Sermon for Sunday, 30th January 2011 (Epiphany 4/4th Sunday in Ordinary Time)Jan 24th, 2011 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Sermons
“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” 1 Corinthians 1:23
Christianity is not a reasonable belief, nor was it ever meant to be reasonable.
Paul sets things down very clearly, writing to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, he says, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Paul is saying that telling the story of Jesus is asking people to accept the unreasonable; it is asking them to set aside their own ways of thinking and to accept the way of foolishness, ‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength’. What an extraordinary way of going about proclaiming the good news. Instead of going out and trying to persuade people by telling them how clever Jesus was, or about all the things he taught, or about all the miracles he did; Paul says that the faith is in Jesus crucified. Paul says that God’s choice is the lowly and the despised.
Paul is very unreasonable, and he seems even more unreasonable today than he would at the time he wrote the letter. “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar?”, he asks. “Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” This is hard stuff for people today to accept.
We live in an age when people are more affluent than at any time in the whole of history. We live in the age of the individual. We live in the age when what feels good to a person is what is right. We live in an age when people have a right to have what they want. We live in this selfish age and Paul says that what Christians are to preach is ‘Christ crucified’. This is hard stuff because it contradicts everything that people today live by. Isn’t it unreasonable to expect that people are going to change completely and follow this Jesus? But wasn’t it always unreasonable?
It has always been silly by this world’s standards to follow Jesus, “a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
The Jews for Paul are the traditional religious people, the people who think that they can get to God by keeping all the rules, by being upright and respectable; they think that, being religious, they can keep God to themselves. They look for miraculous signs, if they have the signs, then they can keep God to themselves, as they did in times past. What Paul preaches is a stumbling-block to them.
‘We preach Christ crucified’, a stumbling block to the Jews in Paul’s time and a stumbling-block to us now if we think that by being ‘religious’ we can find a place with God. Paul is quite clear, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong”.
What Paul says is unreasonable to us as religious people because it is saying that we have to set aside our pride and respectability and sense of righteousness and trust in this crucified Jesus. Preaching a crucified Christ makes us seem strange and makes us vulnerable in our world with its obsession with power and image.
If what Paul preaches is a stumbling-block to religious people, it is foolishness to the secular society we live in. Secular people look for wealth and success and authority; secular people look for figures who command respect; secular people look for leaders who are photogenic, who do good sound-bites for the television cameras, who are good at spinning a story to suit their own purposes. Look at the people who get elected and you will see the values of secular society.
What do we have to offer them? A crucified Christ. Isn’t this unreasonable? In a world that sets its whole heart on power and riches, all we have to offer is a suffering man.
Christianity is not a reasonable belief. If it was reasonable it could be worked out, it could be controlled by human beings. If it was reasonable the Church would be able to get hold of it and say you can’t be a Christian unless you do all the things we tell you to. If it was reasonable, the secular wise people of our times could work it out and say you can’t be happy unless you do all the things we tell you to. If it was reasonable, it could shaped by human beings and used for their own power.
We preach Christ crucified and Christ crucified cancels out all human ambition and power and success and wealth. In Christ crucified God uses the things that are not to cancel out the things that are.
This is hard stuff. This goes against everything the world tells us. This turns upside down every piece of worldly wisdom, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.
We preach Christ crucified. Unreasonable, strange, odd, alien to all we are taught—but in this dying man we meet God himself.