“Fools. How Long?”
September 16, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
Proverbs 1:20-33 Mark 8:27-38 James 3:1-12
What do you know?
I’m going to guess that whether you went to school or not, every one of you here knows something that the rest of us don’t. My grandfather never went to college, but he knew things about repairing giant turbine generators that no one else knew, and that no one else ever had the patience to learn from him.
But before I get off track, here’s the follow-up question. Have you ever tried to explain something, something that you knew from experience or education? Have you ever tried to explain something to someone who was wrong and who didn’t want to be corrected? If you listen, much of our national political conversation sounds like that. We often find that the truth lies somewhere in between the two “sides” that are arguing with one another and no one wants to be bothered with the truth. Everyone is quite happy with their version of the story, even if its demonstrably wrong, and they only get angry if, and when, you try to tell the truth. As soon as you disagree, for any reason, you are labelled as the enemy and each “side” thinks that you belong to the “other side” even if you remain completely neutral, simply because you disagree.
Does that sound familiar?
But as silly, ridiculous, and tragic as this is, it isn’t new. And politics isn’t the only place that we find this sort of thing to be true. In Proverbs 1:20-33, wisdom is described as a living person who is trying to speak truth into the world, and the world chooses to ignore her because they are happy with their ignorance.
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Lady wisdom, who is the personification of learning and intelligence, asks “How long will you fools hate knowledge?” God pours out his thoughts and makes his teachings known, but ignoring his wisdom causes people to be destroyed by avoidable troubles and disasters. The stubborn will eat the fruits of their stubbornness, the rebellious will be killed by their rebellion, and the smug confidence of fools will destroy them. But those who listen to God, and accept God’s wisdom, will live in safety without fear of harm.
But what is it that separates the fools from the faithful?
What is it that makes one person wise and another a fool, or worse?
In Mark 8:27-38, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples that answers that very question.
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Peter was almost there. Peter saw what many other people had failed to see. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the savior of the world, and the one that God had promised for generations. But Peter couldn’t accept that Jesus had to die. Peter wanted Jesus to be his king, and he wanted Jesus to do things the way that Peter wanted them done. Peter couldn’t take that last step and accept that God would do things the way that God intended to do them. Jesus says, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” The key, Jesus says, is to have enough faith that you want what God wants and trust God enough to do things God’s way.
And that’s hard.
Even the disciples struggled with it.
And along the way, there are a great many ways that we can, and often do, fall short.
In James 3:1-12, we hear these words:
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
James says, even if we get our act straight, and get our whole life together, we still often stumble when we fail to keep a tight reign on the words that come out of our mouths. But what comes out of our mouths reveals the truth of what is in our hearts. James says that what comes out of our mouths can set our entire lives on fire. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t praise God and curse at our neighbors. We can’t love God and hate the poor, or Democrats, or Republicans, or communists, or Antifa, or anybody else. You won’t ever pick figs from an olive tree, and you won’t draw fresh water from the Atlantic Ocean. When you give your heart to God, you need to give God your whole heart, your whole body, mind, and spirit.
You need to be sold-out for God.
You need to be all in.
When we choose to follow God and put our faith in Jesus Christ, we can’t do it half way.
We can’t give God ninety-five percent and hold five percent back for ourselves. As we see from James’ description, a rudder isn’t very big, but it steers the largest ships. A bit is tiny compared to a horse, but it takes the rider wherever she wants to go. Our tongues are small in comparison to the rest of our bodies, but they can destroy everything that we spent our lives working for. They can destroy every bit of Christian witness that we tried to build with 30 years of church attendance. So, if we are truly going to put our faith in God, we need to give God everything that we have.
We cannot be fools who ignore God’s wisdom and focus only on our human concerns.
How long will we wait?
We need to want what God wants, and trust God enough to do things God’s way.
We need to listen to what God’s wisdom teaches, learn from it, accept it, and do it.
We need to love our neighbors the way that God loves them even if they are Muslim neighbors, or Democrat neighbors, or Republican neighbors, or Mexican neighbors, or gay or lesbian neighbors, or anything else.
We can’t hold anything back.
Following Jesus was, is, and always will be a radical thing to do.
Are you ready to be all in?
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