Preparing a sermon for today, when I sat to write it on Thursday, was a risky exercise. As I was writing it, the major networks were carrying round-the-clock coverage of bombs bursting in air over Baghdad. The first Iraqi casualty had almost certainly been recorded. The first American casualty had not yet been reported. What would the scriptures say to me that I could say to you at a time when there is so much other information trying to claim our attention?
Then, I thought of WHERE I would be preaching. Most of you call this large room the nave. Ive always called it the sanctuary. A sanctuary is a place of safety, peace, comfort and hope. So, today, in the sanctuary, I hope to help you shut out the noise of the world and listen, instead, to the wisdom of the scriptures. Or, maybe I should say, as Paul does, listen to "the foolishness of God."
Last week at our Tuesday morning Bible study, we pastors were saying how odd it&cd=med sometimes to preach on the writings of Paul. After all, Paul was a preacher. It was his responsibility to take the teachings of Jesus and bring them into the everyday lives of the people he met. So, when we preach on Pauls writings we make OUR sermons out of HIS sermons. But, Paul made some good points as he traveled from place to place. There was always something fresh and new in what he said.
In one place Paul had to tell the people to stop arguing among themselves about how little things were to be done in the church. Should the worship space be long and narrow or circled around the altar? Should the music be old and fusty or new and noisy? Basically, he told them, it doesnt matter whether you have worship at 5 p.m. on Saturday or at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. The important thing is that you are in church to worship!
In another place Paul had to tell the people to let everyone have a chance to lead and offer their services. It seems in that place there were a couple bossy old ladies who thought they could run the church just the way they wanted it to be run. He told those bossy women to cover their heads and be quiet. The important thing is that ALL people should have a chance to offer their services.
In another place Paul had to tell the people to share their food with everyone who came to the table. The wealthy people in that parish were having a huge feast on one side of the social hall following worship while the poor people stood around hungry. Paul had to remind them that the important thing is to share the food God gives us with all who are hungry.
In another place Paul had to tell the people to stop fighting about whether they were Lutherans or Episcopals or Baptists or Catholics... No, wait a minute, thats todays battle. Actually he told them not to fight about whether they followed Apollos or Cephas or Paul or whoever, but to remember that they were all baptized in the name of Christ.
Paul had his hands full. He was the founder of churches all across the upper Middle East. He took the northwest territories and left the area around Jerusalem to Peter and the others who had walked with Jesus. And, as Paul went from place to place he had one basic message to proclaim. He said, I did not come to you proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1Cor 2:1-2)
In todays reading we find Paul writing a letter to the Christians living at Corinth. Theyve been fighting among themselves imagine, conflict within a church family! and they all seem to have different ideas about how Gods message should be spread around the territory.
In Corinth there were believers who had come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some had been faithful Jews before becoming Christian. Some had been raised with the philosophical arguments of the Greeks. Some had based their lives on the logic and stoicism of the Romans. Paul had to find a way to make the message of salvation relevant to each of them. He had to find a way to help them understand that no matter what their previous lives had taught them, God had done something new in Jesus, something that had never been done before.
Gods foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and Gods weakness is stronger than human strength, Paul told them. You people who study and think and argue and talk and try to convince others with logic, did any of your own efforts ever give you eternal life? Paul might have asked. And you over there, the ones who always want to see miracles and visions and have heart-warming experiences before youll believe God is acting in your lives, is any of that emotional roller coaster going to give you eternal life? No. There is only One who can promise you what youre seeking. Jesus Christ, the one who died on a cross, the one people thought was foolish, the one people said was unwise... Jesus Christ is the one who offers you strength for today and life with the Lord for eternity.
So, is everyone going to accept that Jesus is their savior and come running in here breaking down the doors to get what God has promised them? Not likely. Because, you see, even now nearly 2000 years after Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, the world is still full of those who need logical outlines or visions and signs before they will believe. So, like Paul, you and I have our work cut out for us.
In todays world of instant gratification I want it bad and I want it now taking the time to search our selves and to find real meaning in life is almost unheard of. In first century Palestine and Eastern Europe, people worked with their hands. Their lives were full of family matters, finding or growing enough food, weaving and tanning and grinding and gathering and walking and talking and having time to think. Today, with the flip of a switch and the click of a button, no one ever has to leave their home to order food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or information from anywhere in the world. With so many instant ways of getting what we want, why should we take time to listen to something so foolish and old-fashioned as the story of salvation in Christ Jesus?
