Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
February 2, 2020
“Foolishness and Weakness”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Why doesn’t everyone come to church? Why isn’t everyone a believer in Jesus? Why don’t all people become disciples, followers, learners of Jesus Christ?
Wouldn’t the entire world be better if it didn’t try to do things their way but God’s way? Wouldn’t this world be a much better place if God was in control, calling the shots?
Why don’t they come? Why isn’t Ascension Lutheran Church filled every Sunday? Why isn’t Littleton Baptist Church, Littleton Bible Chapel, Littleton United Methodist at capacity every Sunday? What is wrong with the church that so few people want to come? There must be a good reason.
Maybe it’s the preacher. Getting old. Doesn’t quite have it anymore. Sometimes forgets the next word, stumbles over three syllable words.
Maybe it’s the people. I hear from those outside the church that they don’t come because the people who are members are hypocrites – phonies – just folks who are putting on a show. We talk and act like angels for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, but the real person comes out by Sunday afternoon. They say that we are fakes.
No, I don’t believe that I’m the problem and I don’t believe that you’re the problem. Now, I know that I have a long way to go in being the preacher and pastor that I should be. Did you know that many of us preachers have what is known as “Preacher’s Remorse” on Sunday afternoon? You know what Buyer’s Remorse is, right? The moment you walk off the car lot you wonder if you just got taken. You regret the purchase – “Buyer’s Remorse”. Preachers, including this one, often have “Preacher’s Remorse” on Sunday afternoon. The sermon didn’t go as planned. I should have said more on this, less on that. There were a few times to say “amen” and get out of the pulpit, but I got diarrhea of the mouth and kept on going. It’s a good thing there is a football game today – I won’t have to think about this sermon!!
And we know that at times, too often, we are not following Jesus like we should. When someone says, “The church is filled with hypocrites”, we have no better response than, “You’re right. Join us, there is room for one more.”
But I’m not the problem about why more people aren’t in church. And neither are you. He is. Jesus is. Jesus is the problem. Did you know that? Jesus Christ is the problem that every Christian Church isn’t filled to overflowing. And not only is it Him, it is also one of the great actions that He is known for – His crucifixion. That is what the Bible says, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (I Corinthians 1:22-23)
Jesus is the problem. The cross where He died is the problem. What people want is a God who is strong. We have a problem and He removes it. He rescues in an instant. We can’t pay our bills? Puff – an extra $5,000.00 shows up in the checking account. We’re sick? We get better without having to drink more water and getting needed rest. Life stinks? He writes the script and it all changes, in a moment. When it says that “Jews demand miraculous signs”, they were looking for a strong God. And we’re with them. We want that type of God. But I don’t see it everyday.
What people want is a God who makes sense. Everything in life follows a sense of order. One thing leads to another. They want a philosophy that no one can dispute. We want the genius mind to tell us how life should all be. It should not be confusing but rational and logical. When Paul says, “And Greeks look for wisdom”, we want God to make sense.
Do you see it? Jesus and the cross are the problem. Its always been that way. In Matthew 16 we read, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” (Verses 21-22) To this response Jesus called Peter, Satan. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Verse 23)
Don’t you see it? Jesus is the problem why more people don’t come to church. The cross is the barrier to belief. God is to be strong, mighty, brilliant, beautiful, wise and serene. The cross, and the Man on it, is weak and ugly, powerless and dumb. “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
- Barrie Shepherd, long retired now from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, visited his native Scotland and brought back a large Celtic Cross. He didn’t want to wrap it up and have it go through with the baggage, so he carried it on the plane. When he stepped off the plane at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, the customs agent asked him, “Do you have anything to declare?” J. Barrie Shepherd said, “Only this cross.” The customs agent recorded it and permitted him to pass through customs. Later, Shepherd saw what the agent had recorded on his form, “Item of a sentimental nature. Of little or no value.”
That’s not true. The cross of Jesus has the greatest value. I told you that Jesus and the cross are the problem, then and now, for many people. His words that He alone is the Savior of the world and that only through His cross and the resurrection will we be rescued from our sins, is the very reason many will not be Christians. There is nothing more brilliant and strong than Jesus Christ and His saving cross. Jesus and His cross are our redemption. In this section Paul would give this word, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (I Corinthians 1:23-25)
I’m glad for God’s “foolishness” and “weakness”. In the next chapter of Corinthians Paul would still be boasting about the cross, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Corinthians 2:2) Do you remember these words in Galatians? “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14) Jesus, speaking about His death would say, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32)
So, what does the cross teach us? It shows that we cannot save ourselves. We cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot go to heaven by ourselves. Jesus had to make all of those gifts possible. He had to give Himself on the cross to pay for the forgiveness of sins. He had to give Himself on the cross so that eternal life would be ours. He had to give Himself on the cross that we would be considered holy and righteous. If we could have such gifts by our self, by our goodness, by our efforts, God would have been foolish to send His own Son to such a miserable torture. But God wasn’t foolish or weak, He was brilliant and miraculous and strong and giving. “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The cross teaches us that we, one by one, are treasured by God. At Holy Communion after I say Jesus’ words, “Take and eat, this is my body…Take and drink, this is my blood given for the forgiveness of sins”, I speak the concluding words of Paul, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26) Foolishness and weakness of the cross? NO!! We boast in His crucifixion and suffering and sacrifice. By that cross Jesus saves us and made us whole.
To many in this world the cross of Jesus is foolishness and weakness. I pray that eventually they may see that it is the power and wisdom and love and redemption of God for them, for you and me, and for all. Amen!!