The Power and Wisdom of God

September 9, 2012 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

Holy Cross Sunday (transferred from Sept. 14)

Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; John 3:13-17

St Stephen Lutheran Church

9 September 2012

 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Poor St Paul!

Of course, we know the story –

This guy, who used to be named Saul,

thought Christians were a threat to true religion and had to be stopped.

At the stoning of Stephen, for whom our little parish church is named,

those who murdered Stephen laid their coats at his feet.

All this was before the risen Jesus had a little chit-chat with him on the road to Damascus.

From then on, you couldn’t get Paul to stop talking about Jesus.

He would talk to Jews.

He would talk to Gentiles.

He would go from city to city in the Roman Empire,

making tents during the weekdays and preaching at night and in the synagogues.

Whenever he’d get a few people to listen to him,

they’d form a group, he’d teach them everything he knew about Christ,

and then he’d be off to wherever God was calling him next.

It’s not the settled life to which most of us aspire.

Even we pastors prefer a little bit more permanence.

 

The problem was that once Paul had left,

the people would naturally start looking for another leader.

Some groups would get a guy who thought that what Paul said was fine,

he just left out the part about the Gentile males becoming circumcised

and observing the Torah, the law of Moses.

Some groups would get a guy who thought that what Paul said was fine,

he just left out the part about Jesus coming to teach people

how to obtain secret, spiritual, divine wisdom and knowledge.

And so Paul had to write back to these congregations he had founded,

reminding them in no uncertain terms that, no, he had not left anything out.

Had the Spirit not come upon them when he preached Christ crucified for them?

Had they not been baptized in the name of Christ,

and not in the name of Paul, or Peter, or anyone else?

Wasn’t Jesus enough for them anymore?

 

In Corinth, a group of wisdom-preachers had followed Paul,

trumpeting their superior spiritual knowledge.

According to them, Paul’s message about the cross was foolish.

But ‘foolish’ really doesn’t capture what these people had to say.

In Greek, the word that is used is moria,

from which we get our word ‘moron.’

You see, said these wisdom-preachers,

Paul is an earnest enough guy,

but he’s a little bit of a moron,

going on and on about the cross.

God’s a little bit more sophisticated than that.

We will tell you what’s really going on, what God has planned for you.

 

Now Paul is a pretty smart guy.

He learned at the feet of Gamaliel,

one of the top rabbis around,

and he was a rising star

before God decided there were more important things for him to be doing.

But according to these people, Paul is a moron.

He’s not going to take this lying down.

But it’s not because his reputation’s at stake –

what God has done is at stake.

 

The message about the cross, writes Paul, is indeed moronic –

to those who are perishing, that is.

To us who are being saved, it is dynamite –

dunamis Theou, the power of God.

 

A religion that seeks after a special, secret knowledge to elevate the self

will necessarily find the message that God gave himself on the cross for all people

to be a stumbling block, a scandal, something that must be moved past

in order for religion to really work.

The cross puts all people on the same level before God.

The cross puts to death every human striving, every secret wisdom,

every attempt of the human to elevate themselves to a spiritual superiority.

 

The cross tells it how it is with us –

this is what we do to each other and to God.

It also tells us how it is with God.

this is what God does for us, what he endures for us, how much he loves us –

here, on the cross, is the God in whom we may put our trust.

This is why this cross is called ‘holy’ –

on the cross, God himself in Jesus Christ bears the weight of our folly and our pride.

He takes what is ours and gives us what is his.

 

Now one might wonder what this has to do with our world.

Ever since Christ walked the earth,

the cross has been under attack,

because it is the enemy’s destruction.

It is under attack because it spells doom to the self.

And that is what the enemy wants us to focus on, ourselves.

 

Last night, the Saturday service read from chapters two and three of Genesis.

We heard how God created humankind for relationship with him,

and how the serpent awakened desire in Adam and Eve.

Desire to be God’s equal rather than his creation.

Desire to ‘make something of themselves,’

desire to be wise in the eyes of the serpent and of each other.

Down to today and tomorrow,

the hallmarks of a religion that is about the self

are seeking after miraculous signs to prove God’s faithfulness

and the desire for a wisdom that will elevate us above others to God’s presence.

 

This religion can be as outlandish as Scientology,

which prescribes a technological cleansing of the evil spirits

so that one can finally be at peace with oneself and be oneself,

ascending the ladder to true wisdom.

Of course, this technological cleansing costs a fortune,

and only the very-rich among the Hollywood set can attain to it.

Which only makes it more desirable.

 

Or this religion can live hidden as a parasite upon Christianity itself,

as a religion that would go beyond the cross.

It gathers the faithful in churches that are built upon the cross

and tells those faithful that St Paul was kind of a moron.

That in order to be truly spiritual

we must cast aside the dusty old religion of the past.

That the most important thing is not what Jesus did for you

but what you can do for Jesus.

Some good news!

 

Some people promise that if you just believe (and send money)

God will show you great signs

and give you your best life now.

This year is going to be the year!

Many of the big churches that bring in thousands of people a Sunday

are built without the cross – it is too depressing.

We want to make people feel good when they come to church, it is said,

We don’t want them to feel like they’ve been to church at all.

Truly, that’s what some people have said.

 

And then there is the constant drumbeat that the young people hear.

It is what your children and my children will hear non-stop from their teachers

and from actors and from musicians and from comedians

and from anyone who doesn’t want to look like a moron

from the time they enter high school through college and beyond.

They will be told and shown, in ways spoken and unspoken,

that anyone who says anything definitive about God is a moron.

You cannot know anything for sure about God, if there is a God.

Sin is not the problem, blind faith is the problem.

Intolerance and religion is the cause of all the war and discrimination in history.

If you insist that God has more in mind for us than to just be ourselves

and become what we want to be

then you are narrow-minded, a hypocrite, someone to be attacked and vilified.

You’re kind of a moron.

 

To this we cannot and must not say anything but,

“We preach Christ crucified!”

It is a stumbling block to those who demand God prove himself to us.

It is moronic to those who believe that true religion, or a true philosophy,

demands an elevation above the common herd.

To us who are being saved,

it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

 

By grace this will continue to be

the message we heed and the message we proclaim

in this vain world that God so loves.

For God indeed does love this vain world.

He created us for relationship with him,

for communion with him.

And when we rebelled against him,

he loved us so much that he gave us himself;

the Son was lifted high upon the cross

so that we could indeed look upon him and live at peace with God.

This is true holiness, true wisdom, the sign of God’s glory and power.

 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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Of Grumbling and Grace The God Who Seeks Us

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