1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Holy Cross Day)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 14, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle reading for Holy Cross Day, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:
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. 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, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Holy Cross Day. Many of you might have not even heard of it before. Although it comes around every September 14, it often passes us by unnoticed. Why observe Holy Cross Day? Well, for one, it’s nice to have red on the altar, breaking up the long green season after Pentecost. But that’s probably not the best reason. A little history might help us here.
The origins of Holy Cross Day date back to the early decades of the fourth century, when St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, undertook an archeological search for the cradle of Christianity within the city of Jerusalem. The holy city had been rebuilt under the Roman Empire following its destruction in A.D. 70, as Jesus had prophesied. The presumed sites of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial were uncovered, dug out from under the rubble of Jerusalem’s destruction and rebuilding. Tradition says that three crosses were discovered in this process, and one of them was presumed to be the cross on which Jesus Christ Himself had been crucified. This was in September of A.D. 320. Churches were erected on these holy sites and were dedicated fifteen years later, in mid-September 335, and the remnants of that “true cross” were housed within the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. In subsequent years those remnants of the cross were used ceremonially in annual commemorations of these events.
Although there will always be some question concerning the origins of Holy Cross Day, and I highly doubt that the cross of Jesus was actually discovered in the rubble, this festival invites an appropriate focus on the cross, not as an object of worship or adoration, but as the means by which our Lord Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, defeated death and the devil, and reconciled the world to God. So, with St. Paul, we know nothing but the cross, preach nothing but the cross, and boast in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His cross that we are crucified, dead and buried with Jesus in Holy Baptism and in daily repentance. It is from the cross that flows our forgiveness by which we rise with Christ to new life. And it is this same cross of Jesus that is a foolish scandal to the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power and the wisdom of God
I think that it is safe to say that, in our world and in our culture, no one really likes foolish and weak things. Nobody wants a cell phone or a tablet or a computer that is a technical weakling. We want fast and efficient—lots of memory, lots of power, lots of speed. The news, and especially the Internet and social media, are filled with people doing foolish things that cause many of us with a shred of common sense to shake our heads in disbelief. Of course, there is a bit of subjectivity with foolishness. What’s foolish to one person isn’t always rated on the same level of foolishness by another. But be that as it may, there are many things that we would all agree are simply foolish—sticking your head in an alligator’s mouth, posting pictures of yourself while you are driving, and a myriad of other things that would be inappropriate even to mention.
Yet, human wisdom is still where it is all at in our world. Look what the combined forces of human reason and intellect can accomplish—nothing weak or foolish here! We can make super computers that are so small we carry them around in our pockets. We can bring healing to sick and hurt bodies. We can predict, with some degree of accuracy, the path of storms and hurricanes. We construct safer vehicles and buildings. And it all makes sense. We have an understanding of how weather and our bodies and our cars and computers are supposed to work. It’s all scientifically logical.
But with all of humanity’s collective wisdom and knowledge and understanding, there is something that people have not been able to get rid of or put an end to. That is death. The best that the medical arts can do is prolong human life, but it cannot save it. The best built cars and buildings are only so safe, not 100% safe. The wisdom of the world cannot stop death from happening.
Yet, it was God who determined to stop death. It was God who chose to save humanity from death. But He did not go about it in a way that makes sense to human logic and reason. God, in His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, chose that His one-of-a-kind Son should become flesh and dwell among the very humanity that is subject to death. What god have you ever read or heard about that wants to become human? The author C.S. Lewis equated it with you and I becoming a crab or a slug. So the world cries out, “Foolishness! That’s just crazy! What kind of a god would do such a thing as that? It doesn’t make any sense.” Imagine God the Father posting this on His Facebook page status: “Sending God the Son to be born in human flesh in order to save the people of the world from death. He will be born of a Jewish virgin named Mary in the days of Caesar Augustus in the village of Bethlehem. When He is 33 year’s old, He will be betrayed by one of His own followers into the hands of His enemies. They will hold a trial against Him and find Him guilty of being the King of the Jews. He will be crucified on a Roman cross, hung there to suffer, to bleed, and to die. Jesus will be the one, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that will forever rescue people from sin and death.”
And we would probably read that message from God and our head’s would shake back and forth. “Utter foolishness! It’s totally irrational that God would die to end death for humanity! God can’t die! Who ever heard of such an absurd thing?” Precisely the point! God in sending His Son Jesus to suffer and to die on a cross did a shocking and amazing thing just as He promised He would do in the pages of Isaiah the prophet: “Therefore I will again do an amazing thing for these people–an absolutely extraordinary deed. Wise men will have nothing to say, the sages will have no explanations.” (Isaiah 29:14 NET)
At the cross, the wisdom and power of God was made known. God did the absolutely extraordinary deed of winning forgiveness of sins and defeating death through the very death of Jesus and His Easter Day resurrection from the dead. What human wisdom and intellect and reason could never, ever accomplish—the salvation of people from death—God did. And He did it, wonder of wonders, through a substitutionary death on a Roman cross by His only Son, Jesus our Savior. For Christ is the power and the wisdom of God who took our sins upon Himself and suffered the full wrath and anger of God and the punishment of death in our place. Thus, we are saved from our sins through Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness, there is also eternal life and salvation, and no death!
It was the weak thing and the foolish thing in the eyes of the world that God did at the cross. Nevertheless, the saving work of His Son Jesus accomplished what centuries of human wisdom and reason could not. That’s why the message of the cross on which Jesus suffered and died, shedding His blood for humanity, though foolish to some, is in reality the power of God for salvation. And through the gift of faith in this Gospel message we believe and trust that this “foolish thing” of God saves us from eternal death and destruction. It is the work of Christ in His death on the cross and in His resurrection that forgives and rescues and saves us. And while it isn’t humanly logical or perhaps even reasonable, faith clings to it as true wisdom, true life, the gift of God for the people of God.
And that is what the cross is all about. It is a visual reminder of all your sins that Christ suffered for while He hung there so you might have forgiveness. It is a ready reminder of your death that Jesus died so that you can be assured that you have eternal life.
Built on the water, Venice, Italy, has canals instead of streets and gondolas in place of cars. Each year tourists come to wonder at the beauty of that place and to visit ancient buildings that speak of stability and firmness in spite of being built over water and sand. The secret to their enduring quality? They were built long before the days of poured concrete pilings, which make it possible to erect skyscrapers and span rivers today. The early Venetians discovered a wood that grew harder and more enduring with time. They laid down great numbers of these to establish their city.
A wooden cross whose shaft was sunk on Calvary’s hill is the foundation upon which our victory over death is built. It was the wisdom and power of God that planted that cross so that Jesus could die on it as the Savior of all people from sin and death. Celebrating Holy Cross Day reminds us, then, that the cross has lost none of its enduring qualities with the passage of time. It is still the symbol of the only hope of salvation for humanity because on a cross of wood so many years ago, God died for you and me in the person of His only Son. Such a foolish thing to the world. But to us who are being saved it is the very power of God. Amen.