About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Pity the Fool

2011-02-13 Matthew 5:21-30
"I Pity the Fool"

In her autobiography, Dolly Parton tells about how she grew up with 11
brothers and sisters and a strict interpretation of the King James
Version. She tells about how frightened she got one Sunday when the
preacher read the scripture that says "whosoever shall call his
brother "a fool" shall be liable to the fires of hell." She got really
scared. But then,  she realized the Bible never says anything about
calling your sister a fool, or any other nasty name. She was safe.
Sadly, the newer translations usually say, "your brother or sister,"
so the loophole has been shut.

According to legend, St. Lucy, who lived around the year 300, was so
dedicated to the scriptures that when her would-be husband told her
she had beautiful eyes, she tore them out and gave them to him,
saying, "Now let me live to God." I'm thinking some pre-marital
counseling might have helped.

When I asked Bri to do the children's sermon, she asked what scripture
I was preaching on so we could coordinate. When I told her she said,
"I think I may try to find something a little more warm and fuzzy."

The scripture is a good reminder.

This scripture is a good reminder that Jesus wasn't a warm and fuzzy
kind-of preacher. His sermons were rarely aimed to make people feel
all yummy inside. If you take this part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
at its literal word, we'd all go home one-armed, one-eyed  murderous
adulterers doomed for perdition's flames.

Probably not the best choice for a children's sermon. And, a bit iffy
for Valentine's weekend, too. (Don't compliment her eyes!)

Like many churches all over the world, we follow the  common
lectionary of scriptures. The idea is that it keeps preachers from
picking only the warm and fuzzy parts, and so people everywhere can
squirm together over Jesus's words of divine dismemberment.

The scripture's a good reminder, also, that God doesn't intend us to
check our brains at the door. I'd pick the common sense of St. Dolly
over St. Lucy any day. If you ever think the Bible's telling you to
harm yourself or to harm someone else - in any way - you need to check
that out before you do something irreversible. God gives us the Bible,
but God also gives us common sense. And if you know you're a few cents
short of a dollar, borrow a little from someone else. God gives some
people prettier eyes and some people commoner sense. With all our
parts in place, we CAN live to God, as a healthy and whole body of

That, I believe, is the root of what Jesus is preaching. It's not that
if you speak nasty words or have naughty thoughts you're going to
burn. Rather, it's that if you think you're better, if you think
you're smarter, or think you're safer than somebody else, just because
you've never done [insert felony here], think again. Just because
you've never acted on your impulses to… smother your snoring husband
with a pillow (and really, what jury of peers would convict you?)
doesn't mean you're better than [insert perpetrator here]. In the
kingdom of heaven, all comparisons fail. And if all comparisons fail,
the only thing left is our similarity.


I can't help but believe that somewhere, some husband has spoken the
words, "Well, yeah. But it's not like I'm Tiger Woods." Probably to an
attorney. I can't help but believe somewhere, some daughter has spoken
the words, "Yes, Daddy. But it's not like I'm Lindsay Lohan." Or,
someone to an IRS auditor, "Yes, I left that out. But it's not like
I'm Bernie Madoff." And, there's truth in these statements. If it
makes you feel better to remember that you're not... Mel Gibson, not
Sadaam Hussein, not Kim Jong Il, and (even though you really like
shoes) not Imelda Marcos, knock yourself out. Of course, if you have
to go to those extremes to look good, you may have some issues you
need to work on.

It's probably more true, though, that most of the time the comparisons
go the opposite way. You knock yourself out to be a good mom, and then
you meet  Supermom at PTO who not only makes six figures and weighs
104 pounds, but also gave birth without medication to four children
physically clutching Harvard acceptance letters. There's always
someone just a little better-looking (unless you're George Clooney),
always someone a little smarter (unless you're Steven Hawking), always
someone a little more (or a lot more) of what you'd like to be.

The good news, the really good news of today's scripture is that
wherever you think you fall on the scale from "At least I'm not" to
"I'll never be" - no matter where you think you fall on that scale,
you're wrong. In the kingdom of heaven, all comparisons fail. You're
never going to be as hot as you dream you are, and you're never going
to be as lost as you're afraid you might be. In the kingdom of heaven
all comparisons fail.

And if all comparisons fail, the only thing left is our similarity.


How are we similar? How are you like me and I like you? How are you
like George Clooney, and Lindsey Lohan, and Hosni Mubarak?

Scripture is clear. It's pretty simple. It says "all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

That's how we're all similar. But wait, there's more.

It says,
23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they
are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that
is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of
atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show
his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed
over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present
time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who
has faith in Jesus.

Oh, and one more thing. Scripture then asks, "Then what becomes of
boasting [and/or its opposite? What becomes of these comparisons]?
"Canceled. Yes, canceled. What we've learned is this: God does not
respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. (The Message)

I love how Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of Romans: "And
it's clear enough, isn't it, that we're sinners, every one of us, in
the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God's
revelation doesn't put us right with God. What it does is force us to
face our complicity in everyone else's sin."

Calling your sister a fool isn't a sin because it gets you in trouble
with your mom and dad, although it probably will. Calling your sister
or brother a fool is a sin because it denies the similarity between
the two of you. It sets you over and against him or her. It divides,
instead of unites. It shows comparison instead of similarity. That's
why it's a sin.

Jesus gives a very pointed example. He says,
"5:23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember
that your brother or sister has something against YOU, 24 leave your
gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your
brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

To be reconciled is to be on equal footing, in the same boat, on the
same page. You can't do that with someone you think is less than you,
or higher than you. You can be reconciled with a fool or on the same
ground with a Supermom. But you can if you confess what you have in
common. That you're both human beings. That you're not higher or lower
than anyone else. That you've got infinitely more in common than in

When we give up the comparisons and confess (and maybe even celebrate)
our similarities, it's like we're born again. And so we are, in our
brother Jesus. Jesus with whom we have just enough in common to share
a common sense of the glory of God.


- James