Saturday, April 18, 2009


Walking with Ian in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Last week we had one of the best vacations we've ever had as a family. The morning after Easter we took a train to Dover, a ferry to Calais, and then spent the rest of the week in the Normandy region of France. Now for me, Normandy is synonymous with D-Day, and we saw a lot of the museums and landing sites while we were there. But Normandy is an amazing coastal farming area as well, with some great old cities to visit. We loved everything about it.
We found a nice little cafe in Rouen as we started our trip. The people were great--very patient with our poor attempts at French speaking. Our lunch was fantastic (Duck confit with pasta, below), and when we raved about the apple tart they served for dessert, they brought us more. Nice.
On our first day in Arromanches Ian made a friend. His name was Albain, and while his dad spoke fluent English, he didn't speak a word. It didn't stop them from playing non-stop for two days. Below they're playing on the beach near some of the remnants of the Mulberry harbors from D-Day.
Ian and Albain climbing a pole just outside our restaurant.

These are more of the leftover harbors built in the first few days after the D-Day invasion. They're ingenious things--making possible the delivery of the supplies that made the invasion successful. Below is the beach at Arromanches.
Our inn was one of the highlights of the trip. The hosts were great, even though we had a comically difficult time communicating with them. They were gracious and fun, with easy laughs, and we missed them when we left. Below Ian is with their enormous dog Oslo in the main dining room.

On our first morning there was a light fog that made everything look a little mysterious.
Ian at our front door.

The grounds at the inn, which is a converted 13th century monastery.
Our breakfast spread. The light green eggs are from the ducks at the inn, and they were delicious.
Ian having a pensive moment looking out onto the grounds.
Enjoying another great breakfast.
Sunset from our window.
If you're not familiar with the story of Pointe du Hoc, it's worth looking up. There were some big guns up there that had a clear view of the Omaha and Utah landing sites. They were heavily fortified in concrete bunkers and protected on the ocean side by steep cliffs. They were pounded from the air for weeks before the landings, but couldn't be destroyed. When it was proposed that a unit try to disable the guns on D-Day, the majority of the planners said it couldn't be done. On 6 June group of 225 US Rangers landed on the beach under heavy fire, climbed the cliffs and took the hill. Only 90 survived. As it turned out the guns had been moved, but the Rangers found them later and destroyed them.
The cratered landscape of Pointe du Hoc. Some of the holes are 20 feet deep and even wider across. When the Rangers got to the top, their reconnaissance maps were useless because the terrain had been so radically altered.

Ian and Albain had such a great time playing in the craters and ruins of Pointe du Hoc. They climbed on--and through--everything they could find. Many of the bunkers still had functioning tunnels, and they spent almost as much time under the ground as over it.

At first I was a little queasy about how freely they were playing. So much happened on that site. So much sacrifice...part of me wanted to keep them quiet, respectful, even mournful. But then I thought about the guys who had fought there--the ones who had accomplished what the planners had deemed impossible. I'd like to think they would have approved of our little boys having such a good time there. I'd like to think that that was why they fought in the first place--so that other boys could laugh and run and climb on that very spot. In my own mind that day I saw Ian and his friend honoring the price paid by the Rangers over the first few days of the D-Day invasion. It put tears in my eyes every time I thought about it.

The next visit for us was to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Nothing really prepares you for being there...for what you see there. We read the inscriptions and walked among the crosses, and then down a beautiful path to Omaha Beach itself. It was a truly unforgettable thing to experience.
A fountain memorial at the Cemetery.

Standing with Julie and Ian on Omaha Beach.
Ian and I took a boat trip out into the Channel to see Omaha Beach as the soldiers on D-Day would have seen it for the first time. If you look closely, the line of white just below the trees are the crosses at the American Cemetery.
On the boat, with Omaha Beach in the background.
We did some sightseeing on the way back to Calais. This is in Trouville.
Our last stop was a beautiful port town called Honfleur.
More Honfleur.
Ian in, you guessed it, Honfleur.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter 2009: 'Pre-Flight Instructions'

John 20:1-18

Easter Week brings out all kinds of discussions that don’t happen much during the rest of the year. For one thing, even in this most secular of countries, it’s still called Easter Week. In the States, which claims to have a much higher proportion of people who attend church or profess the Christian faith—even in the States this has been called ‘Spring Break’ for years.

Now it’s true that even though they still call it Easter here, that name tends to mean bunnies and chocolate and daffodils and brightly colored eggs. Ian woke up to a search for chocolate eggs at our house…

But this past week The Times of London ran special sections every day discussing different parts of what Easter means, and how it’s affected the culture.

On Monday we saw a retelling of the Crucifixion story, with detail from the latest historical research. One of the articles talked about the value of the Resurrection story—even for those who reject the Christian faith.

On Tuesday there were a handful of articles about modern pilgrimages—journeys that symbolized the impact of the Easter story in the life of an individual or group.

Wednesday and Thursday covered the visual art and music that has been inspired by the Resurrection, with some discussion of how the arts continue to help our experience of the Easter miracle.

Friday’s collection of articles addressed the most important question we face as we think about Easter: What did it all mean? It’s one thing to believe that a resurrection took place—or not—but it’s another thing altogether to talk about why it happened…what was accomplished?

Now we’re going to talk about a handful of things in the next few minutes. We’ll hear one of the Easter accounts from the Scriptures, I’ll try to dazzle you with some illustrations that will help us understand and connect with what we’re celebrating, and I’m going to invite you to wrestle with what God might be trying to communicate to you on this one specific morning.

But before we get to any of that let me just state for the record why we’re here today.

We celebrate Easter to remember the miraculous raising from the dead of Jesus the Messiah—God in human form, who came and lived and served and loved and died in order to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for all of his creation.

Now that’s a lot to swallow. If it helps you, this story was just as dramatic and confusing in the 1st century—1700 years before the rise of the modern scientific method—as it is for us today. This is not an easy story. The pastel colors and bunnies and chocolate are all part of our way to get distracted from the shocking, absolutely radical, life-changing story of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

So back to the series of articles in The Times. In the midst of all those special Easter reports, and without recognizing the connection between the two, The Times ran a special section on Thursday about surprise endings in movies. Now I love watching movies—sometimes I even get snooty enough about to call them ‘films.’ I don’t like spoiling the twists in movies, but my rule is that if it’s been out more than five years, it’s fair game.

The article in The Times mentioned 'The Sixth Sense', with Bruce Willis, where it takes him the entire length of the movie to realize that he’s dead.

'Fight Club', which isn’t for the squeamish, has a shock at the end when Edward Norton realizes that he’s Brad Pitt. That may be a dream for a lot of us…

My favorite, though, is 'The Usual Suspects'. The entire film is really one character telling an enormous lie to deflect suspicion from the fact that he’s in control of everything. When you find out at the end who Kaiser Soze is, it takes your breath away.

I suppose the mark of a great surprise ending is when you want to go back and see the movie again.

With that in mind, here’s another familiar story with a surprise twist at the end.

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"
"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."
16Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "
18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

What a great telling of the resurrection story. Mary Magdalene and a few of the disciples go to the place where Jesus had been buried, and they panic when they can’t find him. They assume the body has been stolen. The disciples go back to their house, but Mary stays there, weeping, devastated by the events of the last week. Jesus came into Jerusalem with such promise, but she watched him arrested, beaten, crucified and buried. And now to top it off, someone has stolen the body.

Mary’s so distraught that even when the risen Jesus comes to comfort her, she mistakes him for the gardener. When she sees who he is, she runs back to the disciples with the good news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’

Over the past six weeks we’ve been talking about how the Atonement—what Jesus the Messiah accomplished in his death and resurrection—how the Atonement heals the relationships God made for us to enjoy. How God calls us back to him through Christ to wholeness and contentment and peace and love—what the Bible calls ‘Shalom.’

The resurrection of Jesus is the high point of that story. It’s where we see God not only pay a price for us, but also where he shows that he has power over the thing we fear most. The resurrection shows that God has power even over death.

