Sunday, March 8, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Some Things Don’t Make Sense

Lent 3: God’s foolishness
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Watch the video:

...or listen to audio:

...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here

...or read it online here:

            What do we do when something doesn’t make sense?  We usually try harder and harder to figure out why it doesn’t make sense.  We seek more knowledge,  gather more information, study more diligently, read more carefully….anything to figure out the solution, solve the problem.  Sometimes it works. We are elated, relieved, surprised.  We gain confidence through more experience, and by practicing patience and perseverance.  We may even become a bit proud of the hard work we did, resulting in our accomplishment.   We stuck with it.  We didn’t have to ask for help, or hire someone else to do the work, and admit we couldn’t handle it.

            But what happens when our best efforts fail?  When we do all that we can, but it isn’t enough.  We discover we can’t fix the problem or understand the complexities or change the circumstances.  At some point we need to accept our limitations, live with unanswered questions, unresolved problems and acknowledge our human wisdom is only partial.  It is hard to admit when we don’t know enough to solve a problem or fix a situation.  No one wants to feel inadequate, so we try harder. We pursue more knowledge, gain more experience, take another class, enroll in another degree program, add another title to our name.  Are our lives in good balance?  What track are we on?

            In the first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul greets his congregation in the usual manner, then gives thanks, that in Christ, they have been enriched in every way, in speech, in knowledge.  They have spiritual gifts that will help them as they wait for the Lord.  God has called them.  God is faithful.

But then he appeals to them on another issue. Reports have come from Chloe’s house   to him, that arguing is happening among them.  Some people are on the wrong track.  They are taking sides.  Paul begs them to get along with each other and  he clarifies for them what his role is.  Christ did not send him to baptize them, he tells them, but to preach the gospel, to tell the good news without using big words that would make the cross of Christ lose its power.  Paul wants nothing but Christ crucified!  No speech, finely tuned by a wordsmith, that might focus more attention on the speaker or the fancy words.  The message is Christ crucified, Christ was nailed to a cross!

It was a hard message to hear and understand,…for the Jew, for the Greek, for Paul,  for us today.
            CEV translation, vs. 18, “The message about the cross doesn’t make any sense to lost people.  But for those of us who are being saved, it is God’s power at work.”

This theology of the cross, this theology of weakness is difficult to grasp and understand.  God’s power and God’s wisdom is Christ, dying on a cross.  A Savior of the world who couldn’t save himself.  How ironic, how scandalous, how foolish.
To the Jews, it made no sense.  This kind of message was a stumbling block.  They wanted miracles, signs, evidence.  They had certain expectations of a Messiah.  A suffering Messiah wasn’t one of them.  Other false messiahs of that time were persuasive, were promising signs, and thousands followed.  That was what they were looking for…signs, evidence.  In Jesus, they saw one who was meek, lowly, serving others.  To them it seemed incredible that one whose life ended on a cross could possibly be God’s chosen One.
 To the Greeks, it made no sense.  This message, Christ crucified, was foolishness.  They wanted more understanding, more wisdom.  A suffering Messiah didn’t make sense.  They couldn’t accept that God became incarnate in Jesus who could actually feel anger, pain, grief and suffering.   To the thinking Greek, the incarnation was a total impossibility.  How could one who suffered like Jesus possibly be the Son of God.  They were intoxicated with their own fine words and to hear the crude message of Christ crucified being proclaimed by a preacher was something more to be laughed at and ridiculed, rather than listened to and respected.  The Corinthians emphasized wisdom, but this was beyond their comprehension.  From a human perspective, it made no sense.

Yet, Paul writes, “Our message is God’s power and wisdom, for the Jews and the Greeks he has chosen.”    Even if the Christian message had little chance of success against the background of Jewish or Greek life, Paul states, “Even when God is foolish, God is wiser than everyone else, and even when God is weak, God is stronger than everyone else.”

 Gordon Fee, in his commentary on Corinthians, (p. 76), states, “It is hard for those in the Christianized West, where the cross for almost nineteen centuries has been the primary symbol of the faith, to appreciate how utterly mad the message of God who got himself crucified by his enemies must have seemed to the first century Greek or Roman.  But it is precisely the depth of this scandal and folly that we MUST appreciate, if we are to understand both why the Corinthians were moving away from it toward wisdom and why it was well over a century before the cross appears among Christians as a symbol of their faith.”

 Are we on the right track or are we also moving away from the cross to seek out more wisdom, (and what kind of wisdom), more knowledge, more understanding?  To look for more signs, more evidence?  In our limited human perspective, the central message of the Christian gospel must always appear foolish, but it turns out to be the very place where God is powerfully at work, calling out a people for his name.

