The path of Christ is foolishness, a stumbling block, nonsense, and we know that from the beginning. It is also the only way to life for us and the creation?
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of the Holy Cross
Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; John 3:13-17
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
You have to admire Paul’s honesty.
He starts his letter to the Corinthians calling his promise, his proclamation, his witness, foolish. Deluded. Making no sense to the Jewish people or any other people on earth.
“We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” Paul says. From the start let’s be clear, he says. What we say about Christ isn’t going to connect with just about anyone.
He could actually have named two other groups. What he often calls the flesh, or the world, what we might call our culture, our way. And second, the very Church itself, born out of the cross of Christ and gathered by the Spirit’s fire. Both also struggle with the cross.
So Paul says: look honestly at the truth of our proclamation. And know that it’s in opposition to nearly everything everyone expects about the way the world works.
But it’s what Jesus proclaimed.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, so whoever trusts in him might have eternal life.” The path to God’s life starts at the cross, where we see our Savior lifted up for the life of the world. Lifted up, as Jesus proclaims later, to draw all people to himself, all things into God’s embrace. (John 12:32)
And Paul says this way of the cross is clearly opposite to the way most desire. But it will save the world. All things will be healed, saved, brought into God’s life and love through this sacrificial love. And as those who see Christ lifted up allow themselves to be lifted up, cut down, walked on for the sake of others, then the world of power over others, of domination and might, will crumble and eventually fall.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road. When the historical event of the cross makes a demand on how people live their lives, how they they think things work.
It’s where all these groups struggle.
They just don’t know what to do with the cross.
The proclamation of Christ’s cross was a stumbling block to Jews because they couldn’t envision the one true God, the maker of all things, so debased, so lowly as to assume human form and die.
The proclamation of Christ’s cross was foolishness to Gentiles because they’d ridicule a pathetic group of believers who followed someone who ended in a humiliating public execution.
The proclamation of Christ’s cross is nonsense to our culture because the world can’t comprehend an all-powerful Creator of all things giving up that power in love. If you’ve got power, wield it, use it, the world says.
And the proclamation of Christ’s cross largely appears to be irrelevant to the very Church Christ called. The Church has learned to live as if the cross is unimportant to its life, sharing a bed with military and political power for centuries, calling it God’s will, a practical way to preserve the institution. And because we like power, being winners.
So, Paul says, let’s be honest. Name at the start what’s at stake.
The path to God’s life is the path of stumbling, foolish, irrelevant nonsense.
Can you see the stumbling block? he asks. You don’t get to tell God what to do, you only get to decide if you’re going where God has already gone, into disreputable places and places of loss. To love those who would hurt you.
Can you see the foolishness? Paul asks. To stop defending the church, our congregation, yourself, even God. This path doesn’t lead to impressive, powerful things people have to respect.
Can you see the nonsense? he asks. To move out in vulnerability and weakness, offering only love and grace in your words, actions, and decisions, instead of fighting to make sure you win or the church wins.
Can you see how this might appear irrelevant to your life? Paul asks. If people always need to adjust to you, if your needs are always foremost, if your trust in God depends upon whether you have success and security, if being right is the most important thing, if sacrificial, vulnerable love is something you’re unwilling to do, what does that tell you? he asks.
That’s the honesty Paul calls for.
But such honesty is why you and I are here tonight.
Tonight, and at every Eucharist, when we gather at the Table of Christ and claim those visceral gifts as our own, Christ’s Body and Blood, we declare Paul’s words from later in this Corinthian letter: “When we eat of this bread and drink from this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26)
This isn’t some morbid obsession, to stop and proclaim Christ’s death at every Eucharist. It is declaring the truth each time, so we remember this is our way. So we continually focus on the path we walk with Christ, a path of loss and death that gives life.
The cross marks our lives, our worship, our rituals, our gestures, our faith, precisely as a reminder of Christ’s path, and ours. And with this sign we commit to our path.
“The message of the cross is foolishness,” Paul says . . . “but to us who are being saved it is Christ the wisdom of God.”
We seek wisdom in foolishness, because that’s where God’s way is. We seek power in powerlessness, because that’s what God does. We seek strength in weakness, because that’s how God works. We seek victory in losing, because that’s how God wins. This foolish, nonsensical, stumbling block truth about the way the Triune God really works in the world is life. Millions before us have learned this and found life for themselves and for the world.
So with God’s help let’s walk this foolishness together, catch each other when we stumble, help make sense of the nonsense together, and find the relevance of this way for our life and the life of the whole universe.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen