Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 3 – Oculi

18 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Cor 1:18-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul tells us that the world thinks we’re crazy.

Well, some things never change, dear friends. “For the word of the cross is folly,” the apostle says (“folly” being literally the word from which we get the English word “moron”), to those who are perishing, but to us,” that is to us Christians, my dear fellow morons, to us “who are being saved it is the power of God.”

So which is it? Someone is not only mistaken, someone is a fool. Is the unbeliever a fool, or the one who clings to Christ crucified?

One of the early Church fathers, the second-century priest Tertullian, a brilliant man of intellect in his own right, a scholar with fluency in both Greek and Latin, a man of letters and lawyer who converted to Christianity from Paganism, and who coined many of the theological terms we still use to this very day, summed it up like this: “The Son of God was born: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is ridiculous. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.” Sometimes his statement is summed up as: “Credo quia absurdum” – “I believe because it is absurd.”

Now, Tertullian was no fool, no moron. He was not one to believe in silly fables and tall tales. He is not saying that he believes in Christianity only because it is so off the wall, but rather because its extraordinary claims were held and articulated by reasonable and faithful people for nearly two centuries prior to his own day, learned men and women who gave life and limb, utterly convinced of Christianity’s truth.

The fact that our faith preaches Christ crucified, a God who takes human flesh, and dies as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, then rises, and sends miracle-working apostles preaching this “word of the cross” around the world unto the salvation of many by the power of God, is just not something that a mere mortal could have made up.

Credo quia absurdum!

And in St. Paul’s day, the objection that Christianity was folly was exacerbated by the Jewish demand for signs and the Greek seeking of wisdom – all according to the world’s expectations about the wisdom and power of God.

But what both Jew and Greek overlooked was that God is indeed all-powerful and possesses wisdom beyond all human understanding, but the real will of God is not based on mere shows of force or displays of intellectual brilliance – but rather love.

For love compels our Lord to take flesh, to suffer, to do battle against the devil, and to die on a cross – a scheme whose apparent folly is only exceeded in the eyes of the unbelievers by the preaching of the word of the cross. Love is why the Lord goes willingly to the cross, the sacrificial “Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world,” motivated not by power and wisdom, but by mercy.

The world knows nothing of love, of self-sacrificial love – especially love for those who were once enemies of God, the ones St. Paul points out who are not “wise according to worldly standards,” not “powerful,” nor of “noble birth.”

And yet, even in this apparent folly, God uses the world’s folly to outsmart those convinced of their own wisdom. For “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak I the world to shame the strong.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, when you are deemed to be foolish, weak, and low and despised for your attachment to the word of the cross and Christ crucified, rejoice! For we are the very ones who are being saved by the power of God.

The apostle testifies: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Think of how comforting this is, dear friends, we have been chosen – and chosen at that not because of how great we are, but because of our apparent foolishness and weakness in the eyes of this world. But our folly and feebleness are only an illusion, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

So, if you feel like a fool, good! That means you are not depending on your own intellect, but on God’s. And if you feel weak and pathetic, good! That means you aren’t relying on your own strength, but rather on Him who has all the power, might, wisdom, and strength in the universe.

“And because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” You are “in Christ” dear brothers and sisters. And it is as true as it seems crazy.

And what’s more, you are not only in Christ, but Christ is in you, by virtue of the Word of the cross, by Holy Absolution, through your Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Supper. It all seems like folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are in Christ, who are being saved, these are manifestations of the very power of God.

For with St. Paul, with Tertullian, and with our fellow lowly Christian brothers and sisters of twenty centuries from every part of the globe, we who are being saved by the very power of God, we add our voices to the chorus: “Credemus quia absurdum, we believe because it is absurd.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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