Now it should be clear by now that this is one of the Sundays in the year where we don’t try to make everything rational or logical—we don’t try to explain the science behind the resurrection of Jesus. This is a 100% miracle—a miracle that defines and gives shape to our faith and our hope. From top to bottom it is the work of God, interfering with history—interfering with processes we think we understand and try to control. On this one Sunday of the year—we’re here to talk about and to celebrate a miracle.

Most people wouldn’t recognize the name Witold Pilecki. I had no idea who he was until I read an article about him last month. Pilecki was a resistance fighter in Poland during the Second World War. In order to get evidence of what was happening in the concentration camps, he changed his identity and made himself Jewish, so he would be arrested. Can you imagine? He ended up in Auschwitz, and wrote a full report of what he saw there. He escaped and smuggled the report to London, where it was passed along to the Allied leadership.

Who would do such a thing? Who would willingly take on another identity—a dangerous identity—in order to help others who were doomed to death?

Let’s review again why we’re here today.

We celebrate Easter to remember the miraculous raising from the dead of Jesus the Messiah—God in human form, who came and lived and served and loved and died in order to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for all of his creation.

But so much of the world seems to be going crazy these days. Between the economy and earthquakes and pirates on the high seas and the tragedies that touch all of our lives… So much of the world seems as though it hasn’t been touched at all by the Resurrection of Jesus.

Tomorrow morning, Julie, Ian and I are going to Normandy for the first time. I’ve been an avid reader of WWII history since I was a kid, and I’m excited about seeing the landing sites in person. It’s hard to grasp how huge the invasion really was.

On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy. That’s on the first day alone.

On D-Day, Allied aircraft flew 14,674 individual flights

By the end of 11 June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and more than 100,000 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.

The D-Day invasion was an amazing achievement—the Allies were desperate to open a second front against Nazi Germany, but in order to do that you had to get an army onto land in Europe—an army that was ready to fight and win.

Of course we know that WWII didn’t end in June of 1944, but in was clear that the tide of the war had turned when the Normandy landings were successful. There was still an enormous amount of fighting to do—the Battle of the Bulge, the failed invasion of Holland, the street fighting in Berlin—all of these came after D-Day. But once the Allies were able to put an army in France, the outcome of the war was assured.

Easter is the D-Day moment in the Bible. The tide of the war has turned—the Messiah that God promised has come.

He loved and taught and modeled for us what God is like.

He healed and comforted and showed us how God made us to live.

He suffered and died to cover the worst of how we reject God’s love.

He rose again to show that even death couldn’t separate us from the God who made us and loves us.

But none of that means the job is completed. There’s still some work yet to do.

There is still suffering to care for and to prevent.

There is still injustice and oppression to stand up against in God’s name.

There is still an earth to protect and tend so that all of God’s people can enjoy its fruit.

There are still people who haven’t seen or heard a credible version of the Gospel.

There is still plenty of work to do. Most of the world still hasn’t experienced the blessing of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. D-Day may have already happened—the decisive battle may have already been won, but there is still plenty of work to do.

And on top of that, the resurrection is still a hard concept for us to grasp. It can be an overwhelming challenge for us to think of God intervening in history—interfering in the way we understand how the world works. It’s hard sometimes to say that we believe—that we have faith in something that other people struggle with or completely reject.

Remember the book, ‘All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten’? The author tried to sum up the really important lessons of life using the things he learned in school when he was five years old.

When it comes to having faith in the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, I think that most of what we need to know we learn from the pre-flight instructions we hear every time we get on a plane. After pointing out the emergency exits, the attendant will say: ‘In the unlikely event of a drop in cabin pressure, a mask will drop down in front of you. Give it a tug to begin the flow of oxygen. Place your own mask on first before helping those around you.’

On this Easter Day let me invite you to take hold of the resurrection miracle for yourself. There’ll be time to worry about whether or not your neighbor—or the rest of the world—believes it along with you. Take a hold of this story and let it begin to give you life—to change your life.

Because that’s the point of the Easter miracle. It changes everything. Listen to how Tom Wright describes it in his book, Simply Christian.

