I Speak as a Fool
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Sexagesima
February 7, 2021
“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”
If there is a greater fool than I in this church, or anywhere else for that matter, I challenge them to a contest of foolishness, a duel of fools. For I not only speak as a fool, I am one. I speak “Foolish” fluently.
I have said it more than once, but truly, if I may not be of any other use in the pursuit of truth, wisdom and godliness, at the very least I can always serve as a bad example: an icon of what not to do. At this I excel. I am the veritable crash dummy of ministry, the Evel Knievel of leadership, the Hindenburg of personal achievement.
I started out as a child thinking I would be… I can’t remember. Nothing really gave form to my fantasy of me. An engineer? I had the math, but not the discipline. An artist? I had no idea what to paint or sculpt. An actor? My dad was an actor, but the lights and pressure of fame repelled me. A priest? Come on. Nobody becomes a priest. I saw myself in romantic terms, but without occupation. Never a policeman, not a fireman, nor a pilot, nor a politician. Without knowing it, I was well on my way to becoming a fool.
That is to say, I enrolled in architecture school at UC Berkeley. Of course, I showed up right on time for the hippy revolution, the anti-war movement, the extinction of professional architects, and the end of the Episcopal Church as a viable Christian institution. Five years later, three things I knew for sure: I was a fair musician; I didn’t want to be an architect; and I was in love with a Persian girl. I went to work supervising mentally retarded adults in a work-training program. That was the best training I ever got. They taught me just what a fool I was.
Stumbling through a failed attempt to settle in the United Arab Emirates, I wound up back in the States, father in a family of three and unable to find work as an architect, or even as a draftsman, I ended up an estimator for industrial special coatings. I was good at that, and spent 16 years being unhappy in my job. As for many people, work was what I did while wishing I were something else. Trying New Age religion, my hand as a songwriter, a school of psychic phenomena, and the new morality: I wound up unhappy and alienated.
It was there that Christ found me.
To be consistent as a fool, one must resist good things more than bad things. I resisted being a full-on Christian for years, even into seminary, even into my priesthood. While I remained an estimator, I had two worlds and two selves. I could preach a decent sermon, bid and run a profitable contract, teach Bible, and still talk trash. I was torn in two, and in the midst of all this, my family didn’t come first or second in my life. Neither did God. It took a long time for me to rediscover my heart, let God fill it with love, and settle in on one life to live, and to live it in contentment.
All this to tell you, I am an expert on foolishness. Solomon wrote more about fools than any other biblical author, but he was the wisest man that had ever lived, so what did he know about being a fool? He had to grow into the part, and only in his later life did he learn the real foolishness that would break his kingdom. I have it all over him as a fool.
Solomon observed that there really is no ultimate difference between a wise man and a fool: “The fate of the fool will also befall me. Why then have I been so wise? This too is vanity. For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man or the fool: in the coming days all will be forgotten. The wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life… because everything is futility and striving after wind. I hated all the fruit for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man … and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit for which I have labored by acting wisely. This too is vanity.” Eccles. 2:15-19
Jesus spoke of fools in negative terms, and rightly so, though He knew and loved many fools. Paul spotted, enlarged and proclaimed the true value of a fool. I find great comfort in this, and hope to be an even better fool in the future. Paul wrote the Corinthians two letters in which he trumpeted the cause of foolishness. He said Christ sent him to preach, not with wise words, so that “the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness 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 bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? … Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews demand a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness ... Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men … But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise … that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Cor. 1:17-29
I can’t boast. I am a fool. I come then, not by my own wisdom, but as one through whom God thrust a sword and named His priest. It was not my idea, nor my will to be what I am: it was the grace of God. And since that day, my foolishness remains my great gift. It keeps me humble. It keeps me real. I know what my true gifts are. People might praise my achievements, my eloquence, my artistry, my labor, my strength or character. I know the truth. I am the donkey that Christ rode in to town. If I happen to arrive at the same moment as He, it’s by His doing, not the donkey’s. My strength is only in knowing that.
Paul wrote again about foolishness, our Epistle for today. He begins, saying: “I hope you will put up with a little more of my foolishness. Please bear with me. For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.” 2 Cor. 11:1-3 Paul is upset that his church is following other doctrines, flashy preachers, new ideas that overturn the pure and simple faith. They think they’re wise and that Paul was too simplistic.
So, speaking as a fool, he shows them that foolishness is better than all their wisdom. He condemns those who pervert the Gospel: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.” v. 13-15.
And figuring that foolish speaking plays better on their ears, Paul plays the fool to win them back: “I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast in the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, are happy to receive and appreciate these fools ... But if anyone else is bold (I can speak as a fool), I am just as bold myself.” v. 16-21
Jesus preached in parables, proclaiming the most piercing truths in simple stories a child could understand, but the wise dismissed these as childish. A man sowed his seed, and four kinds of ground were thus given the Word of God. Only good ground produced fruit, while the hard-bitten world-wise, the shallow, and the selfish couldn’t get it and keep it. St. Luke 8:4ff His words had depth, but were seen as foolish, offensive and ill mannered by the elite. When He told His fair-weather followers they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they left Him, disgusted. Only fools, fishermen, and broken people stayed to find out what He meant.
There are times when all the knowledge, all the wisdom, all the achievements, all the money in the world will not get you where fools already have arrived. Albert Einstein was touted as the smartest man of the last century. In his brilliance, he almost grasped what a kid knows by merely looking up. In his own words,
“We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.”
“The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties - this knowledge, this feeling ... that is the core of the true religious sentiment.”
It is unfortunate, and perhaps our own fault, that Dr. Einstein never found a home in Christianity.
When a man gets the call to ministry, feels an undeniable urge to study, seek, test himself, and be a conduit of holy truth, of God’s mercy, of holy fear – he must wear the dunce cap of the fool, and that becomes his glory. He has been found a big enough fool to join the ranks of us blackbirds, proclaiming the vastness of God from the pulpit of foolishness.
Our hope and greatest blessing and wish are that his words, the example of his life, and the work of his hands and heart ever portray the simplicity of God from the lofty pedestal of a fool.