How do we stay close to the cross?   How do we stay on track?   How do we keep things in balance between our desire for more knowledge and wisdom, our love and zeal for learning,  and the realization that our worldly wisdom and earthly wisdom will always be partial, our knowledge of anything, always limited?  Is the cross important to us in our understanding of our Christian faith?

Here at Park View at the beginning of the season of Lent, one thing happens every year that I have come to appreciate and value.  We move the wooden cross from the corner, out of the way place, where it normally stands, to the platform, front and center.  It is a visual reminder to us every Sunday of Paul’s theme in Ist Corinthians: the central message of our faith is Christ crucified.  And that was what Paul was sent to proclaim!  Might the cross be more appropriate to have before us, than organ pipes?  Should it stay here? J   Just a thought to ponder.

During my time and study in preparing for this sermon, I kept coming back to a vision, an image of what happens, and maybe what needs to happen in regards to the health, life and future direction for our church and congregation.

Let me paint a picture in your mind of what usually happens at our CLC (Constituency Leaders Council) meetings and the Delegate sessions for General Assembly. In two weeks I will be going to Bethel College, KS for CLC meetings.  In July, 4 of us will be delegates to Kansas City.
1.)     There is much to read for these meetings, as we prepare.   Much information to absorb. A large amount of stuff to wade through and usually too little time to do it in.
2.)    Each one is given a table number.  Every table has a table leader who is responsible to facilitate the discussions, keep track of things, keep the process going during the sessions, take notes, etc.
3.)    For 3 days (CLC meetings) and 5-6 days at KC, we, as delegates work together with the same group of people.  The delegate sessions usually begin with some worship, dwelling in the Word and prayer.  But in comparison to the rest of the agenda, it is a short time.  People want to get to the agenda.  What is going to happen?  What will be presented?  What decisions might need to be made?  How will that happen?  What will be the surprises?  (there are always some!)
4.)    Over the course of these days together, a great deal of discussion, dialogue, debate, discernment will take place.  We are all trying to use our knowledge, our insights, our learnings, our wisdom to make good decisions.  It is hard work!!  You know the hot button issues and topics that will be dealt with.  Will some delegates want signs, evidence, clear, documented knowledge before making any decision, if they are called for?  Will others need more time, more discussion, more study, another book to read and study, another speaker to hear, another lecture to listen to, another story to be told?  All of this will happen in groups of 7-8, gathered around tables.  It is good, important work.  Sometimes hopeful, sometimes painful, sometimes discouraging, sometimes energizing.  It is work of the church.
5.)    But another image came to my mind in recent days.  It happened partly on Wed. night at our weekly Taize service.  It is 8:30pm.  It is dark, cold, wintry outside.  Inside this sanctuary, it is a quiet, sacred space. A calming hush is present.  The beautiful strains of Beth’s flute fill this space and all is well.   Scripture texts are read.  A few songs sung. As the evening progresses and the dimmed lights ease into candle light, prayers are uttered a loud or in the silence for nations, countries, people, friends, loved ones, strangers, neighbors.  As the Spirit leads, God moves us to light candles, to sometimes come forward, to sit, stand, and kneel around the cross placed on the floor of this sanctuary.  The soft strains of music are in the background, holding us together in this space.  My image and vision that came was for us, brothers and sisters in the church, in congregations around the conference, around MC USA to gather in groups around the cross of Jesus,  to kneel in deep humility, to bow in reverence, to surrender our strong wills, our need to be right, our arrogance.  When in our congregational life do we practice a posture of humility and self emptying, of surrender?  How do you and I stay near the cross of Jesus?

In our pastoral letter that we, as pastors and elders worked on and placed in your mailboxes a few weeks ago, the back page included 5 points that we have committed ourselves to.  The first one is: as leaders, we are committed to be in fervent and hopeful prayer for the church.

I would like to challenge and encourage each of you to do the same.  To pray for the church.  That can be done in your own way, in your own personal, private quite time.  But I would like to encourage  each of you to also consider attending at least one or two Taize services, especially during Lent.  I know 8:30pm seems late and I realize that it won’t work for all of you and it won’t be a priority for all of you, but I would like you to try it…surprise me.  If you have young children and can’t get away, maybe you can take turns with your spouse attending a service.  If you can’t get out at night and don’t want to drive here, then know that Wed. nights at 8:30pm, whether you are here in person or not, you can join us in prayer wherever you are…and specifically praying for the church.

As we go into a few moments of silence, reflect on whether you are on track in your life, keeping a good balance between seeking and searching for wisdom, and staying near the cross, surrendering yourself to God?

At the end of our pastoral letter we close we these words, and I close my sermon time with these words:
“We pray for the wisdom of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us forward, united in God’s mission.

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

No comments:

Post a Comment