‘When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty rose with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined forever. God’s future has arrived in the present. Instead of mere echoes, we hear the voice of God itself: a voice which speaks of rescue from evil and death. A voice that speaks of new creation.’

We celebrate Easter to remember the miraculous raising from the dead of Jesus the Messiah—God in human form, who came and lived and served and loved and died in order to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for all of his creation.

That may end up being the biggest surprise twist ending of them all. The one who came and served and suffered and died—the one we call Jesus was raised from the dead. And nothing, nothing will ever be the same again.

How great—how amazing—how deep the Father’s love for us. Amen.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Life the Way it Was Meant to Be

(This is the final message in our Lenten series 'Together Again: The Meaning of the Atonement.')

John 12:12-19

Today we complete our Lent series of messages. These past five weeks may have opened up more questions than they answered, but that’s probably a good thing. The sacrifice of Christ is too big to ever really understand completely, and if we’re growing in our faith journeys it’s something we think about all through the year. But taking six weeks to wrestle with what the Atonement means for our lives is an important part of our church year, and I hope this has been a blessing for you.

Our text this morning is John 12:12-19

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,

15”Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey's colt.”

16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. 17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

We started this series of messages more than a month ago with a retelling of the story of Humpty Dumpty. We were reminded that there’s a sad story at the core of this little poem. Whoever or whatever Humpty Dumpty represents, clearly he’s taken a serious fall and is suffering because of it. The sad part is that there seems to be nothing anyone can do to help. ‘All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.’

That’s a very sad ending, I think.

The point of this series as we reflect and prepare for Easter is that Christ’s sacrifice offers us healing for our broken relationships—restoration for the relationships we were meant to have with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with the earth.

The Bible describes how our relationships are supposed to be with the word Shalom. We were created to live in a constant, blissful state of perfect Shalom. One writer defined Shalom as ‘the webbing together of God, humans and creation in justice, fulfillment and delight.’ That Shalom describes a network of connections that define what life is all about—what life was meant to be.

One of my former pastors preached a sermon on the Trinity a few years back. Rather than try to explain rationally what it meant for God to be three persons at the same time, he said this. ‘At the center of the universe, there is a relationship.’

That’s important for us because we’re made in God’s image—that means something for us.

God made us for relationships. That’s a central teaching of the Scriptures. God made us for relationships because we’re made in his image and he exists in a perfect sort of relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were made to live in a range of relationships at a range of levels.
But we’ve taken a serious fall—our ability to live and love and thrive in relationships has been damaged—and no one seems to know how to put it all back together again. I want to make this point as clear as possible as we begin this final countdown to remembering Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the miracle of Easter.

Jesus the Messiah came and loved, served, taught, ministered, suffered, died, and rose again in order to put our relationships back together—to restore the Shalom God made for us to enjoy from the beginning of time.

That’s it. For all the thinking and writing and philosophizing and wondering about the meaning of life, it really comes down to this one single statement.

Jesus the Messiah came and loved, served, taught, ministered, suffered, died, and rose again in order to put our relationships back together—to restore the Shalom God made for us to enjoy from the beginning of time.

In our text this morning, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a challenge to the world of broken Shalom—the world where the relationships God intended for us were twisted and distorted and shattered. Jesus entry into Jerusalem, and the events that followed, were a massive counterattack against anything that tried to prevent God’s perfect Shalom from taking its rightful place. That process didn’t end on Palm Sunday, or even on Good Friday or Easter, but from the moment Jesus rode into Jerusalem the writing was on the wall.

The sad part was that virtually no one recognized it.

Jesus has been traveling around the countryside and small towns, teaching and healing and training his disciples to carry his message. Along the way he’s been confronted by Romans, by demons, and by the religious leaders of the day. All along he knew that eventually he was going to have to enter Jerusalem—the home of the Jewish faith and the place where the Romans ruled over the region.

When he arrived the people waved palm branches and offered worship to him. They said “Hosanna, hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.” All of that language was tied to the Jewish expectation for a Messiah—the centuries of waiting, now focused on their present situation. They wanted a king—the new King of Israel—and they put their hopes on this healer-teacher they’d been hearing about.

