February 12, 2017                                                       I Corinthians 1: 18-31

Dear God, Please be with us as we seek to earnestly study your Word. Let us approach it with humility, always seeking the intervention of your Spirit to provide understanding. In Jesus’ we pray, Amen.

 

                           From the Epistle Known as Sports Illustrated  

             We have a lot of new people and visitors in here. So I’m going to do something that I seldom do. I’m going to repeat a sermon from three years ago. And I may even preach it again when I visit Trinity Cathedral in Columbia this spring.

            Not because it’s such a great sermon. But because I dearly love its message. A message I found in Vince’s Sports Illustrated.

            So: Frank Ray Hall grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, the son of a middle-school

 drop-out.

         As a child, Frank had a terrible stutter. He had a learning disability that frustrated him so much that he once tore a page out of his fourth-grade spelling book.

       When he asked his high school counselor about taking a foreign language, the counselor replied, “Let’s concentrate on the foreign language you’re taking now, Frank … English.”

       But Frank was a big boy. And a good football player. He led his high school football team to the Ohio playoffs and made first team all-state. He should have been a shoo-in for a Division I scholarship. But that learning disability derailed him.

       So Frank enrolled in Iowa Central Community College and made All-America honorable mention. Then he came south to play at South Carolina State in Orangeburg, one of only two white players on the roster in 1994.

       One of the coaches there was a former Washington Redskin. He thought Frank might have a chance at the NFL. All Frank had to do was earn a 2.0 -- a C average – in order to play on the SC State team.

        But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t get grades above D’s and F’s. He called his mother in tears. His dad grabbed the phone and said, “It’s OK, son, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”

      So Frank went to work. He worked in a group home for the mentally disabled. He worked as a police officer. But he didn’t give up his dream of college.

      And taking a course here, a course there for 15 years, he graduated from college. He was the first in his family to get a degree.

        Here are some other things about Frank Hall. At 6-foot-1 and 350 pounds, he was diabetic.

         He called himself a chicken. That was because he hated confrontation. He hated roller coasters. He hated heights. He hated scary movies.

         What he liked, as it turned out, was coaching high school football. He liked encouraging kids. He liked motivating them, kidding around with them, being the friend they might not otherwise have in their lives. He knew what it was like to struggle in school, and he wanted to help kids who were in the same boat.

        In fact, that’s why he and his wife adopted four boys – two African-American, two bi-racial.

        Frank took an assistant coaching job at Edgewood High. He thought he’d move into the head coaching job when it opened. Instead, the administration passed him over and gave the job to someone else.

       So Frank took a job as offensive coordinator at Chardon High in Chardon, Ohio, a little town 30 miles east of Cleveland. That name ought to ring a bell. But it probably doesn’t.    

      Chardon High was the site of a school shooting in 2012. A thin, troubled 17-year-old came into the school cafeteria early on a February morning and opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol. He gunned down three students immediately, killing them.

        But he hadn’t counted on the early morning cafeteria monitor, Frank Hall.

       After hearing the first two shots, Frank surged to his feet, yelling “Stop. Stop.” He ran at the shooter, as other students dove under tables for cover.

        The shooter turned to face Frank, and the coach ducked behind a soda machine. The boy fired.

        He then turned his gun on another student, hitting him in the neck and paralyzing him. He walked out of the cafeteria and into a hallway.  Frank followed him and charged him a second time. But before Frank could reach him, the shooter ducked out an exit.

        When police captured him, shivering, in the woods 45 minutes later, the boy had replaced his spent clip with a new one, ready for more carnage. Police asked him why he’d left the school. He replied, “Because Coach Hall was chasing me.”

          In Chardon, Ohio, Frank was hailed as a hero – and justifiably so. We haven’t heard of Chardon, Ohio – like we have Columbine and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook – because of him. As horrible as the shooting was, there were three murders that day – rather than the 15 or 20 or 25 there could have been.

         Because of a 350-pound man with diabetes.

       Because of a man with a learning disability so severe he couldn’t cut the academics at South Carolina State.

        Because of man whose own father thought he ought to be a ditch digger.

      Because of a man who thinks of himself as a chicken, hating confrontation, roller coasters, heights, scary movies.

        Because of a man passed over for head coach.

       In our Scripture passage this morning, we’re going to look at a letter Paul wrote about confusing human standards and God’s standards, about confusing our foolishness with what really matters. This is his letter to the church at Corinth. Please turn in your Bibles to I Corinthians 1: 18-31.

         18 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. 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.

        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. 

       27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

            30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

      As we say in the South, those Corinthians were a mess.

      Paul had heard of dysfunction in the church at Corinth – rival groups fighting for control, flagrant immorality, disregard for teaching Christian behavior, marginalizing the poor.

