(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 & Matthew 5:1-12 for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2011)
When an airliner takes off with me aboard, the same thought always passes through my mind just as the plane loses contact with the runway: “Human beings aren’t supposed to do this.” Behind the thought is the sense that leaving the ground and heading into the sky is a foolish thing for people to do; after all, it feels safer on the ground. I’m glad, though, that the pioneers of flight were not and are not afraid to see the wisdom in such foolishness; their willingness to do what can’t be done has produced some amazing results.
Still, doing what doesn’t come naturally, doing what seems to fly in the face of our natural limitations, is risky business. We were reminded of that on Friday as we reflected on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy. We see reminders of it all the time.
Sometimes, to be truly wise, you have to be utterly foolish; sometimes, to do something truly wise, you have to do something utterly foolish.
No one here would want to argue over whether or not God is wise or over whether or not God’s wisdom is greater than anyone else’s wisdom. But God being God and all, we might have expected God to do things differently. We’re grateful that God wanted to give us a chance to know God’s grace and love but we can’t help but wonder if the wise thing for God to do would have been to use all that power and strength and might to make us be right and do right; we can’t help but wonder if a more helpful enduring symbol of God’s saving action would have been a sword or a storm.
What we have, though, is a cross.
“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,” Paul said (1 Corinthians 1:18) and, he went on to say, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (v. 25).
When God wanted to reach down to us, God used a cross; when God wanted to provide a way for us to reach up to God, God used a cross. It is in the cross that God revealed God’s way to us; it is in the cross that God revealed God’s heart to us; it is in the cross that God revealed God’s nature to us.
We will have the God of the cross or we will have no God at all.
The very idea that Almighty God would empty God’s self and come down to earth to live among us, to suffer in ways that exceed even our ways of suffering, and to die not just like us but for us is foolish to extremes that defy description—but that is who God is; God is the God of the cross. The cross is God’s way in the world.
When we come to worship, it is into the presence of that kind of God that we come—we worship the God of the cross. When we serve God in the world, it is that kind of God that we serve—we serve the God of the cross. When we ask God to show us the way to live our lives, it is that kind of God to whom we pray—we pray to the God of the cross.
Sadly, we are prone to demand signs; we are prone to want to see or to feel something spectacular, something that overwhelms us with such good feelings that we don’t have to pay any attention anymore to the suffering that goes on in the world or in our community or in our house or in our lives—but the Church can’t offer you that because God hasn’t offered you that; all we can preach is Christ crucified and if you need more or other than that then the cross will just have to be a stumbling block for you.
Sadly, we are prone to desire wisdom; we are prone to want everything to be logical and sensible (as we define “logical” and “sensible”) and to have everything laid out in “seven easy steps to live a happy life” or in “three simple keys to overcoming adversity”—but the Church can’t offer you that because God hasn’t offered you that; all we can preach is Christ crucified and if you need more or other than that then the cross will just have to be foolishness to you.
And the cross is a stumbling block; the cross is foolishness—but the cross is God’s way of loving us and of allowing us to love God and it is God’s way of being God with us and it is God’s way for us to live as God’s children and in God’s kingdom.
The cross is God’s great wisdom seen in God’s great foolishness.
It is only when the God of the cross gets into our lives—really gets into our lives—that we can know the truth of the words that Jesus spoke when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” and “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5).
God’s way was the way of the cross; God’s way is the way of the cross. God determined that the only way to resurrection was through crucifixion and that the only way to life was through death. God wagered that through and in Jesus Christ people—some people, at least—would see that God’s way for us is upside down and backwards from the world’s way for us. God wagered that we would join with Christ in the wisdom of God’s foolishness, in the wisdom of the cross.
What a foolish risk; what a foolish gamble.
What, after all, are the chances that we will prefer God’s foolishness to the world’s wisdom and that we will prefer God’s weakness to the world’s strength? What, after all, are the chances that we will embrace selflessness rather than selfishness, weakness rather than strength, humility rather than pride, serving rather than being served, giving rather than getting, and self-sacrifice rather than self-protection?
What, after all, are the chances that we will get it?