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Holy God, though we are tempted to live safe, predictable lives, open our eyes to glory in our midst.
Reveal to us your holy presence, so that we may live courageously, even foolishly; for your sake, Amen.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Oh, how foolish you are, Jesus said, and how slow of heart…
Did you know that this is the first time in 62 years that Easter and April Fools’ Day fall on the same day.
Although April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, as it has been called,
has been celebrated for centuries, its exact origins remain a mystery.
Historians have linked April Fools’ Day to festivals such as ancient Rome’s Hilaria,
which was celebrated at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.
There’s speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox,
the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere,
when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates only back to 1582,
when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar…
Those who were slow to get the news about the changing dates
or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1…
became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
Whatever the case, April Fools’ Day spread all throughout Britain during the 18th century,
English pranksters popularized the annual tradition by playing practical jokes on each other.
In bonny Scotland, where many have a merry heart,
the tradition even became a two-day event, the first day including sending people on wild goose chases
and second day, the pinning of messages on people’s backsides. (History.com)
Miles Townes, in a recent article in the Christian Century (February 21, 2018)
claims that as he gets older, “I find I do not trust anyone who lacks a sense of humor.
A sense of humor isn’t a substitute for moral direction, of course—
there are lots of vicious, abusive, and violent jokes, after all.
But the ability to tell good jokes (and get them) is deeply tied to our moral imagination.”
Townes claims that “A good joke reveals the distance between what is and what should be.”
Political cartoonists make a living out of illustrating the distance between what is and what should be.
There are several images of Jesus of Nazareth that adorn my office.
My favorite is the one given me by Sue Stapleton, a dear and faithful Christian woman.
Sue was always helping somebody, and Sue was always smiling.
The picture she gave me is of a tanned, masculine Jesus, standing on a small Galilean boat,
holding onto fishing nets, and smiling.
In this picture, Jesus is laughing, as if Peter has just blurted out something hilarious.
So many pictures of Jesus are somber and morose, and many of them should be,
given Jesus’ grief over the human condition and his experiences of deep suffering.
Even so, I believe in my heart that Jesus had many enjoyable, fun-filled days on this good earth.
I believe he laughed out loud with his disciples, often, and I am fairly certain that he told good jokes,
even a few that made it into the Bible, like the one about the camel going through the eye of a needle.
A good joke reveals the distance between what is and what should be.
Jokes and foolishness are closely related.
Daniel Horan, a Franciscan Friar and assistant professor of systematic theology
at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, wrote recently in his blog post:
“Most people approach foolishness in one of two ways.
The first is to avoid any such scenario at all costs” –
the specter of failure and embarrassment haunts many people,
quietly tempering them from sharing their opinions or speaking up in front of others.
In stark contrast to those who would avoid the public humiliation of foolishness,
there are others who exploit potential foolishness to an extreme degree.
They rise to our attention every day as stars of YouTube videos, reality television,
and now even daily news shows.
They act as foolish as possible, it seems, making a joke out of everything.
There is a middle way, perhaps, between avoiding foolishness altogether
and making a joke out of everything.
Perhaps this middle way could be called the way of “Christian foolishness”,
the act of becoming “a fool for Christ”.
This is a term that the Apostle Paul applied to himself and wore as a badge of honor;
this is the same term that has been applied at times to St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis has rightly been regarded as the “patron saint of fools”,
because he “foolishly” spurned the ways of the world in which he lived
for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
St. Francis lived his allegiance to the Gospel and thus, in many ways,
spurned the culture in which he was raised.
St. Francis refused to accept money in the emerging merchant society
because he saw how the economic system began valuing people according to their wealth.
He refused to participate in the social status imbalances of his day
because he recognized that following Jesus meant prioritizing solidarity with people of all backgrounds
rather than seeking to accumulate personal wealth, status, or power.
St. Francis was committed to a Christ-like way of being in the world,
what he would call the vita evangelica (“Gospel life”),
but this way of life appeared foolish to his peers of Assisi, Italy.
He was often mocked for his lifestyle and became known as a certain type of fool,
a fool whose life and actions, in his hopes at least, revealed the wonder of the Gospel.
Daniel Horan writes that he even some of his Franciscan brothers say,
“If Francis applied to become a part of our religious order today,
he would never make it beyond the psychological exam!”
St. Francis lived counter culturally. He sought to heal the broken, forgive the unforgiveable,
love the unlovable, and protest injustices, and thus many have dismissed him as a madman,
not just in his day, but even now.
(blog.franciscanmedia.org/becoming-a-fool-for-christ, posted by Daniel P. Horan, 9/30/16)
The Apostle Paul made clear to the Church in Corinth that seeking to follow Jesus Christ
in the Corinthian culture was going to appear as mad, foolish, and out-of-step.
But becoming a “fool for Christ” was not something Paul avoided out of fear of being humiliated
nor did he seek this title as something to exploit for personal gain.
For Paul, becoming a “fool for Christ” was a vocation, a calling, that he embraced
so that he might participate in revealing the transforming love of God.
And so the question comes to us, in our 21st century context, in our North American culture,
why might we seek to be “fools” for Christ’s sake?
