Sermon on 1st Corinthians 1:18 – 25 (by Martin Damašek)

Dear brothers and sisters,

who am I and who are you? And how should you and I live and what is the destination, the end, the telos of our life or struggle?

We live in very interesting times that would surprise almost all our ancestors except the Romans of the Nero´s time: In today’s world, we cancel those questions. These questions are considered too irrational, too confusing, too subjective, too anthropocentric or too whatever, you name it… On one hand, our time regards these questions obsolete and stupid and at the same time closes its eyes to death and any kind of suffering and constantly and nervously tries to dig out any kind of meaning and self-affirmation from the most stupid act or the most ridiculous speech. However, before this funny time of not-asking questions, people have searched for answers. How? With the faculty of reason and its norms. We see that already in Genesis. Man was supposed to keep the garden of Eden, was given the norm to differentiate the two trees and gave names to all the living creatures. But did this save Adam from falling into sin and condemnation? Not even one law was he able to uphold!

For the Greeks, man was an animal that has the ability of the word, the ability understanding and reasoning and can reason out a “good way” of living, “happiness” and a common and universal “good” for the polis. Does that not ring a bell to you? Are we not the direct inheritors of this Greek “wisdom”? Do our current debates not resemble the same optimism? And yet, have we arrived to the answers and solutions? Have we arrived to peace, love, justice and have we removed death and suffering?

The Romans added their lust for power that was supposed to preserve their peace under the Roman sword. They were obsessed with the fear of preserving the Roman world and yet, it fell due to the seemingly weaker, disorganized and uncivilized barbarians of whom you and I are the descendants.  Are we not the inheritors of the same civilization and its vain hope? Do we also not hope that political and economic power will secure our livelihood? And yet, these securities and hopes collapse and fade away with the first pandemic or riot.

Together with the “wise” Greek and the “powerful” Romans, we see Paul challenging the Jewish teachers of the law. Given the law, they have busied themselves with the quest to know God from the letter of the law and laying its demands blindly on the people´s shoulders. We inherited this legal attitude too: Slamming our neighbor with the sharpness and heaviness of the law, beating him mercilessly and feeling well and justified doing it. How many times a week do we do it to one of our neighbors too?! Yet, such blind use of the law only scars, bruises and kills our fellow human beings.

Wisdom, power and blind use of the law. Where is the wise man, the scribe, the powerful one and the debater? They are perishing… The wisdom of the Greek (and of you and I) is futile, the power of the Roman (and of I and you) is fading away and the law of the scribe (and of you and I pressing the law on a shoulder of a brother) is condemning to a damnation… All wisdom, power and law lead to nothing, just to a desperation…

And now, the scandal, the stumbling block! Christ crucified.  Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God to those who are being saved. Indeed, the law studying Jews were expecting a Messiah, but they, together with the apostles, did not expect the Savior to set them free by being shamefully fixed and executed as a criminal on a cross. Remember, to be a Messiah means to have a royal title, but to be crucified means to be a criminal with no human dignity and status and to be an object of God´s wrath. To the power searching Romans, the crucified King was a ridiculous notion – just take a look of a graffito in Rome with a crucified man with a head of an ass that reads: “Alexamenos worships (his) god.” Also to the “wise” Greeks, a crucified criminal being the Savior of the world was a non-sense, a scandal, a cause for offense and rejection! The second century philosopher Celsus said that the Christians are “…worshipping a dead man”, which is absurd. Clearly, Christ and His cross is the scandal, the stumbling block and the Paradox that is the “folly to those who are perishing” but “the power of God” to those “who are being saved.”

Early Church father Tertullian was well aware of this and boldly confessed:  I believe because it is absurd. And together with the prophet, we must be made aware of our own finite perspective. Isaiah 55:8, 9 reads:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

This is the Gospel: Christ´s cross is the instrument of God´s salvation. All human wisdom is transitory and prone to evil, all power is temporal and fades away and all law cannot be fulfilled and thus condemns. In His wisdom and love that are not of this world, God has chosen the way of salvation that surprises the world and turns its expectations and values on its head. God Himself comes in the lowliest way so no “wisdom, power or law” stand in a way of His love to all the lowliest men. And this gospel of God´s mercy is carried on to all the world by His struggling church by the means of the “silliness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

The Greeks tried to climb to God by their reason, the Romans tried to secure themselves by power and the Jews demanded signs of God´s might – yet, the Alpha and Omega, out of His pity and love to all men, came as a powerless and dependent baby and saved man by breaking His own body and shedding His blood on the cross. The Lord of lords instituted simple preached word, water, bread and wine to be the means in which the Almighty opens the way of salvation, washes away our sins and shares Himself with the ones who do not offend of Him, trust Him and are thus “being saved.” For this world and the ones “who are perishing” the cross is a scandalous and shameful tool of a torture and powerless death, but for the bride of the Savior who is giving Himself for her, the cross is the way of salvation. And for those, who “are being saved” and for whom “Christ crucified…is the power of God and the wisdom of God”, their Lord still continues to live as the crucified one. The Savior of the world still bears the wounds of the cross (John 20:24 – 29) and the risen Lord of all lords who was given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) is the triumphant and instead of us all sins of the world bearing “Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:6, 12, 13:8). Out of pure love and mercy, He still is pouring His blood of the gospel of forgiveness and salvation, day by day, until finally all who trust in the crucified God on the cross will be welcomed in His eternal kingdom.