Fools All Year Long

Today is April Fool’s Day. In this country, that means that tricks are played this morning, but only until noon. The unsuspecting and naive are fair game until then. 

Anyone who plays a trick after noon is themselves a fool. So, we’ve all only got until the end of this service for 2012 April Fool’s tricks. 

Not that any of you or I would try anything like that... 

Do you know why we celebrate April Fool’s Day? Do you know the origins? Well, neither do I. 

In fact, no one seems to have a particularly sound understanding of where this day came from. There’s some speculation, but it seems to be not much more than that. 

In fact, this odd little holiday might just have a very important message for us. 

Can you remember a time when you were tricked? Not a malicious horrible betrayal, but just a trick? Maybe you opened one of those cans filled with a spring loaded toy snake or washed your hands with trick soap that stained your skin? 

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I did both my science and business studies, there was an amazing history of tricks – which were called hacks. 

MIT has an enormous dome that is visible to the world. In 2009, a half-scale model of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module appeared at the top of the dome. 

Another time, the whole dome was modified to look just like R2D2, one of the robot characters from Star Wars. 

One of the best was when a campus police car appeared at the top of the dome. It turned out to be a very convincing replica, but many red faces were found among the campus police – especially when they couldn’t figure out how to get this amazing thing down from that great height. 

We don’t like to be tricked. Being tricked makes un embarrassed. It makes us feel foolish and probably actually look a bit foolish. 

In fact, we spend a great deal of time and effort trying everything we can to avoid looking foolish. 

The camp manager assumed that BC meant rather than ask – he didn’t want to appear foolish. 

Have you ever nodded when you had not idea what someone was talking about – hoping no one would catch you out for a fool? I have! 

Worse foolishness happens too. At various times in my own life, I failed to choose the course that would have been best for me because – among other things – I didn’t want to appear foolish. 

Tricks can change our lives for the better. In the story of stone soup, a stranger arrives in a town full of hungry dispirited people. He tells them he has a magic stone that can make a huge pot of soup with nothing added but water. The townspeople are willing to let the visitor make a fool of himself, but they pitch in just a little bit – just to improve the soup slightly – they all show up and add bits of this vegetable or that meat. The trick works and brings people to a point beyond the capabilities they expected of themselves. 

The truth is that so very much can hold us back. We are fearful. We are cautious. We carry around back-breaking loads of shame and guilt. 

Sometimes, the best way to break through our pride and our fear is foolery and trickery! 

The father of fools in the Christian tradition is Saint Simeon. When he arrived in the Syrian city of Emesa, he dragged a dead dog around, threw nuts at women during church services and joyfully rushed naked into the women's section of the city bathhouse. And he was made a saint! 

The Hebrew prophets used the spirit of the fool to capture the attention of the people and the powerful. 

Isaiah walked naked and barefooted for about three years. Ezekiel lay before a stone that symbolized besieged Jerusalem, and he baked his bread on dung. 

They didn’t take up arms. They didn’t make worthy speeches. They acted outside of the norms and turned to trickery, foolery, comedy, and other behavior beyond the normal, predictable paths to make their points. 

Maybe fools take life so seriously that they know seriousness is not the answer. Knowing that the direct, head-on approach will not work, they turn to other means. 

Imagine a congregation that responds to the injustice in the British Civil Partnership act by saying “if we can’t marry gay people we won’t marry straight people.” What a foolish thing to do… or not so foolish after all. Oh, I suppose you can imagine that, since that congregation is you. 

How many petitions, worthy sermons, resolutions, and letters to our MPs was that action worth? Many… 

What trickery and foolery should we be contemplating today? How might we take a foolish approach to a problem that is just too serious for seriousness? 

Let us never take ourselves so seriously that we cannot laugh at our own misfortune. 

Let us never have so high an opinion of ourselves that we can only speak lofty words, write thoughtful letters, and pass well-constructed resolutions. 

Let us never shrink from risking being the fool for justice or the trickster for hope.