As a transplanted Midwesterner, it soon became apparent that the need to learn a new language was a package deal with the move to the Southeast. “Hey!” was not a rude warning but a friendly greeting. “You” became more inclusive with its appended “-all,” and absolutely hospitable with the double compound “all y’all.” I soon learned that I “might could” understand, not to mention be understood, if I first listened carefully. I may be “from off,” but I’m still “fixin’ to” learn the ins and out of the Southeast as fully as possible. Happily, my sainted father-in-law became one of my trusted guides. A gentle, funny man surrounded by strong women [three sisters – all nurses and one his twin; one wife; three daughters], he was hospitality personified. We all delighted in his self-effacing sense of humor, but it was simply the wrappings of a quiet man of integrity, a loyal, hard worker who believed in justice and loved his family, his work, and his church. Often that love was expressed in his tendency to “cut fool,” to be silly and foolish in order to lighten a situation.
This Sunday’s reading from St. Paul [I Corinthians 1:18-25] reminds us that God in Christ equips us to cut fool for the Gospel’s sake. Human tendency often finds us going through life on automatic pilot, oblivious to the pressing needs of this world and apathetic about the utterly new life bestowed on us in baptism. We turn a blind eye to folks shortchanging love, mercy, and graciousness. We find ourselves speechless in the face of scandalous injustice and prejudice and then simply turn away. Do we not as God’s faithful people have a word or two to say when problematic speech and behavior confront us? Paul reminds us of our transformed identity in the fourth chapter of the same letter: [“All y’all,” Paul writes,] …think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy… [I Cor 4:1-2]
Paul describes the nature of God’s saving work and our blessed privilege to tell the world about it. Modeled by Christ himself, we enter through baptism into lives marked by love of neighbor and stranger [a.k.a. those from off], being peacemakers rather than warmongers [which also includes giving up our hard-headed cussedness!], people really wanting to listen to other’s insights and hopes rather than just insisting on our own ways. Such tolerance and consideration are not universal human attributes since it is often easier to bully our way through life. The School of Hard Knocks has no lack of grudge-bearing graduates in our midst.
Nevertheless, Jesus, Paul, and the four Gospels remind us that we do have the ability and the Spirit-granted power to make better choices than society recommends. Time and time again Jesus confutes the wisdom of this world – “You have heard it said… / …but I say to you. In fact, Jesus takes his followers to task for turning God’s commandments [this Sunday’s first reading: Exodus 20:1-17] into bludgeons of punishment and words of censure [see Matthew 5:17-48]. The life God intends for all y’all is more abundant and gracious than we might could imagine, or in St. Paul’s phrase, is “…a still more excellent way” [I Corinthians 12-13].
It strikes us as foolhardy and dangerous not to be on our guard with lives, minds, and hearts barricaded behind the locked doors of suspicion and fear. That’s the way so many “live,” if it can be called that. Yet Paul writes: Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For 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… 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. [I Cor 1:20-25]
“How is such divine cuttin’ fool possible?”, we well might ask, wondering if we have the insight and energy even to do it. The clue is in the preface of God’s giving the tablets of the Law: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… [Ex 20:2]. Over and over throughout all scripture God reminds us that we have never been alone, not even with Covid lurking, but always led by God into freedom, upheld, protected, equipped for service, and shepherded through adversity until at long last we will [not might could!!!] dine in the banquet hall of heaven. And if that doesn’t put smiles on our faces and a spring in our step, God in Christ by the Spirit’s power will continue to cut fool with us until it does.