This is one of those weeks where all of the scriptures are like low hanging fruit. It’s hard to know which to pick when preaching or when doing an e-mail/blog devotional. We have available Micah 6:1-8 (“…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”), Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12) and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (the cross being foolishness and a stumbling block). The appointed psalm, Psalm 15, while maybe not as familiar is strong too.
May we be blessed as we draw near these strong scriptures this week. May those blessings spill out into the world.
18 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. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 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? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 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. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
There are plenty of reasons that people give for not following Jesus, for not pursuing the teachings of Christianity, for not darkening the door of a church. How many have you heard? How many have you used? Some come from places of deep hurt and rejection. Some come from much more trivial and petty places. Some are about musical style or structures of worship. Some are about language or ambiance or scheduling. There are plenty of reasons.
And the reality is that these reasons, however they may strike us, are true and deep and significant for those who offer them. People have reasons for not drawing near to the cross.
We have had something to do with giving people reasons to reject this way of Jesus. Perhaps our best starting point would be to examine ourselves, our ways and our communities. Where we have put up obstructions and hindrances we should dismantle them. There is a wonderful section in Blue Like Jazz where the Christians erect a confession booth on the campus of Reed College. When curious people stop by, the Christians confess that they have not carried the faith well and seek forgiveness. Perhaps that is what we might do as well.
As we are able we are to do so we should make our churches and our testimonies and our invitations places of welcome and grace. If our forms and structures, words and methods drive a wedge between the seekers and God we would do well to repent and try again.
Bottom line, the purpose of institutional church and worship is to dismantle hindrances and obstructions not in order to have people be entertained and placated and pacified but in order to facilitate a profound encounter with the cross—the greatest obstacle we will ever encounter. If we seek to construct a user-friendly church it is only for the sake of escorting that person straight into the foot of the cross. The cross still seems like foolishness and a stumbling block. It is a grisly moment in history, a violent means of salvation, a death that we are called to embrace, a dark moment in which we are complicit. We need to profoundly encounter that place.
We don’t boast in our accomplishments or the size of our congregations or the sound of our choirs and church music. Eloquence in preaching, when it is found, is a gift from God. Our boasting, if it must be, is in our Lord. Our claim is in what Jesus did on the cross to claim us. Our hope is not found in us. Thanks be to God for that.
This week as we and any visitors that may come enter into worship may be all put aside distractions and hindrances and gather at the foot of the cross. It has been said that the ground around the foot of the cross is level. There is no hierarchy. Luther’s last recorded words were that we are all beggars, this is true.
God, gather us at the foot of the cross. Where we have driven others away through acts of commission or omission we pray for new chances and changed hearts. Help us be people of hope. Help us bear that hope well as we all draw closer to your cross and the good news that is found there. Amen.