Lectionary texts: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and John 2:13-22.
Let us pray:
Please bless your word, O God, and fill our hearing with understanding and grace. Show us your ways. Give us the courage to follow them, as a church and as individuals. In Your name we pray, Amen.
It’s been the kind of week–few weeks, really–where I’ve found myself online a lot, searching desperately for something to watch, something to do, something to distract myself with. There’s just so, so much going on–wars in Syria and Yemen, floods and fires and earthquakes that seem be crashing their way across the globe, politics full of angry shouting and not much else. And closer to home there’s my still-not-entirely-unpacked apartment–I know I’ve joked with a lot of you about it, but it stresses me out. I feel like I should be unpacked by now, that I should be a better adult and have everything together. There’s preparations for Easter and Good Friday and Maundy Thursday and Palm Sunday. I want all that to go impossibly well. I want to do everything, and do it well; I want to make everything better. And when I find it all too overwhelming, my response is to pull away and do nothing–which is why I’ve found myself online a lot, looking for pretty much anything to distract me, and why I’ve found myself watching a mountain of America’s Next Top Model. Seriously, so much.
For those of you who don’t know, it’s a reality TV show about a group of women who compete for a modeling contract. They have competitions and photo shoots, and it is very much reality TV, which shows so clearly how easy it is to focus on competition above all else, and how much we as a society have all these dreams of wealth and fame and power. I think nothing encapsulates that more than the “drama” one episode of a contestant’s relationship with her boyfriend, and another woman’s comment that “Love is good or whatever, but it makes you weak.” She was too strong and focused to be distracted by love, she elaborated in great detail.
And then, when I was preparing for this sermon, I was so struck by Paul’s words: “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.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
That struck me so viscerally when I was reading this passage for the first time. God’s message of love, of endless grace… so many of us have grown up hearing of God’s grace, hearing that God loves us and wants to offer us salvation, that it’s just something we accept. It’s easy to forget that this is actually completely crazy–it doesn’t make any sense! Especially if we step out of the church, out of how we think about God, and into a world where the best way to win an argument is to appeal to power or fear. In Paul’s day it was wisdom and signs. Greeks wanted to see that this new way of thinking about God was wise, and was wise in a way that Greeks could understand. They wanted an intellectually-fit-together faith that was argued for by well-educated men who could use all the rhetorical devices they had learned in their academies, who could say all the right words in the right ways. And Jews wanted proof, wanted signs–we see this over and over in Jesus’ ministry, where scribes and Pharisees and the crowds ask Jesus again and again for signs, to prove that He does have God’s favor. And I think today what people want in an argument is power: they want to see that it’s effective enough to win out over all its competition, they want something that crushes its opponents, they want something that promises wealth and fame and ease, and something that, if all else fails, will scare others into submission.
And instead God died on a cross.
There is nothing wise, nothing miraculous, nothing powerful about a death on a cross, a torturous, humiliating death that proved only Roman imperial power. There is nothing sanitized or easy or polite about it, however much we’ve smoothed out the rough edges over the years. In its full reality, it’s a horrifying, terrifying death.
And that’s what we’re here for today, why we’ve gathered together this morning. That horrific death is in many ways the center of our faith. There are many truths about God and ourselves contained in that fact–there are whole shelves at the seminary library, full of books that wrestle with that very meaning–but I’d like to focus on only one of those truths today.
And that truth is that God is the one who died on the cross. Jesus is the one who took the sins of the world on His shoulders. God is the one who saved us.
We don’t have to save ourselves, because God already has. We don’t have to save others, because God already has. We don’t have to heal the world, because God already has.
God absolutely invites us to take part in what God is doing, to love and offer our gifts. But God has already taken care of it. The weight of the world isn’t on our shoulders. We don’t need to be overwhelmed by everything around us, because God is already there, already working. We don’t need to work until we drop, because God is already working.
God has already saved us, already stepped beside us and to us. We need only follow.