I love the church at Corinth. It reminds me of Forest Hill. All the things that you and I wrestle with today they were wrestling with then: what does it all mean to be a Christian in a thriving and troubling world? How to be a diverse and inclusive community: slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female? How can one be both a good citizen and a counter-culture rebel?
Saint Paul begins to answer those and other questions at the foot of the cross: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The message of the cross.
Is it still foolish – or have we just made it a symbol of the empire? A mark of inclusive love or a sign of division; you are either one of us or not?
Is the cross even relevant? Are we perishing or being saved? Does God even have power?
Look at this cross up here – it is beautiful. The Porcello family gave a gift for its design. The crown of thorns/nails reminds us of the “suffering” of Jesus, and yet unlike Roman Catholic crucifixes, there is no crumpled body of Jesus. The cross stands empty to remind us of the Easter promise – Christ is alive!
But to anyone living in the first century, the cross was horrific; a long, agonizing, torturous death of suffocation as the body weight pulled and gravity collapsed the lungs.
It was torture and capital punishment all in one for those of low class. There are accounts that the Romans crucified a thousand people in a day.
Those who longed for a Messiah in the first century didn’t expect him to die on a cross. That was foolish.
The Messiah was supposed to be powerful: a fixer, a winner, a champion, a king – he would clear up all the messes, and right all the wrongs.
For most, the cross was proof that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah; rather, he was a failure.
That a cross would become our symbol is quite surprising, saying something quite radical about who God is and where our attention should be.
The cross was not a triumph. It was a disaster. It is not about winning the culture war, it is about losing your life on behalf of another, indeed losing your life on behalf of the world.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered in a Nazi camp, wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
But that is the way it is with God – flipping things over, shaking the foundations: the symbol of hate, agony and horror becoming the most sublime sign of universal love.
What does the cross mean to me? God as dying Lover – this is what the cross means to me. God chasing you and me into the shadows, taking up all suffering and stretching out his arms in a universal embrace – everyone within the embrace, no one left out – even for those who don’t believe. Now that catches my attention and moves my heart.
Not Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice to appease an angry God, but Jesus revealing God giving himself up. Lilly Potter putting herself before the curse of Voldemort – to save Harry. God as Lilly Potter. Love wins.
NO ONE outside of God’s embrace – no matter how sinful, or twisted you are, despite the suffering and evil in the world – GOD not distant, GOD not a spectator, not a judge, but a participant in the worst and the best, God loves everybody: love wins.
That is foolish. It is not the way the world works. That is exactly the point Paul makes.
We make God to be a projection of our own insecurities: we like it that sinners get punished, as long as it’s the other guy!
The human gospel is: Earn it! There is no free lunch. No pain, no gain. I have heard a pastor say to a little boy who was caught taking a second doughnut “God loves good little boys.” I think God delights in bad little boys (and little girls) more!
Save those hard work, responsible thoughts for the workplace and the gym; it may work there – but they have no place in the kingdom of God!
When you and I get caught up in the human goal of earning our worth, living to please, chasing after things that will fill the holes, – we never reach “it.”
The human gospel is based on obligation and guilt: you are in or you are out/ saved or damned, heaven or hell, winners/losers, us/them, either/or.
That is the anti-gospel of self-destruction – God has nothing to do with that!
We are perishing with that self-sufficient, us v. them, human gospel – it is a gospel of burnout, disappointment, hypocrisy, self-criticism, narcissism and dread.
You can give your heart to that, if you want to. You can run that treadmill until you drop but you will be missing the point of the cross. God loves you and died for you, don’t worry – but let it go.
Paul invites you to give your heart not to obligation, guilt and judgment but to the good news that love wins. Trust that – claim that as your worldview – that is the foolish of the cross, that is what Jesus died for. Fall in love with the God who fell in love with you. It is not a head thing, but a heart thing.
You have to show your heart. You have put your stake in the ground, just as God put his cross in the ground: Here I stand. I can do no other.
Trusting that God loves everybody, that we are all being saved, all caught in the flow of salvation – the enemy and the marginalized, especially the left out, the immigrant, the Syrian refugee – Christ, breaking down every wall and barrier to get to you, to get to us, to get to this world – no one is left out – you give your heart to that message – you will be a change agent for the gospel.
You are loved just as you are. I don’t care if you believe that or not, or understand it or not, or feel worthy enough or not. If you don’t trust that, let me trust that for you. And someday you can trust that for me.
And other foolishness follows: happy are the hopeless – because at times it is only when you are in the gutter that you look up and see the stars; happy are those who grieve, what? Happy are the hungry and thirsty (no way!) Happy are the harassed? Happy are those with pure hearts – that doesn’t mean perfection – it means being foolish and open and trusting – Happy when you get insulted? Happy are those who make peace? What does that even look like today?
That blows my mind; it makes no sense at all. But, I guess, if your heart is happy, what can anyone do to you?
I am reminded of the words of Mother Pollard who was part of the Montgomery bus boycott in the early days of Civil Rights. When asked if she was tired she replied, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” You see, she had given her heart to a way of living and doing – the mind and feet followed. She changed the world.
As Christian activists we are on guard: torture is endorsed, walls are being built, Syrians are not welcome, Muslims are the enemy – fear is in – you can give your heart to that – but it is not the way of Jesus Christ. As Christians, our politics but be grounded in the truth: True love casts out fear!
Standing before the cross, I begin to glimpse a way through the fog that I am feeling these days. It may be foolish, but that’s what I want to give my heart to.
It may be the only way.