The Idolatry of Knowledge

1 Corinthians 1:18-31                                                                    3rd Sunday of Lent

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                      8 March 2015

We now live in a world where we are inundated with more information, on a daily basis, than we can possibly process. There are so many unwanted messages bombarding us, that often the ones we were interested in get lost in the noise. We can now communicate faster, with more people—without thinking—than ever before.  That’s dangerous.  The power to access information is everywhere.  

So what about it? What are we doing with this knowledge? Is all this information really doing us any good? Are we living happier lives? Are we experiencing fewer problems? Are our decisions better?    And the most significant question -- Are we any wiser? History tells us that we haven't learned much in spite of all we know.

(Michael McKinney, Foundations Magazine, M2 Communications)

T.S. Eliot posed the question: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"    

Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge. To be more precise, wisdom is knowledge that has been applied in a way that takes into account all its pertinent relationships and that is consistent with universal truth.   And that’s what brings us to the scriptures, where we glean universal truth, where we read about the One who lived universally true, Jesus Christ.

The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom.  That’s why we trust many of you are participating in the Bible from Scratch, a course that helps you to find the wisdom the Bible offers you.   In Proverbs, a book devoted to wisdom (just studied in Lively Learning) we are told that gaining wisdom is worth the cost.   It is far more precious than gold or silver, as we read at the beginning of this worship service.  Though it cost us all that we have, we must get wisdom.   It cost Jesus his very life to share with us the wisdom, the love of God, about which we read today.


1 Corinthians 1:18-31

For 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. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where 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? 21 For 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."  (NRS)

God’s foolishness wiser than human wisdom.   God’s weakness stronger than human strength.   What we are doing here is foolishness, but it is wise.   The people who are at Starbucks, surfing the web, not worrying about church things, they are the knowledgeable ones.   They don’t have time for this gobblety-gook.  I mean really.   Look at the ridiculous claims the church makes.   Bodies raised from the dead.    A God who is born in human flesh, a supernatural conception.   Oh no, that’s craziness.    Who can believe that stuff?   Let’s just do what makes sense – be kind and caring, but not all that God stuff.   Besides, they ask for your time, your talent, and your treasure.   Did you hear how Peace Presbyterian Church is asking their congregation for another million dollars? 

 It was just two years ago that church raised a million to buy the building they are in, but now, they need another million.    And how are you going to afford new house or car, nice clothes, a comfortable retirement, an exciting vacation or even college education for your children if you are helping that group build a house for God?   Why does God need a house anyway?   Doesn’t God live in the heavens?  Why is that crazy pastor asking me to give money to build God a house?   I need my money for more important things like….ah…. let me think (wait a minute)…  But there are some wise people making foolish decisions around here – students pledging thousands, retirees risking their entire savings to build a sanctuary because they value this legacy more than any other.    Fools for Christ.   Will there be more?  It would be easier to discern wisdom, looking back on this moment fifty years from now.

It’s easy to look back fifty years and say that the Selma March was wise, but back then, it looked foolish.   The first attempt on the 7th of March, 600 people are driven back with clubs and tear gas.   The second attempt on March 9, they are turned back by the barricade of troopers.   The third attempt on March 21, 3200 leave Selma with the protection of federal troops.  By the time they reach Montgomery, there are 25,000 people.   By August, Johnson signs the voting rights act.   But lots of blood, sweat, and tears went into that milestone.   It took some daring fools to make justice roll down.

You know there’s something to this foolishness.   You’ve been captured by the beauty of God’s love.   You have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit.  You have gotten a glimpse of the amazing grace of God and life has been different, so you are here at Peace for more of this upside down wisdom, this funning weak-side strength of the Great Love of Life.    

You even have to audacity to believe that this Christian community of 275 people can making a difference in a world of seven billion.   You actually believe that we can make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others.

You know what’s going to happen to you, if you keep hanging around these Christ followers?   Especially if you keep listening to that One who willingly died on a cross, when He could have just saved himself from all that misery and made it  more comfortable and sensible – for him at least.   If you keep following that guy, your world will may turned upside down.   What we are doing here makes us weak, from the world’s point of view.   But we know that in our weakness, we will gain God’s strength, the strength in Christ that has lifted us from despair.    What we are doing here will make us poor, if we have the guts to follow, but we will find ourselves rich far beyond our imaginations.   What we are doing here will make us look dumb, but it will be the wisest dumb thing we ever did.  

It’s not about what you know.    It’s not about how much money you have.   It’s not about power at all.   It’s about power relinquished for the sake of love.   It’s about the acquisition of information and knowledge.  It’s about wisdom, the  proper use of knowledge for the sake of loving.   That’s why the people who know you best have so much power to hurt you because knowledge can become idolatrous, abusive.   It’s why respected leaders nearly always succumb to the temptation of abusing power, because everyone is turning to them for their knowledge.   But what they really need is not knowledge, but wisdom.   The wise one boasts in the Lord, not in knowledge.   Who did Jesus care for?  The weak, the despised, the powerless.   Who did Jesus argue with?   The powerful, especially the religious leaders.  

So if you are wondering if Jesus could possibly love you, don’t worry.   He loves you more, well, maybe not more, but his love for the powerful comes in the form of challenge and sometimes rebuke.

Real power is the power of weakness born in identification with others.   That’s what Christ did.   He identified with us in our weakness; he suffered with us.     When we lift high the cross, when we glory in the cross, when we cherish the old rugged cross, when we survey the wondrous cross, we are really saying that not that we glory in torture, that we think somebody had to be punished, that violence is the answer.  

No we are saying that when Christ identifies so completely with us that he is willing to suffer with us and for us, it is a supreme gift.   It is power perfected in weakness.   It is wisdom that transcends knowledge.   Hear the Gospel shared by this wise, weak brother.  (video by Dwight N. Peterson – the Problem with Power, interview by The Work of the People)