Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
March 11, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Paulís kidding right? The cross the wisdom of God? The cross the power of God? I mean, either heís kidding or heís an idiot. Some of us may have some problems with Paul, but I donít think heís an idiot; so he must be kidding. Or maybe heís saying something absurd to make some kind of point. His point canít really be that the cross of Christ is the wisdom and the power of God, can it? After all, what was the cross? It was a Roman torture and execution device. The Romans used it essentially as an instrument of terror to scare off anyone who even though about defying or threatening Roman power. Besides getting rid of a troublemaker, the purpose of the cross as far as the Romans were concerned was to terrify people into passivity, into compliance with Roman domination. How does that get to be the wisdom and the power of God? Isnít the cross pretty much the wisdom and the power of the world on full display?
Well yes, certainly, understood in one way the cross is the wisdom and the power of the world. But Paul called it the wisdom and the power of God, and he canít possibly have meant that the wisdom and the power of God are to terrorize people into obedience (although we have to admit that an awful lot of Christianity seems to think thatís that how it is with God with their threats of eternal damnation for people who donít think or act the way they think people should think and act). Still, that pretty clearly is not what Paul means here.
We know that because in our passage this morning Paul so clearly contrasts the wisdom and the power of God with the wisdom and the power of the world. He says ďHas not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?Ē And ďFor Godís foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and Godís weakness is stronger than human strength.Ē 1 Cor. 18:20, 25 So Paul must be talking about a wisdom and a power of God, seen in the cross of Christ, that is a very different kind of wisdom and a very different kind of power than the wisdom and the power the Romans saw in their instrument of terror, torture, and death.
To be perfectly honest about it, Paul never does a very good job of telling us what that wisdom and that power are. He hints at it some, perhaps, but he never comes out and directly tells us what he thinks the wisdom of the cross is. So weíre left pretty much on our own to figure it out. Christians have had lots of theories over the centuries about what the wisdom of the cross is. Many, perhaps most, Christians, at least in the west and at least since the Middle Ages, have seen the cross as the place where the innocent Jesus made the perfect, necessary sacrifice so that God would forgive human sin. Many of you know that thatís not the wisdom that I see in the cross. I wonít go into all of the reasons why I donít accept that understanding of the cross here. If the idea that there is something wrong with that way of understanding the cross is new to you, see me after the service and weíll talk about it. Some of you have heard me preach many times about what I think the wisdom of the cross is, but it is a matter of such importance, a matter that is so central to Christianity, that Iím going to say it again this morning. None of us can ever hear it enough, and some of us may be hearing it for the first time.
For me the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom from which the cross gets its power, is that Jesus Christ on the cross is the fullest possible demonstration of Godís presence and solidarity with humans and with all of creation in everything that happens to us in life, both the good things and far more importantly the bad things. How can that be? Well, for starters, the cross does that and can do that because for us Christians it isnít just another human being up there suffering and dying on the cross. It is none other than God in Godís own person, God the Son, the Word of God made flesh, become human, suffering as a human, dying as a human. The cross has its power because of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Without the Incarnation Jesus on the cross is just another martyr. With the Incarnation he is so much more than that.
Because the person we see suffering and dying on the cross of Jesus isnít just another human being, we see not only something horrible happing to a man, although of course we do see that horrible reality. We see something horrible happening to God. We see God entering into the worst that can happen to us humans. We see God entering into extreme, unjust human suffering and into human death. We see God experiencing those things in Godís own person. We see God experiencing the unjust suffering and death of Godís own Son. Not demanding that suffering and death. Not having planned that suffering and death exactly, although not preventing it either. Experiencing suffering, loss, and death the way we humans experience suffering, loss, and death. Personally. Intimately. Powerfully.
And we see more than that. We see demonstrated in fullest measure how God relates to creation. We see how God relates to creation in Jesusí life and teaching too, but we see it most powerfully in Jesus on the cross. We see that God does not prevent human suffering and death, not even for Godís own Son. We see that God doesnít intervene to see to that only good things happen to and for the people God loves, not even Godís own Son. We see rather that how God relates to creation, to us men and women, is by being present with us. Present in life with us. Present in joy with us yes, but so much more importantly present with us in our pain, in our loss, in our suffering, in our grief, in our death. In Christ on the cross we see God entering into all of those things with us. Not preventing them. Not violating the autonomy of creation as something separate from God by controlling it. Rather entering into creation, entering into all aspects of human life, demonstrating Godís sustaining, compassionate presence with us in all aspects of human life. Demonstrating Godís solidarity with us in all aspects of human life. Demonstrating that not even suffering and death can separate us from God. That is the wisdom of the cross. That is the power of the cross.
My friends, the cross as the ultimate demonstration of how God relates to creation, how God relates to human life, suffering and death, absolutely turns wisdom upside down. The world wants God to prevent suffering and death. The world wants (and letís face it, we want) God to intervene in life to stop bad things from happening. We donít want to suffer. We donít want our loved ones to suffer. We donít want to die. We donít want our loved ones to die. And we project our wants and our fears onto God and want God to fix it. To stop the bad things from ever happening. Thatís the wisdom of the world. Thatís how the world wants God to be.
But the cross says thatís now how God is. We are all creatures of the world, and we have learned the wisdom of the world well. The cross of Christ turns that wisdom completely on its head. Jesus did that throughout his ministry as he lived and taught the wisdom of the Kingdom of God that is so radically different from the wisdom of the world. The world values violence. Jesus taught nonviolence. The world honors the wealthy. Jesus said blessed are the poor. The world condemns sinners. Jesus forgave them and welcomed them into the Kingdom.
Yet the fullest demonstration of how the wisdom of God turns the wisdom of the world upside down isnít Jesusí teachings, it is his cross. Paul is absolutely right. From the perspective of the world the cross is foolishness. The world looks at Jesus and says the fool wasnít even smart enough to keep from getting himself crucified. How hard can it be not to get crucified? Go along to get along. Donít cross the Romans and they wonít nail you to a cross. That isnít exactly rocket science, itís just common sense. The world says to us your guy Jesus didnít even have enough common sense to keep himself off a cross.
And the world is right, in a way. Jesus didnít have much ďcommon sense.Ē What he had was the wisdom of God. The wisdom that says the Kingdom of God is worth dying for. The wisdom that says God isnít about worldly power, God is about sustaining, saving, transforming presence with Godís people. Godís power is the weakness of Jesus on the cross, and Jesus on the cross has saved and transformed more lives, has connected more people with God, than any worldly Roman ever did. Jesus on the cross is the power of God to remake the world one transformed life at a time. Jesus on the cross is the power of God to give suffering humanity everything it needs, everything we need. Jesus on the cross is the power of God to reveal Godís wisdom to us, the wisdom of divine presence not control, the wisdom of divine solidarity not manipulation. The wisdom of Jesus on the cross is, from the worldís perspective, foolishness and not wisdom at all. From Godís perspective, and from the perspective of those with hearts to hear and souls to see, it is wisdom upside down. It is true wisdom indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.