Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday in Holy Week

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 71:1-14

I Corinthians 1:18-31

John 12:20-36

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

[I Corinthians 1:18 New Revised Standard Version]

This is a portion of the sermon I preached today at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent, Ohio, the host congregation of the Northeastern Ohio Synod’s annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of the Oils (Chrism Mass). The focus verse is listed above, I Corinthians 1:18. For the complete readings for this Tuesday in Holy Week, click on the date above.

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I don’t know about you, but I am suffering from Presidential campaign fatigue – and we still have eight months to go! More than weariness, I am concerned at how much the political dialogue is driven by fear and anger with little or no regard for the effect that those words have on those who are hearing it constantly.

And the irony is that in the midst of the antagonism, in the midst of the rancor, in the midst of the hostility, there’s also a competition among the candidates to see which one can present himself as the most compelling Christian. Christianity is a major calling card. Christianity is seen as the religion of those at the center of power.

We have a tendency to expect that Christianity will come alongside and reaffirm many of the ways of looking at the world around us that reflect our ideals, and our political preference. (And I’ll let you create your own list here.)

God is the best thing you can imagine. God will take care of those who worship God. They will be winners because God, the winner, the magician is on their side.

But the apostle Paul argues against that.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” Paul says. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 18:27b-29]

Crucifix in the sanctuary of St. Peter and Paul Church in Eisleben, Germany.
Crucifix in the sanctuary of St. Peter and Paul Church in Eisleben, Germany.

This is a political claim, just as it was in Paul’s time, when there was a misunderstanding of God among the Corinthian Christians. There were then and still are now lots of different versions of God competing with each other in the world. But none of them include the ugly sight of a mangled human body hanging on a cross. A broken body contradicts our normal human values.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Through the years, we have taken the crucified Jesus and remade him.  We have remade him into a more acceptable figure, one who tends to agree with our way of thinking more than to challenge it.  We worship him as the Christ who bears the unmistakable image of those preachers and politicians who have, through the centuries, softened His hard sayings and radical demands.

We have watered down the message of the cross so that it becomes less offensive, more agreeable to the ordinary sensible mind. We have got used to it and dressed it up, coated it in gold, made it ‘nice’, turned it into jewelry. We have fashioned Jesus into a Messiah who saves those that deserve to be saved and who condemns those that the crowd has already condemned. 

Or to rephrase the words of author Anne Lammott, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

But Paul refused to make such visions the foundation for his theology. The power-model was not the framework for this thinking about God, but rather, the powerlessness of the cross.

Statue of the Lamentation of Christ on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
Statue of the Lamentation of Christ on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

The crucified Christ commits us to one very clear understanding of God. God used this moment of utter dehumanization and death in the name of peace and security to shame all of the powers, all of the wisdom, all of the philosophers, and of the mighty of the first century. For Paul it is the power and wisdom evident in the cross. Real greatness is the life poured out in love.

The cross, the crucified Christ, reveals to us the God who became one with us in our humanity, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, in order that we might become one with Him in the resurrection of New Life. The cross is a stumbling block, for it declares a God who simply came into the world to share the life of the world. To be tempted in every way that we are tempted.

Therefore, we are called to take a deep breath, summon up our courage, and learn again what it means to discover the wisdom of God in what the world counts foolishness, the power of God in what the world counts as weakness.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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