The text for today’s message comes from our Epistle lesson, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, as it has been read, and paying particular attention to the following vv 22-24 (using the NIV translation):
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Thus far the text…
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ;
Do you ever find yourself having a debate with something that has no life? Are you ever questioning an inanimate object, like a book that you are reading, or (if you’re like me) with your electronic navigational unit (or GPS)? It happens a lot with me and my Navigator… because it always thinks I am taking the wrong turn, but I know better, don’t I? (that is… until I really get myself lost, and then find myself wishing I had followed the directions I was being given…).
When I am using my electronic GPS, it is a little different than my “human navigator”… You’ve heard of “Tom-Tom” for a GPS? Well I have “Kath-Kath”! And “Kath-Kath” just doesn’t stand for my debating about where and when to turn! Any of you who have ever been married (or heard your parents in the car) know that it is futile to attempt to “win” a debate with your wife. Just by virtue of entering into the debate, you’ve already lost! And it doesn’t matter who is correct in actuality, the fact remains that it is just foolishness to even engage in the debate with your wife.
So when we were working out the schedule for preaching during this journey of 40 days in Lent, I was interested in the over-arching theme that was built on the Epistle lessons – the one we’ve entitled the “Ashes of…” series. I mean we’ve done Ashes of Repentance, Ashes of Temptation, Ashes of Suffering… these all seemed to be rather noble endeavors to discuss. And then I looked at what my assignment was for today: Ashes of Foolishness. Hmmm… You think someone was trying to tell me something? > grin < > chuckle <
But as I am thinking about this journey, both through Lent and through life, I am asking myself what (or whom) we might look to as our navigator…
You see, this sermon actually began as you walked into (or, more properly put – ATTEMPTED to walk into) the sanctuary down the main aisle before service. As I go through the rest of the sermon, I want you to consider what your thoughts were when you found your path of travel somewhat impeded by that thing in the middle of the aisle. And… I want you to be recalling your initial thoughts, as well as what you decided was your best course to deal with the situation. Were you puzzled by this block to your entry? Were you thinking it was just silly (or foolishness) that it was placed in everybody’s way? Were you a little bit annoyed or dismayed that somebody stuck something ‘right there’? Just grab onto those ideas for a moment and then bear with me – we’ll come back to this point.
But first, let’s look a little closer at the situation surrounding our text from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He is writing to the faithful – the believers – to give them encouragement. You kind of get the sense that they’ve written to him about the challenges they are having… the challenges with reaching out to the community surrounding them. Maybe they have been talking with the people in their neighborhoods, and trying to share their faith. At every step of the way, they are probably getting shut down. And so they send their “list” of what they’ve been facing to Paul – to ask for advice. And that is where we step into the middle of this conversation…
Paul knows all too well what the objections are that these folks in Corinth are throwing out. Because Paul has already dealt with them – all across Greece. A little bit of history here might be helpful to the story:
First – the Jews: The Jews, who had been a proud race, were conquered by the Greeks and became what we call “Hellenized,” but they retained a sense of their heritage – their traditions were very important. Their practices were based on the Scriptures of the day – what we now call the “Old Testament” set of books in the Bible. They were also very proud of the ways they governed their lives by the “Law and the Prophets.” They structured their worldview around these things and compared any new information with how it matched what they knew of the Scriptures. Don’t we do much the same in our society today? The Jews at the time of this writing were ones who demanded “signs” or “mighty acts” as proof that something was “of God,” or divinely ordained.
How many times have we asked God to show us a sign when we are faced with a difficult decision?
Next – the Greeks (or Gentiles): The Greeks were no longer the most powerful people in the empire, the empire that Alexander the Great had established, they had been overtaken by the Roman Empire. While they once knew they held prowess in conquering others, they now had no military might. They once had created an organized system of government, but that, too, was now in the hands of the Romans. What they had remaining, was their pride in their “intellectual” pursuits. And Rome had to agree, as Rome was busy trying to learn from the Greek masters of Literature and Philosophy and Science and Mathematics. They were busily creating dictionaries for the ancient Greek language so that they could read Homer, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Euclid. The Greeks (alternately referred to as “Gentiles” by Paul) were proud that they could debate with the best of any, and so always came back to looking for Beauty, Truth, and - most importantly - Wisdom when presented with a new concept or learning. The Greeks felt they could “reason” their way to the answer, to “think it through” when faced with a problem or challenge. Does that sound like something that we have carried forward into our lives? At Athens, in the Areopagus, the Greeks wanted to hear more of what Paul had to say, because they always were looking to learn a new “wisdom.” Sounds much like our world today, doesn’t it?
