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The Foolishness of the Cross- A Sermon

A Sermon preached at St John's, Wortley and Farnley, March 2024

'For 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…For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ - Paul the Apostle

At the core of the Christian Faith, at the heart of our Gospel proclamation, lies the profound beauty and mystery of Christ Crucified.

The Apostle Paul, once known as Saul, encountered the crucified yet risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Before this transformative encounter, Saul, a devout Jew, relentlessly pursued and arrested Christians. He regarded them with disdain, considering them contemptible for heralding a crucified King.

In his perspective, Jesus' crucifixion appeared contradictory to kingship. Saul couldn't grasp why a true King wouldn't overthrow Rome with force and establish his reign in Jerusalem. To him, Jesus seemed a failed messiah, and his followers, dangerous fools.

Similarly, the non-Jewish Roman world and its philosophers ridiculed early Jesus followers, contrasting the power of their gods with the perceived weakness of the Christian God, who allowed himself to be killed by Rome.

They may have jeered,

‘Look at Zeus, that's what a God should look like, full of power and hurling thunderbolts from the skies at his enemies.

Look at Caesar, the world's true King, establishing an empire through defeat of his enemies and a wise system, built on domination and subjugation, which secured the lifestyles of the ruling elites ’

However, Saul's encounter with Jesus changed everything. His worldview shifted entirely, and he became the fervent preacher of Christ crucified known as the Apostle Paul.

The symbol of the cross, once associated with shame, domination, and the violence of empire, became his source of pride.

As Paul journeyed across the known world, he boldly proclaimed the message of the cross, witnessing its transformative power that softened hearts and drew people to pledge allegiance to Jesus and join the church.

Here, in Christ crucified, as Paul writes to the church at Corinth, we find a power to save. In the “weakness of God” lies both power and wisdom.

For those first hearers and for Paul, the revelation of God's love and very self was a challenge to their perceptions of God. For those who follow Christ Crucified, any image or construct of God that doesn't align with that of Jesus are idols.

In my Christian journey, and while accompanying others in their walk with Jesus, I've encountered two images of God lurking within the caverns of our souls. Let's explore these together.

The Absent Landlord

One notion of God found in the wider world is that God is an absent landlord. He sets the world up but then removes himself to heaven. He is distant. The God of post-enlightenment deism, a timeless energy, immutable, unchanging, impassible, and unable to suffer. He is aloof and distant, perhaps watching on- but not intervening

In the face of the ruins of Gaza, climate breakdown, and the suffering in our own lives, we too may question God, saying, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Or as other Psalms of lament put it, ‘Have you forgotten us? Are you hiding? Are you blind to the injustice of the world? Do you care?’

The holy mystery of the cross of Christ, the crucifixion of the God-Man Jesus, displays a wisdom and power, whereby God enters into the mess of human existence and himself becomes a victim of oppression and injustice.

This is a God who suffers with us, weeps with us, bleeds, and enters the domain of death.

To the philosophers and those who wield power, the cross may well be an embarrassment, but to the poor and oppressed, the cross is God saying, 'I am with you; I have experienced what you have experienced' — an intimate solidarity with those whose suffering degrades and dehumanizes.

Francis' life has been filled with sorrow. Abused and mistreated from an early age, let down by those who should have shown him love. He entered adulthood wounded, with a body and mind that bear the scars of shame, abandonment, and exile. Every night, Francis prays by his bedside, clasping a cross that portrays Jesus as a shepherd, a cross he was given on the day of his baptism. When the nightmares come, he clings to the cross until his eyes close in sleep. As a pastor, I can never fully know the extent of his suffering, but Jesus does not abandon Francis. Just as the shepherd cross illustrates, He is the Good Shepherd who walks with Francis through the darkest valley, for He too has experienced the depths of suffering.