Where and how can we seek to become “fools” for the sake of Jesus Christ?
We were sort of foolish here on Thursday night, Maundy Thursday.
This past Thursday evening the Braves held their home opener, and they even won the game!
Renfroe Middle School held an informational meeting for rising 6th graders.
Several sports teams from the high school had scheduled games.
Life was going on as usual on a Thursday evening in the spring,
but, foolishly perhaps, many of us were here Thursday evening, in the sanctuary,
gathered around the table in groups of twelve, and some even washed each other’s hands or feet.
On Friday night we were foolish – it was a beautiful night in Decatur, the moon was full,
and Spring Break had begun. All the outdoor patios at the restaurants and bars were full.
Many were in their cars, headed out of town for the weekend.
But here we were, in the sanctuary, reading the Passion Narrative from the Gospel of Mark,
extinguishing candles in the growing darkness as the story moved nearer the cross,
listening to Allison Melton sing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
It was moving, foolish perhaps on a Friday evening, but moving.
One our attendees said it was one of the most powerful services of worship she had ever attended.
And here we are this morning, being foolish again. The weather is amazing outside!
The brunch places are serving mimosas and eggs benedict.
And here you are all dressed up!?, sitting in the pews, singing hymns!?
You could be at brunch or at the beach.
You could be recovering at home from your Saturday evening or preparing for your Sunday dinner.
You could be brushing up on your golf game, pretending like you’re playing at the Masters.
You could be any number of places on this beautiful Spring morning.
But here you are! You foolish people?! Are you, perhaps, April fools for Christ?!
“Those who seek to save their life will lose it,” Jesus said,
“but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25
The two disciples who were walking to Emmaus that first Easter Sunday
had heard the report of the women at the tomb.
They had heard that Peter and some of the others went and found the tomb just as the women said.
But they themselves had not seen; they themselves had not experienced the risen Christ.
So Cleopas and his friend were doing what seemed prudent.
They were walking to Emmaus, walking away from Jerusalem,
getting away from the epicenter of all that had happened to Jesus
and what might happen to his disciples in the days to come.
You might say they were making their escaping,
getting away from unbelievable claims and strange stories of resurrection
and the threat of personal danger.
Frederick Buechner, well known Christian author, interprets Emmaus as:
“the place we go to in order to escape—a bar, a movie, (on the sofa in front of a screen),
wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, ‘Let the whole (darn world) go hang.
It makes no difference anyway.’…Emmaus may be buying a new (set of clothes) or a new car
or smoking more cigarettes (or drinking more alcohol) than we really want,
or reading a second-rate novel…
Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world
holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die;
that even the noblest ideas that people have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—
have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish people for selfish ends.”
(The Magnificent Defeat, 1966, p. 85-86)
What those two disciples were doing was very reasonable.
They had been followers of Jesus, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”,
but now they too faced possible arrest, and even possible crucifixion.
The words of the women who returned from the tomb seemed an idle tale…
Their words seemed to the disciples “lay-ros” in the Greek, “nonsense”, “humbug”.
The disciples did not believe the women nor the men who ran to the tomb soon after.
Their words were too strange to be true – some misinterpretation, some fantasy, wishful thinking.
Cleopas and his friend did not think this story was going anywhere.
What was reported to them was beyond their experience.
As Vernon Gramling wrote in his blog this week:
“When we are bound by our assumptions about what the scriptures say,
(when we our bound by) our biological imperatives, and, especially in our world today,
(when we are bound by) our insistence that what we do not understand must not exist,
it is very hard to see Jesus—even if he is walking (right) beside us.”
To make the move toward Emmaus is reasonable,
but it is also to turn our backs on the promises of God.
To move toward Emmaus is safe, but it is also to run away from the possibility of a resurrected Christ.
To move toward Emmaus perhaps is prudent, an effort to live in the ordinary, everyday world
where foolishness is frowned upon, but it also may mean that we turn away from life abundant,
even life eternal.
When Jesus met them where they were, on the road to Emmaus,
they did not recognize him at first. It took them a while,
for a while “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”, until they sat at table with him.
When he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them,
“then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
They recognized the risen Jesus Christ in their very midst.
And, friends that’s when Cleopas and his friend became foolish!
That’s when they became “fools for Christ’s sake”.
After he had disappeared from their sight,
those two disciples hopped up and decided foolishly to run seven miles back to Jerusalem
that very night, in the gathering darkness, after dinner.
When they got to Jerusalem, breathless and excited to share their story,
they discovered the same thing that we discover when we are acting like fools for Christ.
They were not the only fools with whom Christ would visit.
Jesus had already appeared to Mary and to Peter.
And then Jesus appeared again that very evening to the disciples gathered behind closed doors.
And in the days to come, he would make his presence known to many others.
Run to Emmaus or embrace foolishness? Today, let’s choose foolishness!
Friends, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
Whether our eyes have been opened to him or not, He is here in our midst.
Would that the risen Christ say to me, or to you:
O, how foolish you are! You have truly been a fool for my sake.
Well done, good and faithful servant, well done; enter now into the joy of my kingdom.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 1, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030