          Also, some of the Corinthians thought they had special gifts that made them more spiritual, more knowledgeable, more wise, more la-de-da.

       So Paul wrote this letter to straighten them out. And in this very first chapter, he knocks down any notion that they – or we – can earn our way into the kingdom through our spirituality or knowledge or wisdom.

       “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world….”           

         A psychologist once told me that a lot of people at Triune have a voice inside their heads saying, “I’m a loser. I’m a loser. I’m a loser.”  

        I imagine when the rich Corinthians humiliated their poorer brothers and sisters, as Paul accuses them in chapter 11, the poorer members thought of themselves as losers.

        I assure you there were times that Frank Hall thought of himself as a loser. And yet look what the loser did. He kept his kids safe. He kept Chardon, Ohio, from becoming a catch phrase like so many other schools, so many other towns.

       Changing that voice that says “I’m a loser” is the first step to changing behavior. And changing that voice is what Paul is trying to do in this letter to the Corinthians. 

          He talks about the message of the cross being foolishness to unbelievers – which it certainly is. A criminal executed by the Roman Empire in the most hideous way possible – that’s who we follow?

        To many people of his day, Jesus looked like the biggest loser imaginable. That’s the foolishness of the cross.

           The Jews wanted miraculous signs, Paul says. The Gentiles wanted sophisticated arguments.

        “But we proclaim Christ crucified, (which is understandably) a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  

        “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

       If there is one message I long to impart to this congregation, it is this: God does not look at us as the world looks at us. Being in the body of Christ, truly being in the body of Christ, is to replace that voice in our heads so that it no longer says, “I’m a loser.”

        Instead, it insists, “I am a child of God. I am welcome in this place. I am an important part of this community.”

       The fact that we have failed, we have been losers in the past, does not mean that our lives must continue that way.

         And we do not have to wait for a violent crisis to realize it.  

         For Frank Hall’s story is not over.  

      After the shooting at Chardon High, 38-year-old Coach Hall was probably the most beloved man in Chardon, Ohio. He declined offers to go on Oprah and Anderson Cooper, though he finally did appear on 60 Minutes. Local radio stations played a song by Alabama called “Angels Among Us,” interspersed with Frank’s brief comments at a press conference.

         Nearly a year went by. Things weren’t easy. Frank had nightmares. He thought a lot about the kids he couldn’t save. He thought if he’d been faster, smarter, stronger, he could have saved the three who were killed, the one who was paralyzed. 

       But he got through it. He got better.

      Then he woke up one morning and read in the newspaper a story from his nearby hometown, Ashtabula. Now, Ashtabula was a dying manufacturing town. Crime and drugs were soaring. Its own citizens were calling it Trashtabula.

          Lakeside High School, the school that had replaced Frank’s alma mater, was a losing football school. It had gone 2 and 28 in the last three years. In its last game against Chardon, Lakeside lost 63-0.

        The morning newspaper carried a story that the Lakeside football coach had quit in frustration. He was quoted as saying Lakeside had no business in its conference. “It was just too hard on the kids,” he said.

       Frank couldn’t believe it. Telling kids from a dying, crime-riddled town they couldn’t compete?

         Frank strode into Lakeside High. The principal leaped from his desk and said, “Are you here for what I hope you’re here for?”

       Frank took a 15 % pay cut to go to the losing Lakeside football team.   

        Through tears, he told his kids at Chardon that lots of people loved them and were looking after them. He wasn’t sure that was true of Lakeside.

       Except now it is.

       Under new head Coach Frank Hall, the first booster club meeting drew 30, instead of the usual 5. Fifty football players – rather the usual 12 -- reported to the weight room for off-season workouts. Frank sent the players and cheerleaders to mentor kids at a nearby elementary school, making commitment a part of being on the team.

        And he roamed the school halls, encouraging, encouraging, encouraging those kids who thought they were losers.

       Because it wasn’t all about football. It was never all about football.

       When a player mouthed off to a teacher, Coach Hall made the entire team apologize to the teacher, one by one, for their colleague’s behavior.

        At one practice, he gave a shout-out to two boys for choosing seats in the cafeteria beside a student who was sitting alone.
         “That’s great!” shouted their coach. “Change the school! That’s what I love! We can’t all be football players …, but we can all … include everyone.”

       That’s my message to this congregation.

        We can’t all be bankers and lawyers and business executives. We can’t all sing or act or dance. But we can sit at lunch with a lonely person. We can include everyone.

       Coach Hall’s team went 1 and 9 last fall. Is he – are we -- losers? Sure, sometimes.

        Are we foolish, and weak, and low and despised? Sure, sometimes.

       And sometimes, that’s exactly whom God chooses. 

 

    Amen.

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