Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Oculi (Lent 3)

10 March 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Cor 1:18-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul preaches to the Corinthian Church, and to us, about foolishness. There is what appears to be foolishness – the folly of the cross – and then there is true foolishness – the rejection of the cross.

There is folly, and then there is folly.

Can you just imagine being stuck deep in a well, the walls collapsing around you, your breath ebbing away moment by moment as you desperately cling to life – and then you hear the sound of your rescuer coming. He lowers a rope to you and bids you to grab hold and be saved. But instead of being pulled to safety, you laugh at the rope. Why, it’s not even a good rope. It’s some kind of low-end knock-off from China. Who would want to be seen being pulled up by that silly thing. And in this day and age of cell-phone cameras and YouTube, the last thing anyone needs is footage of looking foolish.

“No thanks,” you say with a chuckle, rolling your eyes and staying put, congratulating yourself on your good taste and superior wisdom.

This is exactly the kind of foolishness that calls the cross foolish. This rejection of the one hope is the true and veritable folly. This is the purported wisdom of the wise and the sophistication of the sophisticated.

Satan is the father of illusion and the author of delusion. By appealing to pride and arrogance – the very qualities that removed him from his lofty place in heaven – the devil continues to convince man that it is reasonable, logical, rational, and even wise to mock the very hand that saves us, to bite the hand that feeds us, and to reject the hand that redeems us – the same nail-scarred hand that ultimately baptized us.

All the while, the “scribe” and the “debater of this age” choose to stay in the death-pit rather than allow the “word of the cross” to save them. And indeed, “to those who are perishing” the “word of the cross is folly.”

Some “demand signs” and some “seek wisdom” – but those are luxuries the truly desperate cannot afford. A dying man in a pit, who wants to live and is sane, doesn’t want “signs” and “wisdom” – he wants a rope. And if it is offered, he will hold on to it in hope and faith. If there is a time for questions, that will come later. If there is the luxury of trivial knowledge about the rope, that can come once the rescue has been complete.

The “wise” of this world are fools, for they are dying and they don’t even realize it. Few things bring denial to the extent that death does. The news that one has a terminal illness typically results in an initial reaction of unbelief. And yet we poor miserable sinners are all terminal.

This denial, this unbelief, this lack of faith, this delusion that all is good, when in fact, the good that God created has been corrupted by us sinful men – is what leads to a confusion between what is wisdom and what is folly.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,” and St. Paul explains why this is so: “so that no human being might boast.”

It is no accident that God saved us from death using death – even the death of His Son, and what’s more, the shameful death of the cross. The world looks at us Christians wearing symbols of a torture device around our necks and tracing the sign of a capital punishment instrument on our heads and hearts – and they think it’s hysterical.

For in their minds, their deluded minds, that believe in human strength above divine mercy, and they cannot conceive of being saved by a Man hanging nailed to a tree. They cannot fathom being rescued from death itself by nothing other than God’s Word. They cannot even begin to comprehend how baptism saves us by melding the mighty Word of God and a humble washing of water. And few things are mocked in the Christian faith more than the idea that God attaches Himself to physical realities – like bread and wine, or like a baby in a manger. For “How,” they ask with eyebrows raised condescendingly, “can a wafer be God? How can an infant be the Creator of the universe? How can a dying criminal be the Savior of the world?

And so they opt to stay at the bottom of the well, content to die, all the while mocking not only the rope they have rejected, but also the only One who can save them. They spend their last few gasps of oxygen laughing at the others who were rescued, who did not reject the silliness of the rope, the folly of the “word of the cross” and the promise and hope of eternal life. How tragic, and how unnecessary. The Church has the only message of hope for this broken and decaying world, the only solution to the entropy and increasing evil that surrounds us. “For since, in the wisdom of God,” St. Paul preaches, “the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

There is folly and then there is folly.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us embrace the folly of the word of the cross. Let us shamelessly allow the Lord to save us from the pit and rescue us from sin, death, and the devil, all as an act of pity and charity, purely by divine grace and mercy, with no worthiness in us. For this path of humility is the road that leads to life. Let us serve as an example of this “folly” to our families and friends, our neighbors and co-workers, and even the whole world – even a world fixated on the Satanic delusion of worldly wisdom, shallow materialism, and transient riches – chasing after the wind, convinced of their own strength.

And let us do this in true humility, not in indignation of the folly of those who reject the Savior, but in prayerful hope that they will repent and change their minds before it is too late. We have been rescued from our own folly, and for that reason, we have nothing to boast about, except in the courage, valor, love, and mercy of the One who has saved us – forgiving us, redeeming us, and giving us eternal life.

And hear anew the Lord’s blessing spoken through the holy apostle, and let it ring in your rescued ears and dwell in your redeemed hearts as long as you sojourn in this broken world on this side of eternity:

“Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Amen.

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

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