Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany based on I Corinthians 1:18-31
Dear Christians: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christianity is a foolish religion by all worldly standards. Christianity doesn’t make you any healthier or wealthier than the rest of humanity. It doesn’t help you get ahead in life. In fact, if anything, it keeps you from getting ahead if you follow the Christian principle of loving your neighbour as yourself and thus look out for his interests also, not just your own.
Christianity is a foolish religion by all worldly standards because we believe that God saves us through water, that He feeds us with the body and blood of His Son hidden under bread and wine, and that He sends weak, sinful men to speak for Him.
Christianity is a foolish religion by all worldly standards because it worships a God who came humbly as a man to die for mankind. What kind of a God subjects Himself to torture and humiliation at that hands of His own creation? What kind of a God becomes a curse on a cross, rejected and betrayed? What kind of a God dies?
“The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” It is foolishness; it makes no sense to those who are perishing. It is a scandal to those who expected the Saviour to come as a powerful military conqueror and a great warrior. It is folly to those who think that in their wisdom they know a better way.
Some people think they can find God in signs. They look for signs high and low to see where they can find Him. They look for Him in great strong winds that tear mountains and break rocks into pieces. They look for Him in earthquakes that shake the foundations of the earth and in fires that consume everything in their path (cf. I Kings 19:11-12). They look for Him in nature – in a cloud that looks like a face, in a butterfly that lingers nearby, in a rainbow that seems to point to something. But you cannot find God in such signs.
Some people think they can find God in worldly wisdom. That’s what philosophy is all about. It is an attempt to find God in your own mind, deciding for yourself what you think God should be like and what He should and should not do. But you cannot find God in worldly wisdom. You cannot find God through your thoughts, however lofty they may be.
So, then we must go to the cross, right? We can find God in the cross, can we not? Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, who was the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, is claimed to have found, in the fourth century, the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Fragments of this cross were sent to churches around the Empire to be relics which the Roman Catholic Church later taught could be venerated to receive forgiveness of sins. But God has given us no promise in the wood of the cross of Jesus. Even if these fragments were from the true cross of Jesus, what promise has God attached to them? None. Add to this the fact that if you add the supposed wood fragments from the cross together from all the churches, you’d have enough wood to build Noah’s ark, and you start to realize you cannot hope to find God in the sign of the cross. There is no certainty. There are no promises from God connected to such endeavours.
We do have two signs, however, where God has promised to be found: Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. In these two signs, you can find God. In these two signs, you receive all the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross. You cannot go to the cross to get these benefits, but you can come to the font and you can come to the altar. You cannot go to fragments of wood which might or might not be from the cross of Jesus and hope to receive anything. But you can come to the signs where God has promised to be found, and there you will find forgiveness of sins.
We also have the word of the cross. The word of the cross is the Gospel, that word which tells you that Jesus died for your sins and thus has set you free from the penalty of your sins; that word which tells you that all your sins were put on Jesus and He took the punishment for them in your place.
This word of the cross is foolishness to people who think they are not sinful. It is foolishness to people who don’t think they need forgiveness. It is foolishness for anyone who does not believe they deserve hell because of their sin.
This word is not foolishness to you. To you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The word of the cross has the power to snatch you from hell and the claws of the devil and give you eternal life.
To the world, it may seem like foolishness and folly. It may seem like a weakness of God that He would die. But the cross does not show God’s weakness; it shows His power. Through the cross, to which He willingly subjected Himself, He saved us. He defeated sin, death, and the devil. He won as back for Himself, saving us from our enemies which we were too weak to defeat. He did not die to defeat these enemies for Himself, but for us, and He has given us sure and certain signs through which we can receive the benefits of this victory for ourselves.
God shows His power in saving helpless infants through the waters of Holy Baptism. So simple. So easy. So powerful. God shows His power in saving the helpless infirm on their deathbeds through holy Communion. So simple. So easy. So powerful. God shows His power in saving helpless you and helpless me through these same signs to which He has attached His promises of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Christianity is foolishness by all worldly standards, but worldly standards don’t mean anything when it comes to salvation. The word of the cross is God’s wisdom and power. In His wisdom, He knew how to save us since we were too foolish to save ourselves. In His power, He did what we were powerless to do. Is this foolishness or folly? No, to us who are being saved, it is the power of God – the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.