Holy Fools

March 3, 2024

    Series: March 2024

    Speaker: Rob McClellan


    Today's Sermon


    "Holy Fools"


    Exodus 20:1-17
    1Then God spoke all these words:

    2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.

    4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

    8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

    12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

    13You shall not murder.

    14You shall not commit adultery.

    15You shall not steal.

    16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

    17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.


    1 Corinthians 1:18-25
                18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
              and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

                 20Where 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? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

    Holy Fools

                When I was in seminary, one of the homiletics—preaching—professors did a research project on “Naked Street Preachers,” yes you heard that correctly.  Apparently, there were people who preached on the street without any clothes.  The details about the historical time and place of this phenomena were fuzzy to me, but you’ll forgive me for not wanting to do too much follow up research on the church’s computer. 

                The point of this project—and it did have a point—was to explore how the form of the Christian message embodies, pun intended, the content. Preaching is an embodied art form. Otherwise, I could give you a handout and let you go sailing.  What naked street preaching did or does is shock those who witness it, making it clear that the preacher stands in defiance of the cultural norms.  They literally will not wear them.  The prophets have often embodied their messages. Read through the book of Ezekiel some time, a book so jarring that tradition said nobody under 30 should be allowed to read it. 

                Tish Warren, in an article in The New York Times, wrote about the Christian concept of being a “holy fool.”  The article was about Ted Lasso, a lovable character in a show about an American football coach brought in to manage a British professional soccer team for the sole purpose of running it into the ground. Lasso is a goofy, endearing figure who gives us poignant, even prophetic, moments in which he demonstrates kindness, loyalty, sticking up for someone being hurt.  You might call him a holy fool.  By standing apart from societal norms, the holy fool challenges them. The holy fool is driven by a higher set of values.  It should go without saying that not every fool is holy.  I met a woman who grew up Mennonite, a pacifist tradition, and her family worked very hard.  Each parent worked fulltime, but they only took pay for one halftime position so they could stay below the poverty line in order to be exempted from paying the war tax, foolish to the rest of society, unpatriotic to the dominant norm, but in their tradition, holy.  Mother Theresa always picked the worst shoes from among the donations—how foolish!—so that nobody else had to feel like they got the worst.

                Our spiritual heritage is one of standing apart from dominant systems, particularly ones based on domination.  Some say we lost this edge when we became the dominant system.  The story of the Hebrew Bible is of a minority people, who as they are set free vow to live by another standard. The Ten Commandments, which you heard earlier, is nothing if not a way of saying, “We know how theylive, but this is how we will live.”  We sometimes get judgmental about laws and rules we find in the Older Testament, but we forget the world in which they existed.  Child sacrifice, for example, really did exist in some cultures.  And, in the Newer Testament, Paul writes about the foolishness of the cross—power was demonstrated in the Roman world by wielding the sword, not by receiving the cross.  Paul challenges head on the so-called wisdom of this Roman way of being, asserting, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25).  Franciscan Richard Rohr returns again and again to the notion that the Christian movement is about eschewing conventional wisdom. 

                Being a holy fool is not about removing oneself from the world, but existing in differently, by a different code. Warren, who is an Anglican priest, writes

    “...the holy fool is a person who flouts social conventions to demonstrate allegiance to God. Holy fools dwell in ordinary, secular life, but they approach it with completely different values. Rejecting respectability and embracing humility and love, holy fools are so profoundly out of step with the broader world that they appear to be ridiculous or even insane and often invite ridicule. And yet, they teach the rest of us how to live.”[1]

    Her words remind me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s that a beloved philosophy professor of mine used to quote regularly:

    It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.[2]

    Emerson is not writing specifically of the Christian calling, and Paul and the prophets may have been more salty than sweet in their disposition, but both speak to the call to reject the ways of the world for something higher.

                One more quote that reminds us how Jesus stood apart. Theologian Christian Pramuk writes:

    Like a lure darting and flashing before a fish, Jesus’ words dance and play before the imagination, breaking open our habitual assumptions about ‘the way things are’…To be ‘born again’ is to break free of the stultifying womb of conventional wisdom…[3]

                How I wish I could write like that.  How I wish I could better live like that.  How are you living into your divine calling to be a holy fool?  How are we?  How are we standing apart from dominant norms, particularly ones that are based upon domination, at risk to our own status and reputation?  Our young people have to navigate this all the time.  What about the rest of us?

                Today, we come to the table where, among other things, we ritually remember how Jesus defied conventional wisdom, where he positioned himself not at the seat of honor, where he washed his students’ feet, where he broke break with his own betrayer, where he dared demonstrate abundance and nonviolence in a world built on scarcity and domination, where he faced death only to experience resurrection and new life.

                You’ll remember that when they crucified him, they bid on his clothes, leaving his body to preach naked, yet it was they and their corrupt and depraved values who were exposed.

                Come to be fed for your courageous and foolish life.



    [2]Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

    [3]Christian Pramuk, “Theodicy and the Feminine Divine:  Thomas Merton’s ‘Hagia Sophia’ in Dialogue with Western Theology,’ in Theological Studies77, no. 1 (2016), 54-55.