First Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
My brother Norman’s 75th birthday would have been this past October, but all I could celebrate was its anniversary. He drank himself into an early grave and died at the age of 46. When examined by an emergency room physician in suburban Detroit in late 1990, he was asked how much he was drinking. His answer was astonishing: “Two liters of vodka per day.” The doctor said, “You should already be dead” and pronounced that he had the body of someone in his late 80s. By God’s grace and mercy, Norman lived another sixteen months with a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. He had no need to drink, because hospice provided him with a regular supply of morphine. His drug of choice had never been alcohol.
Many of the severest alcoholics or drug addicts profess to be atheists. Norman announced shortly after his Confirmation in May 1959 that he no longer believed in God. Hanging around with bright young friends, who were much enamored of Jack Kerouac and the “beats” as they were called, Norman adopted the high-sounding slogans of these unbelievers. By his middle 30s, he was exploring Roman Catholicism and raising several biological children in the faith of our Sicilian relatives. But as his alcohol addiction progressed, we watched his once charming personality crumble.
Norman could always talk a good talk and had what some call “bedroom eyes.” He often displayed the morals of an alley cat, which is documented by at least two unclaimed illegitimate sons, two legitimate sons and one daughter, and three stepsons from two of his three marriages. For years, he wrote a regular column “Plain Folks,” in newspapers in Opelousas LA, Florence and Montgomery AL. He was the New York Times political editor for Alabama politics and, to his great surprise, became friends in the 1980s with a contrite, crippled governor, George Wallace.
Sergei Fudel (1900-1977) lived and suffered through the terrible Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. The author of the anthology reading for Thursday after Ash Wednesday in the For All the Saints breviary (www.alpb.org), Fudel writes within an officially atheistic society during the terrible Cold War years of the 1950s: “Breaking away from the Church because of the moral derelictions we see in it is religiously foolish and reflects our inability to think things through. Anything wrong, distorted, and impure that we see within the gates of the Church is not the Church. To avoid associating with it we do not have to leave the Church enclosure, we must simply refuse to participate in that which is evil.”
Whiny church critics in our day often, like my brother, find excuses to behave poorly as if God were not watching. They often lay at God’s feet the evil that men and women do while exhibiting in the conduct of their own tawdry lives what philosopher Hannah Arendt called “banal evil.”
Thank you, dear Father, for Sergei Fudel and all the defenders of the faith who suffer persecution as their reward. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put five pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to provide food for the local food bank to share with the poor.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.