The media hype that comes out at this time of year is probably very much the same as what was happening 2,000 years ago. I noticed a CNN “documentary” that is airing tonight – titled “Finding Jesus: Faith Fact Forgery” - it is billed with a description as “Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.”
And so, today we are still faced with what Paul writes about in v 22:
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,” and how do we respond to the allegations that are raised? Let’s look at v 23:
“but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,”
And when people come up to that Cross of Christ, they have difficulty fitting the concept into their worldview.
We’ve heard about the “stumbling block” or “scandal” before… Luke 2:34 states, “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” And Deut. 21:23 indicates “a hanged man is cursed by God.” So the Jews see the Cross as a scandal – a man hanging on the cross? This can’t possibly be the Messiah! They wanted a miracle, like the parting of the Red sea, or like Elijah taken up in a chariot of fire. Did you hear it in the Gospel lesson? They asked Jesus for a sign…
The cross? It is not a miracle, or a sign. It is death; a cruel act of control on the part of man!
And for the Greeks or Gentiles – this is no demonstration of “wisdom”… this is just foolishness. How can a man’s dying be thought to be “good news”? And God was thought to be detached from human life. He could not feel. The passion of Christ seemed ridiculous to their concept of God. Wisdom or the mind stood supreme, not passion or feeling. God could not suffer or feel pain – that is just foolishness! What kind of a God is that, anyway?
CNN is probably going to tell us that science and archaeology have now “proven” that this Jesus we know from history was just a fraud at best, and more likely just fiction.
We view Christ as being full of grace… and TRUTH. But it’s not the truth the Greeks were able to reason out, or that the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research bring forth – unless there is FAITH. With faith, we see the truth… and the wisdom, and the POWER of God – in Christ. The Jews asked for a sign, the Greeks looked for power and wisdom… Jesus said in the Gospel lesson that he would raise the temple (of his body) in three days. Now THERE’S a sign for you, isn’t it?! And who has that kind of power? The control over death? Man had exercised control over Jesus as man in crucifying Him, but Jesus as God had exercised control over death after being in the “belly” of the grave for 3 days.
You see, the Greeks had been shown the wisdom of God in sacrificing one man to atone for the sins of all, but they couldn’t comprehend that. And the Jews had already been given the “sign of Jonah,” but they completely missed the significance.
But we preach Christ crucified. And we view these things through lenses that are a gift – the gift of faith. Because we are “those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks,” we see these things – not as the world sees them… not as a stumbling block or as foolishness, but as “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The wisdom and the power of God – hidden in that Cross.
Not a polished and shiny cross, but a raw symbol of torture, suffering, and death.
And it gets in the way, it blocks our logic, it makes no sense to us. We KNOW better than this, don’t we? We know the way the world tells us is right… but we come back to the cross as we suffer. And we know that Christ went to the cross on our behalf. And He rose again on the third day – as the “first fruit” for all those who believe on Him. And so we turn back… back to our Navigator – our GPS – back to our “God Positioning System” rather than the world’s “Global Positioning System.”
In his second letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 5:14-15, Paul writes, “14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Thank God that he takes the risk to hide and conceal, to suffer and die, to become sin for us, to abandon us, to share our lot, to forgive us – and that he acted like a fool so that we might “become God’s children.” That is what the world fails to understand… our identity is NOT found in our position or title, but in our being a child of God!
It does no good to debate with this GPS. When He tells you which step to take, even though you cannot see the next, follow where He leads and do what He tells you. He knows the path through suffering and death, and to eternal life, because he has already traveled it – for us. And he will raise us again after our death. Just follow in His steps, listen to this “God Positioning System.” Follow the Cross. Amen.
May the Peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.