1 Corinthians 1
1 Corinthians 1
18 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. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom. 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
Folly and Wisdom
Namely, the cross of Jesus.
I asked a Mormon while travelling through Utah and Zion National Park why the churches/stakes of the LDS had spires and no crosses. Because the cross is a depressing symbol, it was explained in so many words. Better apparently to point to heaven unencumbered with “the emblem of suffering and shame.”
On a mild summer day I sat in the car in a cemetery with a widower as we waited for the funeral director to arrive and escort us to graveside for the burial of the man’s wife. The “man” was a preacher of the generation before me, during the halcyon days of the Social Gospel, when the doctrines of sin and salvation were on the back burner. I told him that I had preached the previous Lenten season ten sermons on the cross. “What on earth can you say about the cross that would take ten sermons?” he wondered aloud. I thought to reply but, considering where we were and what we were about, didn’t, that I could have preached another twenty on the same subject without exhausting it.
I am currently in the middle of a book a college roommate insisted I read. It’s entitled The Swerve: How the World Came to Be Modern. It celebrates and credits the discovery in the late Middle Ages of a poem by Lucretius, “On the Nature of Things.” The author is smitten by the poet’s Epicurean philosophy (maximize pleasure, minimize pain) and compares unfavorably the faiths jostling for favor presently in America. I’ll save a critique for a later time, while reporting, for the purposes of this message that the author concurs in the label Dark Ages for the post-Roman Europe steeped in medieval Christianity. He also finds the cross of Jesus best understood as a repetition of ancient legends in which a father sacrifices a son. What folly, he never quite says but clearly suggests, to worship before a killing cross when the feast of mortal life is set before us.
From a worldly perspective, the cross is folly.
Some there are, however, who see it as wisdom.
Among them the 16th century Augustinian monk in whom I have found a clear and earthy voice insisting the cross of Jesus is the center and soul of understanding what mortal life is all about. Yes, I mean Martin Luther. He describes his view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as theologia crucis., a theology of the cross. From that point, Calvary, radiates the logic of the Christian faith. No wonder that my homiletics professor at seminary, a retired Lutheran pastor of a church on Central Park West in New York City, Paul E. Scherer, claimed that every sermon should lead the listener to the foot of the cross. One of that professor’s brilliant students, an occasional Email correspondent with me, has spent his entire fifty year career in thirty plus books exploring the theology of the cross and its meaning for North American Christians. (And to think I claimed thirty sermons might do it! What did I know?)
So here’s the logic of faith radiating from Calvary.
First, last, and foremost, the cross is the sign and seal of God’s sovereign grace.
Second, and inextricably intertwined with the first, is the certainty of evil. History reads like one long, uninterrupted narrative of violence humans do to each other. Personal experience, this pastor of souls can attest from fifty years shepherding (and wrestling with the abject foolishness of his own soul) may have long chapters of beauty and serenity; yet they seem inevitably interrupted by our stumbling by accident or bad habit into agonies we prefer to forget.
Who, for instance, taught us to sing “O What a Wonderful World”? That’s right, Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, the child of a prostitute, born into abject poverty. His song stands like a cross against a darkened sky.
When I attend reunions, high school, college, and seminary (and I attend all of them!) and I ask about so-and-so, the hushed reply often is, “Oh, didn’t you hear?” In the telescoping of time to which reunions are prone, the sad consequences stand out and we recount them before singing the alma mater and telling each other how well preserved they/we are.
Evil, our own, others, public, national, global, evil permeates this world. Yes, yes, yes, there’s plenty of goodness abroad in the world. Thank God… or your own sweet nature. But to live this mortal life, and to reflect upon where you have been, what you have done, and what you have seen leads inescapably to the conclusion that there’s something broken in the nature of things.
For which, the brokenness, the cross of Jesus is raised. If that cross is, in the words of the revival hymn, the emblem of our suffering and shame, then it is also the source of our hope and salvation.
To explain that cross is, as my homiletics professor claimed, the proper subject for a lifetime of sermons.