienced, seen, desired, and understood. What is true for us is real and valid; but it is not necessarily true for anyone else. This also means that what is true for others is equally real and valid. We all have a story—a narrative—that describes and explains what we “know”; what we believe and think and assume and use to make sense of reality. The creation of beloved community requires us to make space where our personal stories, narratives, and truths can be shared.
Being open to hear stories is in our nature. Human beings are story-forming, storytelling, story-listening creatures. Stories shape us. Stories form us. And stories define us. But stories can be changed. The more stories we collect, the wider, broader, and deeper is our understanding of the world. We all have personal and family stories. We broaden our stories to include friends and neighborhoods and schools or workplaces. Our communities are collections of stories and a story of their own. As our awareness and understanding of more and more people expands, our worldview and our normativity expands. As we live, our circle of “us” expands, and the unknown territory of “them” contracts. Throughout our lives, we can continue to expand our circle of “us” to include “all of us.” This is foolishness to a world that defines itself by haves and have-nots, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, the good and the evil.
It is not easy to stand firm in God’s vision of one universal humankind. While God views our similarities, human beings look to differences. Where God sees beauty, we look for flaws. Where God calls creation “good,” we seek to find fault. This is the essence of our fallen nature and our separation from God. Sin is not simply doing wrong things; sin is refusing to see the creation through the eyes of God. It is our separation from God’s intention and will. When we repent—when we turn back to God’s vision for reconciliation and unity of all people—we restore ourselves to the covenantal relationship God desires.
There are some individuals and groups who will never be open to full inclusion and equality in this lifetime. Money, power, popularity, influence, fear, and self-interest are formidable motivators that have nothing to do with faith, but they continue to exert unquestionable influence in our world. Things like humility, kindness, compassion, mercy, generosity, gentleness, and forgiveness—all qualities of faithful Christian discipleship and mandates to us from God—are viewed by many as weakness, vulnerability, or idiocy. The wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God are very different things.
Many of us may experience resistance, annoyance, even offense at charges of racism and discrimination. It may feel unfair and prejudicial in return. However, this feeling comes from the fact that we are not connected, not relating, not involved. When we are actively engaged in listening to each other’s stories and narratives, we cannot help but discover ways that other lives have been damaged, violated, and oppressed by our own normativity; our reality is not the reality of everyone else.
It is critically important that we share our own stories, but not just with those who are most like us. We must share with those very different from us; we must be open to hear others’ stories; and most important, we must be willing to be changed by these stories. We may never intend to hurt or harm another person, but it is critical that we actually hear from people who have experienced hurt or harm.

Questions for Conversation

  1. Some of the qualities that our world deems foolishness are defined by Paul (in Galatians 5:22-23) as the fruit of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How does racial discrimination and injustice undermine our ability to live fully from the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit?
  2. Whom do you listen to? Do you listen mostly to those people and sources that agree with and confirm what you already know and believe? What sources and people do you listen to who challenge what you think and offer alternative perspectives to your own?
  3. What opportunities could you create to listen to stories and narratives very different from your own?

Questions for Personal Reflection between Sessions

  1. What is your vision of a “perfect world”? Who belongs? Who doesn’t? Why?
  2. What are the core elements of your own story? What people, experiences, and learnings have contributed to the person you are today?
  3. Where do you feel you have the greatest need to grow, to learn, and to change?

Pastor’s Message

Closing Prayer (or one of your own):
Almighty God, you are a God of story, and we are a people of story. The scriptures teach us many things about the evolution of belief and faith, covenantal relationship and obedience, and the need to grow. Our spiritual formation is a deepening of our understanding of you and your will. You created all the people on this earth. Help us to develop a deep hunger and need to know as much about others as we possibly can. We ask this in the name and spirit of the Christ. Amen.

Recommended Resources for Deeper Learning and Understanding:
Book: My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. Powerful exploration through narrative and reflection on the ongoing impact of racism in our culture.

Film: I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck. Powerful and insightful documentary that bridges James Baldwin’s unfinished work, Remember This House, through black history to #BlackLivesMatter today

Pastor’s Recommendations:

Discussion (Virtual Faithlink Cafe) – Check our Facebook Page at 6PM Wednesday