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You Can’t Fix Stupid
September 12, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Proverbs 1:20-33 Mark 8:27-38 James 3:1-12
On August 4th, 1991, comic strip writer Jeff MacNelly, coined a phrase in his “Shoe” comic strip that has since passed into common usage across the nation and has been widely used in magazines, newspapers, movies, and at least one book title. In that comic, newspaper editor “Shoe” calls downstairs to the press his press operator Eugene and says, “Yo, Eugene, how goes it down in the pressroom?” and Eugene answers, “Horrid! It’s your editorial page. I can fix almost anything that runs on those presses… bit I can’t fix stupid.”
Some years later, in the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character similarly says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Given the frequency with which most of us do stupid things, it isn’t surprising that someone would say these kinds of things. The surprising thing is that it took this long for someone to say it, particularly since a similar sentiment is expressed by God in Proverbs 1:20-33. You’re probably surprised, but I’m serious. In this passage we hear wisdom speak as if it were a real person, and it begins this way:
20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Today we may say, “You can’t fix stupid” or “Stupid is as stupid does” but three thousand years ago God simply said, “How long will you love being stupid?” God says that the skeptics delight too much in their skepticism and fools just hate knowledge but in doing so, all of them have ignored God’s advice and refused to hear God’s reprimands. The result, God says, is that when the inevitable, but completely avoidable, disaster comes, and when they are up to their necks in alligators, in a full-fledged panic, and then call upon God to help them, God will not answer, and they will be utterly unable to find him. God says that because they hated knowledge, and refused to listen to God’s advice, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their stupidity.
Apparently, even God can’t fix stupid. Or, more correctly, God simply won’t fix stupid.
In Proverbs, a personified Wisdom declares that the people who ignore God’s instruction, advice, counsel, and reproof are simple, stubborn, and stupid and God warns that if we ignore him in this way, he will leave us to suffer the consequences of our actions because the calamities and disasters that we experience will have been completely avoidable. But even though we think we’re doing better than that at listening to God’s instructions, Jesus reprimands Peter for something that is a lot easier for us to fail at doing. In Mark 8:27-38, we hear this:
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
While Jesus is traveling to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, or the area we now know as the Golan Heights, he has a discussion with his disciples about who the people say that he is, and who the disciples think that he is. But as Jesus describes his upcoming trial, death, and resurrection, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for being such a fatalist and for thinking such negative thoughts. But Jesus not only rebukes Peter in return, but he flat-out calls him “Satan” for losing his focus on the things of God and thinking too much about earthly politics and power.
Twenty-one centuries later, losing our focus on the divine, and thinking too much about politics, power, and other earthly problems remains an astoundingly easy thing to do. And in that case, Jesus’ advice to us is to commit everything that we have, our time, our money, and even our lives to the cause and the mission of God, his kingdom, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the end of this passage, Jesus’ words echo those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1. In Proverbs, Wisdom declares that God will leave those who ignored his teaching and correction to struggle without him through the disasters they could have avoided, and in Mark, Jesus declares that the people who abandon Jesus in this generation will be abandoned by God on the day of judgement.
But if the consistent message of God is that he will leave us in our time of trouble and abandon us on the day of judgement, then the message of scripture is hopeless and terrifying.
But thank God, that’s not even a little bit true.
The message of scripture is quite the opposite.
In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother writes to the church and explains how we can make sure that these things never happen to us. He says:
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine, figs? No more can saltwater yield fresh.
If I were to summarize James’ words as they apply to our message today, I would simply say that they mean…
You don’t need to have a seminary degree. You don’t need to read deep and difficult to understand treatises on theology, sociology, and morality. You just need to start small.
Horses are huge, but they can be guided with a bridle and a bit that’s about the size of a pencil. Ships are gigantic but they are guided by a rudder that is a tiny fraction of their size. Fires can be incredibly destructive, but they get started by a tiny spark. And if we want to get started doing the right thing, we need to start small and get control of our tongue. And to do that, we need to take control of the choices that we make.
And that’s what all of this is about. We all make choices. We make hundreds, even thousands of choices every day. We choose whether to brush our teeth, whether we will brush up and down, or from side to side. We choose what clothes to wear, what shoes will be comfortable, what to eat for breakfast, how we want to make our coffee or tea, or other breakfast beverage, we make choices every waking moment of every day we walk the earth. And among those choices are the words that come out of our mouths, and the things with which we will fill our hearts, our minds, and the very substance of our lives. We get to choose whether we want to read the words of God. We get to choose whether we listen to God’s instruction and advice. And by making those choices, we will choose whether our spring is filled with salt water or fresh water, and whether the words that come out of our mouths are life giving.
In Proverbs, God says that he will pour out his thoughts, make his words known, call out to us, and stretch his hand out to catch us and to hold us. But we still get to choose whether we will listen, hear, and obey. We get to choose whether we will ignore God’s instruction and advice, but scripture is clear that making that choice… well…, is just stupid.
The message of scripture is clear about God’s incredible love and care for all his people, but we are free to ignore God. We are free to ignore God’s instruction and advice, and we are free to live our lives without him.
But God’s reply is that if we stubbornly make those choices, God will allow us to be consumed by the consequences of those choices.
All that is required, is that we begin to make good choices.
Feel free to start small.
But be smart… and choose wisely.
Because there is a point after which…
…you can’t fix stupid.
*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.