The apostle Paul quotes portions of tonight’s psalm in Romans 3. He uses it as the linchpin of his argument: “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Those inclusive words strike home: “All have turned,” “they have together become corrupt,” “there is no one who does good, not even one.” A psalm we’ve often thought was about atheism: “The fool says ‘There is no God,’” turns against us, preaches against us.
These words don’t allow us to go after and hound that “them” out there, in this case, those militant, radical atheists putting up signs and billboards again this Christmas encouraging us to skip church and ignore the fairy tales. Of course, that’s foolish beyond belief and these words do condemn them. But again, David doesn’t say, “Some have turned,” or “a group became corrupt.” He says “all” and “together” and “no one does good.” God looks down and sees that.
Just as David did. He saw ostensibly god-fearing men act like atheists. He saw Saul and his supporters hunt him down for years. They weren’t atheists. They worshipped (or tried to), the Lord. Goliath wasn’t an atheist. He certainly wasn’t a god-fearing man, but he was no atheist, and yet he blasphemed the Lord. In Romans 1, Paul talks about those who by nature know there is a God, yet deny him and worship false gods and live whatever lifestyle they wish in service to those gods. This matches a meme I saw on Facebook recently: “Only God can judge me,” which, when translated means, “Shut up so I can sin in peace.”
None of those people are theoretical atheists, holding to the philosophical position that there is no God. They are, rather, practical atheists, living as if there is no God. Of course, we pity those poor atheists and believe that Psalm 14 applies to them. We wish they’d take Pascal’s wager and live as if there were a God because that’s the better deal. But they don’t, so we continue to testify against their foolishness and warn them about hell.
But I dare say we probably have no theoretical atheists here tonight. That doesn’t mean you’ve never doubted God or flirted with such thoughts in your life. Maybe I’m wrong and we do. In that case we should sit down and talk. But we should also sit down and talk if we’re acting like Saul or Goliath or those fools in Romans 1. We should talk if our lives are belying our confession of faith. If we confess, “I believe in Jesus,” and yet when God looks at us he sees corruption and vile behavior, when he sees us seeking God as little as possible, when he sees us devouring his people like bread and calling upon him as little as possible, what must he conclude?
Looking at the Corinthian congregation, Paul was forced to say, “You don’t even eat the Lord’s Supper! You call yourselves Christians but you boss each other around, you don’t share with those in need, and you have no respect for each other! No wonder some among you are sick and have died! You eat and drink judgment on yourself!” In other words, while calling themselves Christians, the Corinthians were acting anything but. It’s a simple thing, spiritual people do spiritual things. Fools do things that confess, “There is no God.”
By their fruits you shall know them, Jesus said. Another theologian wrote, “Atheism bears its proper fruit in rotten conduct.” And yet, sometimes it’s hard to tell who the atheists are, isn’t it? Where are the vast differences between Christians and atheists, other than on Sunday mornings when your cars are here? Solomon said it well: “This only I have found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Jesus himself asked, “When I come back will I find faith upon the earth?”
Judgment is coming and right quick. Not only the foolish atheist, but foolish me needs to hear David’s psalm and Mary’s song, “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down the rulers from their thrones.” There but for the grace of God go I. There is no sin I have not or could not commit. No wonder Paul tells us to restore a sinning brother gently, and Jesus talks about forgiving seventy-seven times.
This judgment is really two-fold, earthly and eternal. Paul spoke of earthly judgments to the Corinthians: sickness, death. To the Romans, he says man’s foolishness caused God to hand them over to sexual depravity and the turmoil that comes with that: hatred, discord, disease. Paul says, “Understand: It’s possible that the source of your problems is you.” Hence his words, “Examine yourself.” Understand who you are – by nature a fool, a sheep going astray. Understand what you need: God present among you, the LORD as your refuge, salvation to come out of Zion, the Lord to restore the fortunes of his people! You need this Supper God gives, not to show off our faith, but to rescue you from your foolishness, from hell!
So God bursts through our foolishness. In a foolish way. A virgin shows up at the home of an elderly lady, formerly barren, now pregnant herself. That elderly pregnant lady says, “My baby just jumped because he recognized the voice of the Mother of God!” And that young virgin sings, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior! He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful!”
That sounds foolish indeed. Virgins. Old ladies. Psychic babies. But it’s God making himself present among us. God bringing the refuge to us that we need. God bringing salvation to us, salvation won just outside of Zion, on Calvary hill, when that virgin’s son showed himself to be God with us and God for us!
“There they are, overwhelmed with dread,” David says, and rightly so. When the fool sees God as he is, he will be a fool no more, but fully informed. But we are fools no more, for the Spirit brought us the foolishness of the cross, not what the world seeks, but what our souls need, a message that breaks down our foolishness, because it forces us to turn away from our hearts, our hearts that lead only to vile corruption and living as if there’s no God. The Spirit brings us this child, this virgin’s child, and says, “Here is your God.” I could not conceive of it or imagine it. No one would. No one has. No one will. But God did so. God brought our foolishness to an end with the fruit of Mary’s womb, the blessed fruit, a blessed Son, our Savior. Our God for whom and to whom we live and move and breath and have our being. Because he gave us that life and breath when that life and breath he gave up for us, he took it up again. So that we would be fools no more. Amen.