Saturday, February 1, 2020

We Preach Christ Crucified

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Not too long after I began my ministry, the father of one of my members passed away.  He was a fairly well-known man in the community and along with a many members of my congregation I attended his funeral in another Christian church in town.
As I listened to the service and the prayers and the hymns—and especially as I listened to the sermon—it occurred to me that I had not heard about Jesus.  I had not even heard his name mentioned—to say nothing of his death and resurrection. 
The “sermon” was well-delivered—there were witty illustrations.  There was lots of generic “god-talk”—lots of “Father God” in the prayers—but not a word about how it is that we can call God our Father in the first place by trusting in Jesus.  That funeral was one of the saddest things I had ever witnessed in a Christian church.
As we exited the building, one of my members came up to me and said, “Pastor, wasn’t that a wonderful message?”  And I took a deep breath and counted to ten and said, “Well no, it wasn’t” and I asked her if she had heard anything about Jesus—anything about forgiveness through his shed blood on the cross—anything about our hope in his resurrection. 
Well, she was kind of taken aback—and she thought for a minute—and had to admit that she hadn’t heard about Jesus either.  I said, “Let’s talk about it on Sunday”.
Because so many of my members had been at that service, we did talk about it in our Bible class—a great teaching moment about what we ought to be hearing preached in the church—that if a sermon could just as easily be preached in a synagogue or mosque—we haven’t actually heard a Christian sermon no matter where it is preached. 
I don’t know how many folks I convinced—but I convinced her.  From then on, whenever we were at another Christian church for a wedding or a funeral—whenever we heard a prayer at some public function-she always sought me out afterward and said, “Pastor, I heard it!”  Or “Pastor I didn’t hear it!” 
That whole experience made a profound impact on me and I’ll never forget that lesson:  that what we almost take for granted as members of the Lutheran Church (that Christ and his saving works will be preached whenever we assemble for worship) that very thing that is missing in so many parts of the world and even within the church.
That is one reason why we support Lutheran Hour Ministries—so that as many people as possible can hear the word of the cross and be saved.  The Bible says that:
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.
That the living God of the universe has taken on human flesh in the person of a peasant baby, was crucified on a cross, and raised from the dead—thus accomplishing the redemption of the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil—this word of the cross is folly—foolishness—to everyone—by nature.
And yet here we are --sitting here in Church today-- believing this very thing.  Our lives are built on this foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  His cross and resurrection is our hope for time and eternity.  And so we want everyone in the world to know “the word of the cross”. 
How did this come to be—that we believe the folly of the cross?  It is because the foolishness of the cross is the POWER of God.  And there is the greatest possible comfort in that promise:  that there is life-changing power in the Gospel.
It is so easy to become discouraged in our witness to Jesus.  We miss opportunities.  We say the wrong thing.  We don’t know what to say.  All of this besides the fact that we live in a world that not only does not want to hear us—but is more and more outright antagonistic to the Gospel. 
But the message of the cross IS the power of God that converted Paul—that converted the Roman Empire—that converted the German tribes—that converted you and me—from enemies of God who knew nothing of his goodness and mercy-- to children of God whose hope and peace and life are based upon the word of the cross.
That is why it is so important that the powerful, life-changing message of the cross goes out to as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible because we know that message is the only message that saves sinners and that even the gates of hell cannot stand against it.  The Bible says that:
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? 
            Mankind’s unregenerate intellect and reason cannot be reformed—it has to be destroyed-- and that is exactly what God promised to do --and did. 
But it was not an act of divine violence that destroyed its hold on us—it was an act of love in the birth of a child who was the wisdom of God personified.  This virgin-born life is how God broke into human history to destroy the hold that so-called wisdom and intellect has on us whose minds are-by nature-are hostile to God.
The greatest intellects of human history—the most powerful men who have ever lived—the greatest leaders the world has ever seen—stand in the shadow of God’s wisdom found in a baby lying in a manger—a man nailed to a cross. 
Jesus what mankind, in our wisdom and intellect and strength, could not—our salvation—and he continues to accomplish salvation in those who hear the Gospel preached—be it through a Lutheran Hours Ministries radio broadcast or Internet program or a Sunday morning service.  The Bible says:
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. 
The Bible says that “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ”.  The Augsburg Confession days that faith is obtained though the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments…
No one comes to faith in any other way than by hearing the Good News of Jesus, crucified and raised for the sons of the world.  Faith comes by hearing the Gospel!
In these latter days Almighty God has allowed technology to have a place in this critical work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus so that preaching is not confined to one man in one place like we are experiencing with now, but through technology the Gospel can be heard throughout the world--for the sake of the world’s salvation. 
St. Paul says that this way that God has of saving the world—through the preaching of the cross—PLEASES him.  It has PLEASED God, through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe. 
Never forget that!  God himself has placed his seal of approval on the preaching of the Gospel and so when we support preaching here in this place and throughout the world in ministries like the Lutheran Hour, God himself is pleased. 
We need to be reminded of that divine blessing and promise that rests upon the preaching of the cross again and again because the opposition of the world to the Gospel- is still a painful reality.  The Bible says that:
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.
It is remarkable how little things have changed over the last two thousand years when it comes to the enemies of the cross.  No longer is it Jews and Greeks—but the challenges are the same from those who oppose the work of the church in preaching the Gospel.   
There is incredible pressure on the church to accommodate herself and her message to the prevailing culture as a sign that we really do love all people.  There are those who insist that the church would serve the world better by being nothing more than another human care agency. 
These challenges to the preaching of the cross are constant- and opposition to the word of the cross will only grow more virulent.  But Christ is the power and wisdom of God and for the sake of the world’s salvation he must be preached.
That is why it is such an incredible comfort to hear the promise of God that concludes our text today.  The Bible says that:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The “foolishness of God” that is wiser than men and the “weakness of God” that is stronger than men is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross for the sins of the world—risen from the grave to give life to all—the living source of our own spiritual life and the sustaining strength of our mission as the Church. 
He is with us—and his saving purpose will prevail through us and our support of the preaching of the cross.  In his strength and wisdom, let us resolve here today that we will always be counted among those whose prayers and gifts support those who preach Christ crucified!