One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1989 cult classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The movie is about a couple of GenX high school slackers from San Dimas California, and they’re about to fail their senior year history class. If they fail this class Ted would be sent to military boarding school, in Alaska, which would separate the two best friends. Even worse, it’d separate their budding rock band, the Wyld Stallyns, and be the end to their music.
But these aren’t just any high school slackers, they’re kind of special. It turns out their music, in the future, means an awful lot to an awful lot of people. It’s so meaningful that someone from the future named Rufus, played by the incomparable George Carlin, comes to help them pass the class. He loans them his time machine – in the form of an old phone booth – which Bill and Ted use to “borrow” historical figures for their final history report.
They end up collecting the likes of Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Beethoven and Abraham Lincoln. And go figure, with the help of all these famous people they pass that class.
One of my favorite scenes is when Bill and Ted travel back to ancient Greece to borrow Socrates – initially they call him So-Crates – remember they aren’t the brightest bulbs in the batch. In this scene they listen as Socrates teaches, hearing him say “The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.”
The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.
Ted, played by a young, long-haired Keanu Reeves, responds exuberantly, in his best surfer voice, “That’s us dude!”
Bill, played by Alex Winter quickly adds, “Oh, Yeah!”
It’s a brief moment, of self-reflection, an epiphany, an admission of their own limitations. They know they aren’t the brightest bulbs, and they’re ok with that.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians features a similar view of wisdom. Paul grew up in Tarsus, an intellectual center of philosophy. He was fluent in both Greek and Hebrew; well versed in Greek scripture. Although we don’t know much about his formal schooling he was clearly an educated person, skilled in reason and rhetoric. He grew up a smart person in a smart town that valued learning, perhaps not too unlike the college town I live in.
And his writing abilities are unparalleled in scripture, tho that’s a biased opinion: he’s my favorite biblical author.
Yet here he is, a learn-ed, gifted communicator, a person of influence, here he is, writing to the Corinthians “For I decided to know nothing among you.”
He’s putting all those smarts to the side.
He’s putting all those smarts to the side, instead focusing on something more important: the crucified Christ.
Paul then tells us why he’s doing that, “so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
While I’d hazard to guess that when Paul walked into a room he was the smartest one in it more-often-than-not, he never beat people over the head with those smarts.
Sure, he used those smarts, his writings are filled with brilliant imagery and soaring rhetoric. But it all has the same starting point, of Christ, crucified.
In this putting aside of wisdom, and of personal glory, he lowers himself to a place of service, a place of humility. A place that was modeled first by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
And when reflecting on his messages Paul attributes them. These aren’t his words, not his human wisdom. Instead, these words come from the Spirit. The Spirit that is from God.
At the end of this most excellent film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, after they’ve aced the final history report and passed high school, Rufus rejoins them from the future. And he tells them why it was so important that they keep playing music. Their music, Rufus explains, helps put an end to war and poverty. It aligns the planets, bringing them to universal harmony. It ushers in a time of peace. And, it turns out, it’s excellent for dancing.
All this, from a couple of Californian GenX slackers who could barely get through high school. And all this, from a couple of dudes who knew the only true wisdom consists of knowing you know nothing.
So often we use our education, our years of experience, our affluence, we use all that to create a social order. We use all that to glorify some at the expense of others. I have my advanced degrees, many of you have yours, yes education matters deeply. Yes, let’s continue to prioritize education, it’s crucial.
Yet what we do with our education, and how we rank people by it, that approach just isn’t scriptural.
Consider Christ, a carpenter’s son who learned the trade for three decades, and who served others above all else, sacrificing himself so that we may live.
Ponder Paul, an educated, influential man, who put his credentials aside, instead choosing to know nothing except Christ crucified. He focused on that alone, giving credit to the Spirit of God for all his eloquent words. Like any good academic he cited his work, giving credit where credit is due.
Even the fictitious Bill and Ted, who knew they knew nothing, ended up using their gifts to arrive at world peace.
So if you aren’t the brightest bulb don’t worry about it. Make your music, just like Bill and Ted. Be excellent to each other, bringing God’s peace to this world.
And if you are the brightest bulb there is, or think you are, don’t flaunt it. Instead, be like Paul, center it on the cross. Give glory to God in all you do.
For it isn’t about your brains, or lack of, that matters when we speak of our faith. It is a matter of focus, a focus that anyone and everyone is capable of. And that focus, my friends, is on the cross. Amen.