March 27, 2018 - Tuesday in Holy Week
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
My colleague Seth was supposed to preach today, but he came down with a stomach bug, so, since I'm preaching in his place, I'm going to steal his principal sermon insight and hope he feels better soon.
Paul writes, "In God's wisdom, God determined that the world wouldn't come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified..." (1 Cor. 1:21-23).
This year during Holy Week, we're using the Common English Bible in all of our worship. We made that swap primarily because the NRSV, which we normally use, brings some challenge with it. During Holy Week, our gospel texts are primarily from John, and John often uses the term "the Jews" to mean "the Jewish leaders who were opposed to Jesus." There's some latent and intentional anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in the gospel text, which I do not believe was original to Jesus and his ministry. When we accurately translate John's term as "the Jews," we misrepresent the gospel. Several newer versions have attempted to render that term as "the Jewish authorities" or some other clearer designation, which, admittedly, departs from the literal Greek text but helps us encounter the conflict Jesus experienced as it was--not as a conflict between Jesus and all Jewish people but between Jesus and a few who were opposed to his movement. Among those translations is the CEB, which also offers a highly readable and mostly familiar (if sometimes casual) rendering of the text. And, on days like today, we get to hear the other benefits of a new translation.
What is the "foolishness of preaching?" In the NRSV, that would be "the foolishness of our proclamation." Actually, the CEB is closer to the Greek text, which doesn't include the possessive pronoun "our." What is the "insipidity of preaching," the "folly of proclamation?" Well, it's all we've got.
We preach Christ crucified. We don't work miracles. We don't do magic tricks. We don't offer new philosophies. We don't present feats of strength. We preach the cross. We preach the Anointed One dying on the cross. We preach God sending the savior of the world, God's only Son, to confront the powers of this world and die a shameful death at their hands not as a failure of God's plan but as the means by which the whole world is saved. That is pure folly! And it's the only hope we've got.
Paul was writing this letter to the Christian church in Corinth, one of the intellectual and cultural centers of the Greco-Roman world. Living there were some of the smartest people on the planet. They spent their time contemplating the origins of life and the relationship between the human and the divine. In the western world, they were among those who got as close to "the gods" as anyone else, yet they might as well have been an infinite distance away. Why? Because no earthly wisdom, no human intellectual pursuit, could imagine that the cross, an instrument of brutal and shameful execution reserved only for the worst criminals, would be the means to salvation.
By their very nature, a search for wisdom and a search for feats of wonder miss the mark because the way of God is the way of foolishness and weakness. For all of human history, God has revealed God's truth through the lowly and the outcast. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Samuel, Ruth. Some were wealthy. Some were strong. But God's salvation wasn't revealed in their earthly status or accomplishments but in how God used their emptiness, their weakness, their lacking to enact God's plan of salvation.
If we want to find our place in God's salvation history, we cannot search for intellectual insights or attempt to conjure up the mighty hand of God. We must turn to the cross. We must empty ourselves. We must become weak fools--the laughing stock of this world--in order to find our place with Jesus. So far this week, we have followed Jesus into Jerusalem and proclaimed him as David's heir. We have shouted cries of "Hosanna!" calling on him to save us. But will we follow him when the path he is on leads not to the throne but to the cross? Will we search for the truth of our salvation by accepting for ourselves the "shame and loss" that the cross represents? Jesus may have been the one who died on the cross, but the path of our salvation leads straight through it. To be with Jesus, we must venture beyond the shadow of the cross. We must accept it for ourselves.