3rd Sunday in Lent
The church of Corinth is having some serious problems. The people are separating themselves from each other and using their social status and the religious convictions as the means to do that. Thank goodness the church doesn’t do that anymore.
The church of Corinth is refusing to sit down at meals together- even the Lord’s Supper. Following traditional social custom, the social elites and wealthy get their food first and they take as much of it as they want. Then, the not-so-elites and the poor get to take whatever is leftover. Unfortunately, many times nothing was left over, so the weak and the poor went hungry those nights.
The church of Corinth set up divisions between each other based on their religious beliefs and practices- on who is the “right” kind of Christian and who is not. Some are followers of Paul, others are followers of Apollos, and others are followers of Cephas (Peter). And some today are followers of Martin Luther, of John Wesley, of John Calvin, of Charles Parham… These folks refused to sit together at meals and would “quarrel” with each other incessantly.
The church of Corinth divided themselves and fought so much because they followed “human wisdom” or what we might call societal common sense. They believed that what is most important in life is to come out on top and to be #1. One has more value than others when one has more money, more social influence, a respectable family, etc. Not much has changed in the past 2000 years.
Paul, however, challenges this notion of wisdom and strength by inconveniently bringing up Jesus. He asks the Corinthians to consider whom they are following- not Paul, Apollos, or Cephas- but Jesus. In particular, he points to Jesus on the cross. By our common sense, human wisdom and strength, Jesus was very foolish and weak. Here is the Son of God, publicly executed along with murderers and thieves. But it is there that we find God’s glory, wisdom, and might. Christ dies with us and for us, so that we might have grace, hope, and salvation. The power of God is found not in those who are on top or #1, but in the weak, the condemned, and the suffering.
I have been going to a monthly prayer vigil with the United Mercer Interfaith Organization for the past several months. Each month we gather together to pray for those who have been murdered in Trenton and for their families. It is a good thing to do, but to be honest, I had been feeling a down and disappointed in the vigils. Most months, the vigil consists of 4 or 5 clergy people who mostly sit in silence for about an hour. But last week, something incredible happened. I walked into the little chapel in the church and found it packed. There were over 40 people there. It turns out that family members of a young man who had been killed earlier that month decided to come to this vigil they had heard about. The room was full of his cousins, aunties, uncles, his nieces and nephews, his grandmother, and his mother. They all came together to mourn with each other for the death of this 25-year-old young man.
That is where the cross is found. Where pain, suffering, darkness, and sadness are, Jesus is there too. God’s power and might are found in the weak and foolish places of our lives and our world. That night I head this young man’s family expressing their weakness and their hurt. They wondered why God allowed such a tragedy to happen and they wondered how they could go on when their grief is so heavily weighing them down. But at the same time, I heard people expressing their faith in the cross of Jesus. I heard prayers that God knows their suffering because Jesus experienced and experiences it too. I heard prayers of hope that God will someone bring about some good in the midst of such hurt. I heard confessions of God’s strength that comes through weakness.
That is the message that we are called to proclaim. In our weakness and foolishness, God’s strength and wisdom abound. It may be daunting to think of ourselves as responsible for sharing such an important and unbelievable proclamation. We too are weak people. We are scared, hurting, tired, poor, grieving, and lost people too. Could God really be calling the weak and foolish to proclaim a message of God’s weakness and foolishness to others who are also weak and foolish. It seems like too much weakness and foolishness for this plan to succeed.
Paul continues on to encourage the Corinthians. Jesus’ weakness and foolishness was really God’s strength and wisdom that brings about new life, hope, and salvation for us all. We can trust that God’s strength and wisdom will also come through our weakness and foolishness. He writes,
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…
-1 Corinthians 1:26-30
God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus. In Christ and the cross goodness and mercy are revealed. What appears to be weak and foolish is really wise and strong when God’s mercy is present with it. And God’s mercy is present with the weak and the foolish. We are the foolish and weak called to proclaim a messages of foolishness and weakness to others who are foolish and weak. God accompanies us in that foolishness and weakness and in the love that God gives, there is strength and wisdom. That is good news for all of us.