Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fools for Christ -- A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Homily for Lent 3, Year B, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Cor. 1:18-25

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
--1 Corinthians 1:18

The kingdom of God is a world turned on its head, or at least so it seems to those who have not experienced the power of the cross. It is a kingdom that is ushered in through the weakness and humility of a Servant King. It is a kingdom that comes when a child is born in low estate, in a lowly stable rather than a majestic palace. It is a kingdom that comes when its king arrives embarrassingly on a donkey rather than a glorious stallion. It comes when its king is condemned before his peers by the kings of the world, rather than acclaimed by them. It comes when he takes his throne upon a cross rather than in the halls of power. It comes when his tomb is empty rather than inhabited by a rotting corpse. What sort of kingdom is this kingdom and what manner of king is this, whose power is manifest again and again not in shows of force but acts of humility?

For see, the wisdom of this age and any age is this: that power is manifest by the sword, the rifle or the bomb; that power is manifest when wealth is flaunted; that power is manifest when the strength of one man instills fear in the heart of another; that the values of equality, peace, and brother and sisterhood are best imposed rather than lived out in acts of gentleness and humility. This is the wisdom of this age, and of any age. But it is not the message of the cross. And to this end, the message of the cross is pure and utter folly.

It is folly because if I work hard enough I can be more successful than my fellow humans. If I can make more money, I can live more securely, more fully, more happily. If we are strong enough and we have big enough guns, we can send enough armies into far away lands we can make successful, prosperous, western friendly democracies in which our values are celebrated. If we push our children hard enough they can be smarter, better, more wealthy than their parents. And if I hoard enough wealth, go on all the right diets, exercise religiously, dress like I’m still twenty-five years old and call myself a “zoomer” instead of a “boomer,” I shall never die.

This is the wisdom of this age. But it shall not save us.

When the stock markets plunge what happens to our happiness, security, and strength? When this body starts to fail and no amount of homeopathy, medicine, chemotherapy, or surgery can stop its decline, where is our power, our self-assurance, and strength? And when young men and women come home from distant lands in body bags because our pride and arrogance has led us to places that will not embrace the superiority of western culture, what good do all the guns and bombs do? Where is our strength? And yet, the wise people of our age tell us to “stay the course.” Is this wisdom, or madness and folly?

It seems that the wisdom of this age is a wisdom based in the belief that if we are strong enough, we can ignore reality, put away our angst, and live as if loss and death shall never overtake us. Is this wisdom, or are we merely fooling ourselves?

There are many ways in which we experience both loss and death, and indeed, what is death, itself, if not the supreme sense of loss. Do we not experience a sort of death when we suffer financial loss and dreams of financial freedom die? Do we not experience death when our politicians who ran on platforms of hope inevitably let us down and fast-peddled political hope seems to die? Do we not experience a sort of death when relationships breakdown and when friends and family betray us? And then there is the reality of death that we face when we stand at the bed-side of one who is dying or before the casket of that loved one, or ultimately, on the precipice of our own death? Where then is the wisdom and power of this age?

When we stand to lose all, all in which we have invested our trust, our faith, our hope, where then do we stand? With whom do we stand? Where then are the debaters of this age? Where then is the wisdom of this world? Suddenly, what once seemed foolish to us begins to make sense. When we stand face to face with death of any sort, we suddenly realize that it is not the grasping at power or wealth or self-help techniques that will deliver us but complete and utter abandonment to our brokenness, and in that very moment arms stretched wide on the cross close round us, embrace us, and show us a better way. At the foot of that cross, before the crucified God we face our own demise and realize that it is not demise at all, because in that great act of love the grave has become a bed of hope. Because death no longer has dominion over him, it no longer has dominion over us. I can face the pain of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow because my trust is not founded on the wisdom of this age, but on Christ crucified and raised from the dead.

Debaters and philosophers and experts of all sorts, from this age or any other, can do their best to try to convince me that the accumulation of wealth, guns, elixirs of youth, and political power of all sorts will bring us to a better humanity. I shall never believe it, for I follow the one who, through the power of the cross, reclaims and transforms a broken people. I believe in and follow a Lord who is the Lord of lost causes, of broken hearts, of broken bodies and broken spirits. If this is foolishness, then can me a fool, for Christ’s sake.

Copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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