March 7, 2021
The Third Sunday in Lent E. Bevan Stanley
March 7, 2021
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a testimony to how counter-cultural Christianity is. Most people think that for a leader of a revolution to be willing to be killed by the government is foolish. It is the epitomy of self-defeat. If you want to change the world, you do not willingly get yourself killed. It is foolishness. Yet Jesus did exactly that, and turned the defeat into victory. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. If you want to see the power of God, look at the cross. This is the core paradox of the Christian faith.
Paul goes on to say that the wisdom of the world cannot lead to a knowledge of God. In the wisdom of the world the cross is the clearest and most ultimate defeat. Love can never stand up to ruthless power. But it does. In yielding up everything, even his own life, Jesus defeats all the forces that oppose him, even death. We who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus see that the cross displays, not defeat, but the power of God.
Let us take a look at the Ten Commandments. At first glance they seem to contain the most conventional wisdom of how people must behave to have a stable society. on’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t commit perjury. Without these all we have is chaos. Most of us avoid these crimes. That is fine until we come to the tenth commandment. The others are about action that we should avoid, but the tenth is about our interior thoughts. We should not covet. Basically God is saying, not only don’t do these things, but don’t even think about it.
And the first four commandments are about religious practice. Don’t worship false idols, don’t use the name of God in vain, keep the Sabbath. Except for the first which like the last is also about our interior state. You shall have no other gods before me. You will not place your trust in any other thing to keep you safe, make you whole, or give you joy.
The first and the last commandments are the hardest to keep, and they bracket all the rest. I want stuff I don’t have, and I want to find my security in something tangible. And our society and economics are built on the violation of these two commandments. Out consumer economy depends on marketers making us want things we do not have and don’t really need. And Wall Street and our banks and insurance companies keep telling us that the world is a risky place and we cannot depend on anything but money to keep us secure.
This time of Lent is given to us to consider whether this is true. Do we buy the idea that the only security comes form money. Do we buy the idea that God will always give us what we need when we need it? Do we really believe that Love is the greatest power in the universe?
One of the hardest things about true faith is that it is not a transaction. We tend to fall into the idea that if I give my allegiance to God, then God owes me salvation. If I obey the commandments, and am nice to people then my life should go well. Moreover, this deal can be made incrementally. If I only need a little security, I only have to be a little good. In John’s account of Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, Jesus says, “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.” The Temple is not a place for making deals; it is a place for worship. It is a place for giving up every thing to God. It is where the poor widow gives her last two pennies in total dependence on God. We give up our whole living, we give up our whole life. We abandon ourselves to God. This is foolishness in the eyes of the word. We know that it is how join in the power of God’s love. How do we know this? Because of the sign. When the temple of Jesus’ body was destroyed, it was rebuilt in three day. We know the power of God in that even death cannot defeat it. We gain everything by giving everything away.
I believe this is true, but I do not yet have the courage actually to live it. Yet Lent is a time to at least consider the truth of the wisdom of the Cross. And I can take small steps in the direction of complete abandonment to God. I can spend more time reading the Bible. I can spend more time in prayer. I can be more generous in my giving. I can choose to spend my time more for others than for myself. I can practice self-examination to identify when I am coveting and when I am trusting things more than God.
As we do these things, as we take on some of the traditional practices of Lent, it is important not to fall back into a transactional relationship with God. We should not make the Temple a market place. In the end the only thing that matters is that we accept the unbelievable grace of God’s love for us. Nothing we can do will make God love us more or less than God loves us right now. That will never change. What can change is how much we accept that love and trust that love. For if we truly were to trust God’s love, there would be nothing that could ever frighten or defeat us.
God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.