Preached FCCW March 4, 2018
In his book Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller says, “The goofy thing about Christian faith is that you believe it and don’t believe it at the same time. It isn’t unlike having an imaginary friend.”
He goes on to say: “I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”
Many people do look at Christians who believe in and try to live by the gospel as gullible or naive. Like kids who never outgrew their belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. In the face of the scepticism of others, you might start wondering yourself, if as a believer, you might be investing your life in a fantasy.
Surprisingly, the Apostle Paul would be the first to agree that there is a certain foolishness that lies at the very heart of Christian faith. He calls it the foolishness of the cross.
Anybody with a crumb of common sense would conclude that the cross would have been the last place where anybody would expect to find a reason to follow Christ. Illogical as it may seem, though, Christianity claims that the crucified Christ is right where God’s relationship to humanity is most clearly understood.
Now, Paul was a smart guy. I’m sure he realized that there were better strategies for attracting people to a religious movement, than a humiliated and dying victim on a cross. In our reading from 1st Corinthians Paul shows an awareness of what he was up against in his mission of leading people into Christian discipleship, when he makes the observation that “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
The message of the cross was a stumbling block for Jews because for them a crucified Messiah was an oxymoron; a contradiction in terms. The signs of a genuine Messiah would be political power and military victory over the enemies of Israel. A Messiah who proved to be helpless when it came to saving himself was in no position to save his people. If anything, the cross was a sign to the Jews of Paul’s time that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah they were waiting for.
Gentiles, on the other hand, were not waiting for any Messiah. But they had their own reasons for rejecting the message of the cross. Gentiles valued philosophy as the highest form of truth. For them, it was (as Mr. Spock would say) illogical to claim that the power of God was most fully revealed in something like the humiliation and powerlessness of a condemned and crucified man.
For all the differences that divided Jews and Gentiles, one thing they could agree on was that the cross made a mockery of Jesus’ claims for himself and discredited his disciples’ claims about him. Yet, his followers were able to somehow see behind Christ’s tragic death to discern the wisdom of God at work.
Which position is wisdom and which is foolishness?
God’s wisdom of the cross tells us that serving is better than being served, being weak in him is better than being strong in and of ourselves. The wisdom of the cross tells us that it is more blessed to share than to accumulate and hoard. That it is more satisfying to forgive an enemy than to nurture resentment and seek retribution.
These are all foolish ideas in a world where the reference point for what is considered wise is whatever provides the most direct route to personal gain. And admitting we take this foolishness seriously can make us feel, as Donald Miller alluded, like Trekkies who learn how to speak Klingon or who greet each other with a Vulcan salute. But they represent the very power of God to transform lives for those who see themselves as saved from the power of death through Christ’s costly love displayed on the cross.
Those who followed Jesus believed in the message he preached, which was that the kingdom of God was breaking into the world and replacing the old order of human existence. Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” On the cross, it looked for all the world that its form of wisdom was victorious over the “foolishness” that Jesus taught and his followers believed. What was really perishing on the cross though, was the dying wisdom that disregards God’s ways as foolishness.
What was birthed on the cross was the undeniable assurance of God’s love for us.
That message has been delivered not only from pulpits; but also through the common lives of people who choose God’s foolishness towards humanity over human wisdom about God. People around us who might never open a Bible or step foot in a church have their eye on those of us who do. Your children, spouses, friends and co-workers, may judge whether the message of the cross is wisdom or foolishness based on what they see in you. If you behave as if your faith is make-believe; an impractical fantasy, why should they take it seriously? But if there is integrity between what you say you believe and how you live, someone may see in you a divine wisdom in what they had always dismissed as foolishness.
At the cross we gain a new vantage point on life because it is there that we encounter the ultimate intersection between wisdom and foolishness. There, where the two meet, we find Jesus.
Christians believe that Jesus touched the ugly cross, so despised by the world, and changed it from an emblem of suffering and shame into a symbol of the power of God. And we live by the conviction that through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God continues to unmask the foolishness of any human wisdom that rejects God’s ways of love, peace and justice.
Whether that is wisdom or foolishness is ultimately a question we must each decide for ourselves.
So, live long and prosper.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros