The Foolishness Of The Cross
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"The Foolishness Of The Cross"
(1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
Traveling west by covered wagon, a group got caught in a blizzard in the mountains. One particular man had pushed himself to the limits of his endurance but he was hurting and sick. Suddenly he collapsed. His best friend ran up, turned him over and tried to help. The first man looked up and said, "I ain't gonna make it Joe!"
"Sure you are, Al. You'll make it."
"No, Joe, I ain't. I know it. So, I want you to promise me something."
Joe looked at his best friend and said, "Sure thing, Al. I'll do anything I can for you Al. You know that."
Al looked at Joe and said, "O.K. Promise me that when you and little Joe get to the spread and settle down, promise me that you'll name the town after me."
Joe smiled and said, "You bet, Al."
Al turned to Little Joe and said, "Little Joe, will you remind your Pa to name the town after me?"
Little Joe looked very solemnly at Al, and said: "Yes, sir, I promise Mr. Buquerque."
And then there's an old saying, I don't know how old but it's sort of a corruption of an old saying that I've tried to figure out for years. "A bird in the hand makes it hard to blow your nose."
Now the only reason I used both of those groaners is because they're both so absurd. They're foolish and even kind of stupid.
A. But then so is the message which we as Christians proclaim, at least it is to worldly thinking. Just look at the absurdity of our faith. We have a cross on our altar. We don't worship it, but it is a symbol of our worship. But what is it in reality. Stop and think about what the cross really is. Look at the Lenten Cross and the banners. They remind us what the cross really was.
The cross was a cruel crude instrument of torture and death. And yet it adorns our altar. Many people wear it as a piece of jewelry. And most folks believe it symbolizes the essence of our faith. Why is that?
Had it been a different time or a different era would we have a miniature gallows or guillotine on the altar? Why not a miniature electric chair or gas chamber? There's not much difference. They were all instruments of death. And they sound absurd as the symbol for the Church. They're no more absurd, though, than the cross.
B. The Apostle Paul knew that when he wrote this passage. He knew how the Jews and the Greeks would react to the cross. The Jews were absolutely repulsed by the cross. It was socially the worst way you could die. To die by crucifixion not only brought shame, disgrace and dishonor upon the person who was crucified but it shamed and dishonored their whole family. It was the most humiliating way to die contrived. So how could the Messiah, God's chosen one, submit to death on a cross? How could the Savior and Son of God be so humiliated, shamed and dishonored. It was just too much for them to handle. It was totally inconceivable that God would act in this horrific way. They thought a God who acted like that was absurd.Ü
And the Greeks, they thought it was foolish because they thought all gods should be apathetically detached from human affairs. They couldn't understand a God of love and forgiveness, who would become human and suffer and die for the world. They thought a God that would act like that was foolish.
A. A young family came to church one Sunday. Dad, Mom, big sister and little brother. Big sister, who was about six or seven was fascinated and interested in all the surroundings and proceedings. She was drinking it all in. The service progressed and everyone bowed their heads for a time of silent prayer and meditation. Just as everyone got settled and focused, big sister's voice could be heard, "Look," she said, "Look, Mama, there's a plus in our Church." Everyone looked up and saw that she was pointing to the cross.
And sure enough, the cross is a plus sign. For despite how foolish the world thinks it is, the cross has become more than an instrument or symbol of death. For every Christian, the cross has come to be associated:
with life NOT death;
with hope NOT despair;
with resurrection NOT a grave;
with forgiveness NOT punishment;
with redemption NOT rejection;
with love and NOT hate.
It's ironic, contradictory, paradoxical, foolish and absurd. And yet that's what we believe. That's what brings us here. That's what we teach and preach. As the Apostle Paul says, "We preach Christ crucified." That's our central theme, our central message. It's the Good News.
Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, died upon a cross for our redemption; for our salvation; for the forgiveness of our sins. He was pronounced dead and they buried Him. Then on the third day he rose from the dead, overcoming and destroying death and bringing eternal life.
Now to some that seems absurd. As Paul says "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." (1 Cor 1:18) Christ crucified is simply the power of God to transform lives through forgiveness and grace.
B. That may sound foolish, preposterous or paradoxical to some but to those whose lives have been transformed by the power of the cross; to those whose lives have been transformed by the forgiveness of God expressed in the cross; to those who have experienced the transformation of brokenness into wholeness; of defeat into victory; of despair into hope; of sorrow into joy; the cross of Christ and Christ crucified is God's wisdom and the power to transform lives.
And that transformation through God's love and forgiveness is humankind's greatest, deepest, most urgent need. "The cross is the only ladder high enough to touch Heaven's threshold." *
An oriental monarch once owned a magnificent, large, perfect diamond. It was the pride of his empire. Under mysterious circumstance, however, it was damaged. Its beauty was marred by a long, hair-like scratch. The king was heartbroken.
He sent out word throughout the kingdom that he would give an enormous reward to anyone who could repair his diamond.
No one came forward. All the best diamond cutters feared failure. Then an artist offered to rescue the diamond. "Its greatest flaw shall be its most splendid glory," he announced confidently. Taking the diamond, he kept it in his possession for many weeks. Then he returned it to the king.
As the king unveiled his precious stone, he held his breath. Perhaps the artist's hand had slipped, and the stone was now worthless. Perhaps the artist was a fraud and a scoundrel. Slowly, carefully, the king unwrapped the diamond, and then catching a glimpse of his priceless treasure he caught his breath. The artist had turned the hair-like flaw into the stem of an exquisite rose carved delicately into the diamond. Truly it was more beautiful than ever before.
That is the story of the cross. A symbol of shame and dishonor was transformed into a means of salvation. That may be foolish to some but in the midst of our foolishness we find strength and courage; faith and hope; and grace for every aspect of life. And in our foolishness we come to remember the power of God in the cross, through the elements of the Lord's Supper. We come to this feast of fools to remember and celebrate the foolishness of the cross and the power of God in our lives. We remember with both agony and joy the cost of our forgiveness. We remember that Christ's brokenness brings us wholeness. We remember that the shame and dishonor of the cross should have been ours but the Son of God bore it for us so that we could know God's transforming touch of forgiveness.
We feed on nothing more than a bit of bread and some juice, but through the foolishness of the cross it is transformed into the very bread and wine of heaven. And we are nourished.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
* (George Dana Boardman).