The apostle Paul used the word “fool,” but Jesus shied away from using the term; it was like murdering someone, said the Rev. Dr. J. Peter Holmes.
“Jesus knows that words can hurt and bring about low self-esteem,” Holmes said. “When we feel like a fool, we refuse to act.”
Holmes preached at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “The Greater Fool,” and the Scripture texts were 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and Matthew 5:1-12.
One day Holmes Googled “I hate myself,” and found thousands of posts from people who could not believe in themselves or forgive themselves.
“So many of us feel the fool whether we are one or not,” he said.
Holmes got hooked on Aaron Sorkin’s show “The Newsroom,” which starred Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, the news anchor. In the beginning McAvoy was driven by ratings, trying to be popular, but during a debate on a college campus a young woman questioned him and sent him into a tirade that led him to rediscover his idealism. Toward the end of the first season, McAvoy was hospitalized and spent time reading a story about himself in a magazine titled “The Greater Fool,” which criticized him for sticking to his old ideals that no longer worked.
Paul, before his conversion, thought the cross of Christ was an absolute folly. He believed that whoever hung on a tree should be banished, never remembered. George Bernard Shaw said not to put a cross on his grave because it was an instrument of torture.
“The whole movement of Jesus seemed like madness to Paul, and he went to Damascus with hatred to destroy the cross and all its ideals,” Holmes said.
In “The Newsroom,” McAvoy was reluctant to come back to work after reading the magazine article, but a colleague explained to him what the term “The Greater Fool” meant in economics. The term meant a patsy, someone who would buy long and sell short, who had the self-delusion and ego to succeed where others failed.
“This country was made by Greater Fools,” Holmes said. “In the end the Greater Fool sees value that no one else sees. That is what Paul is saying about the cross. It seems like foolishness, but God is saying ‘I see something in you that I am willing to pay a great price for.’ ”
Don’t feel worthless, he added. God sees a pearl of great price in you.
“Paul understood the theory of the Greater Fool on the road to Damascus,” Holmes said. “Jesus asked him, ‘Why do you persecute me?’ and Paul asked, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus showed Paul that the cross did not have the last word. He urged Paul to embrace the folly.”
Holmes continued, saying that God loves us and has given himself in love. It is a beautiful mystery, he said.
“When you hear the voice that says we are fools, don’t listen,” he said. “Listen for the Greater Fool on the cross, buying high, seeing something in you to redeem, to love.”
The cross has become a sign of victory over death. God calls us to follow him, to live the love, to be people of grace.
“It may be foolishness, but it is the greater wisdom of the kingdom of God,” Holmes said.
Holmes illustrated his point with part of the hymn “Inspired by Love and Anger,” by John Bell of the Iona Community:
“God asks, “Who will go for me? Who will extend my reach?
And who, when few will listen, will prophesy and preach?
And who, when few bid welcome, will offer all they know?
And who, when few dare follow, will walk the road I show?”
Amused in someone’s kitchen, asleep in someone’s boat,
Attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,
A Saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools
Has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.”
Will McAvoy in “The Newsroom” has an encounter with the young woman who set him on his course to recover his ideals. She is interviewing for a job with his producer and McAvoy interrupts the interview to ask what she is doing there. She tells him that she watches his show and that she knows what a Greater Fool is and wants to be one. McAvoy says to hire her.
“Jesus says to us, I want you to follow me on the journey of foolishness, love and victory. ‘Come and tip the balance with fisherman and fools.’ I want to be one too,” Holmes said. “Do you?”
The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. presided. The Rev. Dan McKee, a retired Presbyterian minister and former adjunct professor and ministry team member at St. Bonaventure University, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir, which sang “The Eyes of All Wait Upon Thee” by Jean Berger. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services.