YOU know theres more. Youre here today because youve taken time out of your busy schedules. Youve made time in the hectic comings and goings of your life, in the routine and rhythm of your life to spend some time in prayer, searching the scriptures, singing Gods praises and listening for God. Why?
What do you find here? Do you find here a challenge to be more than you think you can be? Do you come here hoping to find a way to reach outside yourself and make the world a better place? Then, you find inspiration for your generosity and compassion in the foolishness of the cross.
Do you find here peace in the middle of crisis? Do you come here hoping to find a way to make it through one more day in a nearly impossible situation at home or on the job or in school, or a respite from the news of war? Then, you find inspiration for survival and joy in living in the foolishness of the cross.
Do you find here knowledge and information to take into the world with you each week? Do you come here hoping to find help as you witness to Gods love with your words and actions as you come into contact with other needy people? Then, you find inspiration for living in hope in the foolishness of the cross.
Do you find here ordinary water, plain bread and common wine that is available to ALL people? Do you come here hoping to find acceptance and love even though you think youre different or someone has told you youre unlovable? Do you find here an opportunity to welcome others in Christs name? Then, you find inspiration for breaking down barriers of prejudice and fear in the foolishness of the cross.
Within these walls we might argue about what time worship should be held, or the kind of music we should sing, or whether we should use bread or wafers, or who should be preaching and leading worship, but none of that should replace the real reason we come together in this place. We come here to hear the word of God, to hear again that God loves us and provides all that we need. We come together to celebrate with friends, family, neighbors and complete strangers that God sent Jesus into this world and into our hearts.
The color of the front door or whether we use regular or decaffeinated coffee for our after-church time together doesnt matter. This place is where Gods people come, where Gods foolish people come the ones who believe that Gods wisdom is better than our own.
How foolish to think that one man can, by his death and resurrection, remove eternal punishment for the whole world! How foolish to think that anyone can be raised from the dead! How foolish to think that ordinary water, plain bread and common wine can work in us a miracle, washing away our sins and strengthening us for new and abundant life each day!
You and I are Gods foolish people. God has chosen us to spread around the message that some will find laughable, some will be unable to comprehend, some will refuse to hear all together. But, we have a job to do. We have been commissioned in the waters of our baptism to go into the world like Paul and let our lights so shine that others may see our good works and praise the One who gives us life.
Gods foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and Gods weakness is stronger than human strength. (1Cor 1:25) When youre feeling a need to be challenged, when youre in need of peace, when you need to know more about Gods plan, when you need to know you are acceptable to God and to others, come here. Come together with Gods foolish people who believe with all their heart that their Maker can give them strength. Then, go out and share that foolishness with everyone you meet. Amen.
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus,
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus,for all people according to their needs:
Lord our God, in love you have given us direction for our lives. You encourage us to honor all you created by showing respect for you, for ourselves and for others. We pray that we might accept your law as a sign of your love. Help us to live in such a way that others know we cherish your teaching. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits. (Exodus 20:1-17)
Lord our God, you provide those you have called with wisdom, enlightenment, endurance and righteousness. Raise us up as faithful teachers for your Church in all lands so that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts may be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits. (Psalm 19)
Lord our God, in your wisdom you bring down the mighty and raise up the lowly. Your foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and your weakness is stronger than human strength. In your wisdom, guide leaders of nations to rule with justice, mercy and compassion for the people of their lands. Bring healing where there is division, peace where there is war, understanding where there is hatred, hope where there is fear. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits. (1 Cor 1:18-25)
Lord our God, you gave Jesus strength and courage to overcome the challenges of life. You restored him to life after death. You alone have this power. We ask your presence with those who are battered by life and for those who love and care for them. We lift in prayer...
Are there others we should include in our prayers?
Provide these children of God the strength to face each new day knowing you can raise them up. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits. (John 2:13-22)
Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Comments to Linda at Linda_Kraft@Ecunet.org.)
Linda Kraft, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Trumbull, CT