Thursday, March 29, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For 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. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

Welcome to this, to the end.  Probably not what you thought you were coming to do this morning, to welcome some sort of ending to a story we scarcely realized was even underway.  So, you are right to ask, what ending, what rolling of the credits, could your pastor possibly be discussing?  In the life of the church, after all, we are right in the middle of Lent, and its conclusion in the blessed three days still feels a long way off.  Also, as the unreliability of March reminds us, with its 60 degree days and then fits of heavy snow, winter has not yet given way to spring’s glorious bloom.  No, it feels more accurate to say that we feel stuck in the middle, inert and motionless as life continues to pile up and block out any wider perspective that might help us get a hold on the present.  As we carry on, doing whatever it takes to just put one foot in front of the other, it does not feel like any end is in sight, any end to the work that zaps time and energy, or an end the cynicism and fear that we have long since put into practice to guard against disappointment.  So what end, then could possibly be here described?
The ending that we have reached, led so faithfully by the Apostle Paul, is the ending of all our religious efforts to find and manage God, which also means all our efforts to find out “who we are” on our own terms.  Yes, we have been brought to the conclusion, the final act, of our belief that we possess some knowledge, some capacity, some spark of divine intuition that will make us complete people if only we find and nurture it.  And there is a parallel end running right alongside this, the end of believing that these efforts will throw wide heaven’s door and garner us the faithful, loving God for whom we so desperately yearn.  And I know this sounds like bad news.  For we, like all who have lived before and all who will come after, don’t want this to be the case.  We want, as it were, to have all that we need right here inside our own beating hearts and expanding lungs.  And the reason we want this is primordial and mysterious.  It is what we call sin, but it works itself out in any number of totally complicated and often diametrically opposed ways.  It comes to us in the fear that we have not done enough to earn God’s love and thus must doubt the gift of forgiveness we have received in Christ.  It comes us in the pride that says we do not need God’s forgiveness and can manage our own affairs, thank you very much. It comes in those moments when we shrug off any weighty question, questions about what it is to live, to die, to love, yes, when we toss all this aside for the flimsy security of the present.   Yes, in comes in the anxiety and the pain that threatens us with the notion that our lives are of no meaning, no real value.  No matter the manner in which sin comes to us, though, it comes with one expressed goal: to keep us alone, alone to do battle with our struggles, with our doubts, with our fears.  It wishes to keep us alone in our quest for God, for meaning, forcing us to rely only on ourselves in whatever struggles we might face. 
But this is the ending to which you have been brought: the end of your aloneness, the end of having to depend only on yourselves for all that you need.  It the end of that wisdom that says we can enter into the glory of the Father on our own terms, by our own means and with our own strength.  For hear again the words of the Apostle: “for since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” In these words you are given the strength and the power to take up this end in earnest, to leave behind the frustration and the pain, the thwarted efforts of finding God apart from the cross of Christ.  For what Paul is doing here is putting all these things to an end.  The message is clear: the ways that we try and find God, find ourselves, apart from the cross and its foolishness, these efforts will never amount to anything. No matter how wise we believe ourselves to be, how correct in our world-views, how entirely right in our politics, or in our intellects, our ethnic identities  denominational affiliations, or  economic standings, none of these will render God’s mercy to us. It matter not at all that we and the world consider these things wise.  For, as St. Paul writes, it is this very urge for wisdom and domination that put the Son of God to death.  And so we have come to this end.  For there is no longer any ultimate value to be found in these things. 
But not just the end, but also a new beginning, the beginning of what St. Paul, with no little amount of joy, calls the foolishness of the cross. But it is God’s foolishness, and that is where the real fun begins.  For what humans cannot  begin to glimpse even in our wisdom or in our intelligence, God has already accomplished, already worked on our behalf.   The cross upon which human sin is judged and condemned, yes, that same cross is now the place where is God is irrevocably and forever present.  And present not as some confusing and powerful force that must be manipulated into forgiveness, that must be ceaselessly captured, but present offering nothing but forgiveness, nothing but mercy, nothing but eternal peace between the Father and us wayward sinners.  And make no mistake, dear people, this will strike some as foolish.  The peace and mercy that Christ gives you will not be easily explained to a world that stubbornly believes its own wisdom is enough to capture the heart of God.  For it will be regarded as foolish that God would chose to work salvation among humans in this way, foolish that God would rather suffer  our sins that live without us.  And no doubt, to us humans who believe so strongly in just punishments and just rewards, to us humans who think ourselves the measure of all things, who wish to see our enemies fail and not be forgiven,  this is foolishness. But when the Holy Spirit brings us past our own moral seriousness, our own need to control, we glimpse something that is infinitely precious and utterly heart-breakingly.  For the foolishness of God is really a way of talking about God’s utter and absolute love for you.  Yes, at the cross, God has refused to let our stubbornness and sin have the final word and instead has conquered these things so as to never be without you.  Yes, this is the foolishness: that God, the one who dwells in infinite splendor, in goodness without end, this God cares for you with such determination.   It is foolish that this world’s destiny will not be determined by human strength and conflict, but rather by the love that called the creation into being. Yes, according to the wisdom of the world, it is foolishness to regard our neighbors as those to whom we are joined in bonds of communal love and not competitors for the same piece of the pie. But this is the foolishness that has claimed you in the waters of baptism.  So live in this foolishness, revel in it, drink deeply of it.  For this foolishness will continue to transform you, continue to give you life and propel you more deeply into its mystery and towards your neighbor in love.  For we are not just at the end, but also at the beginning.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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