OK, well, now that ‘King of Israel’ part is a problem. Jesus is about to make just about everyone in town angry at him, they just don’t know it yet.

Israel already had a king, and his name was Herod. He was the hereditary ruler who was allowed to keep his throne as long as he didn’t get in Rome’s way. Rome was the real power, and they didn’t like to talk about anyone ruling the world who wasn’t Caesar.

But the real problem was going to come from the people. After being led by their own corrupt king, and taxed and governed by Rome, what the people really wanted was someone to come and overthrow everyone so they could determine their own fate. These folks are not going to be happy with the plan Jesus has to restore relationships and rebuild Shalom.

They’re yelling Hosanna now, but remember that these are the same people who will be shouting “crucify him!” in just a few short days.

The story of Palm Sunday is a story of one great colossal missed opportunity. Christ came to offer something truly amazing—truly life-changing—and the people who should have known better were prepared to settle for a simple political revolution. The would have been happy to conquer the Romans and run things for themselves, even if it meant losing out on the restoration of God’s

As you might imagine, there’s a lesson here for us, especially as we reflect on the cross and prepare for the celebration of Easter.

Why is the Cross so important? Why does the Atonement matter?

First, the Atonement matters because it teaches us what the church can be—what the church can do. Scot McKnight, a theologian from North Park Seminary in Chicago, wrote this:

“The mission of Jesus—his vision of the Kingdom—is about restoring the blind, giving limber legs to the lame, wiping the skin of the lepers clean, filling the ears of the deaf with music and sounds, bringing back dead people from the grave, and making sure the poor are taken care of…We cannot back down from this. If this is Jesus’ vision…then the creation of a community where God’s will is done is inherent to the meaning of atonement.”

That community is us. The church. The Body of Christ. The atonement, more than any Book of Order or set of by-laws or collection of creeds—the Cross of Jesus Christ tells us who and how we’re supposed to be.

Second, the Cross matters because in Christ’s atoning work to restore our relationships, we get a glimpse of what heaven will be like.

McKnight adds this: “Eternity is the society created by God around Jesus Christ wherein people enjoy union with God and communion with one another, in a place where everything works as it did in Eden.”

Most importantly, though, the Atonement matters because it is good news for the relationships we have with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the earth.

Here’s another way we can think about it. It’s in the miracle of Christ’s sacrifice that we see Christian realism at its best. It’s easy to think that we have to suspend most of our reason or our intellect to grasp these matters of faith. It’s easy to think that our beliefs don’t have anything to say about the real world—the place where we spend the other 167 hours of the week.

If broken relationships—the breaking of the Shalom we were meant for—if brokenness is the source of our wounds, from personal sin to corporate corruption to the systemic problems that keep millions of people in this world poor and hungry and captive. If sin is the source of the problems we read about in the news every day, then the remedy for that sin isn’t so detached after all.

The Christian message—the cross as God’s redemptive power—isn’t somehow detached from reality, it names the world’s problems as being relational down to their core, and offers a solution. Here’s that solution, one more time:

Jesus the Messiah came and loved, served, taught, ministered, suffered, died, and rose again in order to put our relationships back together—to restore the Shalom God made for us to enjoy from the beginning of time.

In the end, what the Cross represents is God’s work to give us life the way it was meant to be. The Cross reminds us that there is an offer of healing for the relationships we have with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the earth.

This is not a false unity, or even simply the absence of conflict, but rather the deep, rich Shalom that God made us to enjoy. The ‘webbing together of God, humans and creation, in justice, fulfillment and delight.’

As we come to the Table this morning, I invite you to take a few moments of silence to think about what the Cross means to you. Even if you’ve never considered it before, or if you’re not sure if it means anything to you. Take a silent moment to ask if that gift of Shalom is something you want to experience.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Fool’s Errand

(This message was given last night at the closing worship service for the Camden Cold Weather Shelter.)

