Sermon for September 12, 2010

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Holy Cross Day – Observed)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 12, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Corinthians 1:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The year was A.D. 326.  The Roman Emperor was Constantine I, the first Emperor of Rome to convert to Christianity.  His mother, Helena of Constantinople, was said to have discovered the true cross of Jesus during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem.  The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine.  The church was dedicated nine years later, on September 14, A.D. 335, with a portion of the thought-to-be cross placed inside it. On that day the cross itself was brought outside the church on so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate and to worship it.  Since that time, Holy Cross Day has been observed by the Christian Church as a time for recognizing the Cross in a festival atmosphere as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death, and a reminder of His promise we heard in the Gospel lesson, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Since we will not be together on September 14, we are observing Holy Cross Day in our Divine Service this morning.  But we want to observe this festival day rightly.  Holy Cross Day, unlike those who celebrated in A.D. 335, is not a day to worship the cross.  We do not bow down before the cross.  We do not pay homage to it.  Our prayers are no more significant if we pray before a cross or if we pray on our needs at our bedside with no cross in sight.  The cross is simply a sign pointing to Jesus Christ and Him Crucified for the sins of the whole world.  We gather with a festival-like atmosphere around the cross in our church not because of the cross itself, but because Jesus, the only Son of God, died on the cross and rose again on the third day saving us from Satan, sin, and death.

A wooden cross was an instrument of torture and death.  It was a form of capital punishment reserved for the worst in society and those whom the Romans wished to make a public spectacle of, like generals or kings conquered in battle.  It is no wonder then that Paul wrote in our text that the “word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  To speak about the Son of God, the Savior, dying on a cross was to speak a message of utter nonsense.  What God would have His Son killed to save people?  What God would have His Son killed on a cross?  That’s complete humiliation, disgrace, and dishonor.  No one in Paul’s day would have thought of someone dying on the cross as something to celebrate.  The cross was not a symbol of victory and life, but a sign of terror and death.  So long has the cross been a centerpiece in churches that Christians forget the shame and offensiveness it represented in the ancient world.

Christ crucified—a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  The world for “stumbling block” here is our English word, “scandal.”  The cross was a cause for offense; Jesus’ death on the cross as a criminal was scandalous.  How could that event have ever saved anyone from eternal destruction?  Who can put their faith and trust for salvation in One who was lifted up and tree and crucified.  For the Bible says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13b)  To the Greeks, the message of a crucified savior was literally “moronic.”  It is so foolish that a deity would act so for human beings who cause so much trouble—to send the Christ to die on a cross!  You expect us to believe such silly things.  Give us plain signs; give us things that we can figure out with our wisdom through debate.

But human wisdom cannot lead to God, the only true God who reveals Himself in the message of the cross.  Human salvation was accomplished by the power of God effective in the word of the cross.  Jesus, the only Son of God, true God and true Man, suffered and died on the tree of the cross, bearing the sins of the whole world.  Unthinkable?  Yes.  Unimaginable?  Certainly.  Beyond human understanding?  Of course.  The cross was God’s instrument of wisdom, His means, of bringing about our forgiveness and eternal life.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus said.  Jesus was the grain of wheat that died so that He might bear much fruit—forgiveness and life for the whole world, you, me, and everyone else.  Jesus was the Savior, lifted up and crucified on a cross, so that by God’s grace through faith all people might be drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit and receive the fruits of His cross, forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God forever.  Christ, through His saving and atoning work of the cross, is truly the power of God and the wisdom of God.  The word of the cross, as ridiculous and silly as it is to some, as moronic and stupid as it is to others, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the dynamite-power of God that gives us faith in Jesus as our Savior, forgives our sins, and gives us life forever.

But no matter how well we dress up the word of the cross, the world will always find it distasteful.  The world marches to the beat of a different drummer.  The message of Christ crucified and raised for us is only foolish to those who don’t know the message and those who refuse to believe it.  The world will always think that we Christians are wasting our time.  But that doesn’t stop us.  We know better.  We know by faith in Christ that the word of the cross is the dynamite-power of God for everyone!  It’s the power of God that saves us.  And like St. Paul, we want to boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and share the word of the cross with as many other people as we can.

Probably you’ve at least seen these small silver crosses that some of our members hand out at places like the Food Shelf.  These little crosses have no magic powers.  They are not for worship, nor to make prayers “work better.”  They are a sign pointing to Jesus, tool that we can use to speak to others the word of the cross, the message of Christ-crucified and risen.  And for that, we hear the conclusion of the message today, in which you play a vitally important role.

[Members of the Board of Elders and others then distribute crosses to the congregation while the Head Elder encourages the congregation to share the cross given and especially the spoken message of Jesus Christ with someone else.]