Puppet Master of Pain - Whack a Mole God

Another image of God, which lurks in both the world and the church, reinforced by some readings of scripture, is that God is all power and and all controlling. This might is understood as exerting power through meticulous control of all that is. God is a puppet master of pain, and brings violence to the world.

We like Jesus, but God his father seems violent.

I call him father, but I don’t want to be intimate and close to him.

Related to this is the ‘whack a mole God’ which envisions God sat in heaven, like Zeus, and with great power, waiting for human beings to do wrong so he can punish them, or hurl thunderbolts from the sky.

The cross of Jesus shatters these notions of God as the puppet master of pain or a whack a mole God. Jesus, as the full revelation of God, reveals the Father's heart and the Father's power. This power is not that of control or violence but rather self-giving sacrificial love.

In the self-giving suffering of the Savior, he who is the image of the invisible God, we see once and for all that the rule and reign of the king and the kingdom are not achieved through the sword and vengeance, but rather through forgiveness, non-violence, and self giving sacrificial love.

In his death, Jesus does not slay his enemies but rather, says ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’.

They sin against him, yet he does not smite them or call a legion of angels to his defense; rather, in his death a power is unleashed which can forgive sins and transform the sinner.

"Jesus's entire life was a demonstration of the true nature of God. As Jesus heals the sick, forgives the sinner, receives the outcast, restores the fallen, and supremely as He dies on a cross forgiving His killers, He reveals what God is like. To see Jesus is to see the Father. At last, we know that God is not like the thunderbolt-hurling Zeus or any of the other angry gods in the pantheon of terrorized religious imagination. God is like Jesus, nailed to a tree, offering forgiveness. God is not a monster. God is like Jesus!" — Brian Zahnd

Kev was a fighter. Since leaving the armed forces, he had repeatedly witnessed the triumph of violence. However, six months ago at the Three Legs pub, someone bigger and tougher gave him a beating. With ample time on a hospital ward for reflection, Kev started contemplating God. He held God responsible for his divorce, the loss of his child, and the traumatic experiences he had in Iraq and Afghanistan. One Sunday, after requesting to meet with the chaplain, he sat down to read the Gospels. The hospital chaplain had been clear when she said, 'God is as beautiful and kind as even Jesus.'

As he delved into the Gospels, he found healing, compassion, the concept of the kingdom, and the cross, each aspect revealing what God is truly like. The cross, he realized, represented a victory, but not through the display of physical strength or the use of a sword. Instead, it was a victory achieved by arms outstreched on the cross. Kev had a thought: 'The cross is where we witness power displayed as love and love displayed as power—a power that heals and saves the world through humility, sacrifice, and self giving sacrificial love

Kev may well discover that as he contemplates the beauty of the cross as a true revelation of God's nature, he becomes less violent less domineering, less controlling and more loving.

The resurrection of Jesus serves as a vindication of a non-violence, a celebration of self-giving sacrificial love.

In the sacred mystery of our Easter Faith, we are invited afresh to encounter Jesus, the God-Man crucified as a display of the power and wisdom of God. In it we find a a revelation of who God is.

Three days later, he was raised to life.

He is not a puppet master of pain or an absent landlord, but the world's true Lord and King who in his death has dealt the death blow to death itself.

In his resurrection, he declares ‘I am making all things new.’

In closing let me tell you about the earliest visual depiction of the crucified Jesus found in artwork. It is found scratched on a wall, in Rome and dates to about 200AD. This graffiti, shows a young man worshipping a crucified, donkey-headed figure. It mocks the Christian faith. Under the picture we read the words "Alexamenos worships his God’.

Inside a nearby house archeologists have discovered others words scratched on a wall. They read ‘Alexamenos is faithful’. Despite the mockery, despite the public humiliation of the graffiti- it seems as if Alexamenos continued to pledge his allegiance to the crucified God.

May we like Paul proclaim in our words and deeds ‘the crucified Christ’ and may we like Alexamenos be faithful.

IN the name of the F,S & HS,

A holy trinity of love.




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