1Corinthians 1:18-25

18For 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.
19For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

This morning when I woke up my son, I told him that I’d gotten a note from his school saying he had to wear a swimsuit and a t-shirt because they would be playing outside all day. He blinked and looked at me and said: ‘Really?’ I waited a moment and then said: ‘April Fools!’

This is a strange day—a day of pranks and jokes and hoaxes. There are literally hundreds of examples of great April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Here are some of my favorites:

In 1957 we had The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper crop of spaghetti. In the story there was footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Then there was The Taco Liberty Bell. In 1996 The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the museum in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke.

In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. At the same time, according to the press release, “many others requested their own 'right handed' version.”

In 1976 the British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47 am on the first of April a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur that listeners could experience in their very own homes. The planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment that this planetary alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9:47 arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman even reported that she and her eleven friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church talks about a different kind of foolishness.

This part of Paul’s letter addresses something he faced a lot in his work in the first century. People who were educated and worldly and sophisticated often had a hard time grasping the core of the gospel message—that we are broken people in need of a savior, and that once saved we’re called to give sacrificially to help others.

People in Paul’s culture would have considered the Christian gospel to be the height of foolishness.

And yet Paul makes the case that the work of God through Jesus Christ was so dramatic, so decisive, so perfect, that the most brilliant thoughts humans could muster would seem foolish by comparison.

‘But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles.’

Paul’s response to that was to say that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than all of our wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than all of our strength.’

There’s an American basketball coach named Bobby Knight, who has a reputation for reacting badly to questions he doesn’t like or comments he thinks are less-than-informed. I remember a few years back, after a sports reporter confronted him on a coaching decision, hearing Knight shouted at the man: ‘I’ve forgotten more about basketball than you’ll ever know!’

Paul might be holding his temper here, but that’s the point he’s trying to make. God’s work on our behalf in the ministry of Jesus Christ was so complete that it makes our attempts to understand it look foolish by comparison.

Paul knew that the message of the Cross didn’t reconcile very well with the culture of the first century. The world was a fractured place, forced together by the military power of Rome, leaving people to scramble after their own interests in order to survive and prosper.

Some people resisted Rome, and most of them were crushed. Some collaborated, like the tax collectors we see in the Scriptures, and they were shunned by their friends and families. Some hid in the margins and never really found a place to fit.

What they didn’t do much was give of themselves. The most common response to the challenges of the first century was a sense of self-preservation—of taking care of yourself and your family, without much concern for the needy outside your walls.

That may sound familiar. In our culture—especially in these dangerous economic times—the first thing to go is charitable giving. Registered charities in the UK and the US are reporting dramatic cuts in giving and investment in all kinds of causes.

People who used to offer support are trying to be wise about how they spend and give their money.

I think that’s what makes this past four months of the Cold Weather Shelter so amazing. All around us we were hearing the awful news about the economy. Jobs lost, money supplies tightening up, companies and banks failing. It would have been very easy for people to pull back—to cut off support—to hold on to their giving budgets. That may have even been the wise thing to do.

But in the midst of all that bad news, churches with tight budgets offered generous support to the work of the Shelter. People whose own jobs might not have been secure gave of their time and talent to make a temporary home for some needy people in this community.

We have acted foolishly this year, and that’s a holy thing.

The churches and volunteers and staff of the Cold Weather Shelter have demonstrated the holiness of being foolish in Christ’s name. No jokes, no pranks, no hoaxes.

Paul wrote in our passage that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to us it is the very power of God.’

I don’t know how powerful you felt during your time working in the Shelter this year, but it was an incredibly powerful act. The crazy thing is, no matter how foolish the world might think we were for giving of our time or resources or talents or prayers. No matter how foolish that might seem to the culture, by helping our guests we were exercising the very power of God.

As this season of working in the Shelter comes to a close, I’m encouraged by the skill of the Shelter staff, the loving hospitality of the churches, the love and kindness of the volunteers, the generosity of the donors, and the dignity and graciousness of the guests.

What a blessing this has been. What a great time of service and unity and divine power. The work of the Shelter this year has been an exercise in the best kind of foolishness, and I can’t wait to start again next year.

Let’s pray together.