It all depends on how you look at it!
Preacher: The Revd Rob Ryan, Cathedral Curate (2010-2012)
15 March 2009, 10:30 (Lent 3)
1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
Is it morning? I lose track! It’s not always easy to tell.
Sorry! ..... Sorry, I should introduce myself.
Paul’s the name and letter writings the game! Or at least ... that’s how it feels at the moment!
Actually .... I shouldn’t talk so loudly as I’m kind of in semi - hiding as things here in Ephesus are going very well, or very bad .... it all depends how you look at it! You see things have been going amazingly well here as far as the gospel is concerned, people have been flocking to JC - errr that’s Jesus Christ (not meaning to sound flippant but I feel we’re kinda close!) The church is growing rapidly - GREAT FANTASTIC .... well yes, but not if you are a silversmith!
You see, before I got here most of these Ephesians worshipped some goddess called Diana. And they all used to buy these silver shrines of Diana for their houses, their workplaces, their carriages, their kitchens, bathrooms, for their children, little ones for their pockets, some to tie in their hair! That last one was an exaggeration but you get what I mean. Well ... all these people becoming Christians means no one wants little silver Diana’s anymore, and the silversmiths ain’t too pleased!
In fact, that’s why I’m lying low and catching up on this letter writing malarky rather than wandering the streets as I’d normally do. Rumour is that some of them want to silver plate parts of my anatomy, if you get my drift! I may have to leave the city... so if i get up and run please don’t think I’m being rude - I’m just not ready to die in a vat of silver just yet!
So back to this letter! You see, sister Chloe has sent messages about some terrible stuff going down in Corinth. Well in the church in Corinth to be more accurate - ‘cos there’s always things going down in Corinth!!! Cosmopolitan party house where anything can go and usually does if you understand my thinking!
Well ... I can’t believe what I’ve been hearing! It was not that long ago that I was there and this church was exciting! It was clear that God was having a major impact on peoples lives and that JC was alive and kicking in the place!
Well now it seems they have lost the plot! Really lost the plot! They have forgotten what it’s all about. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, it’s shocking! I know you’ll find this difficult to believe too but it seems that people in the church have actually stopped talking to each other! can you believe that?! Seriously ... seriously ... people have split into little cliques because they can’t agree and now they won’t even talk to each other. It’s madness - we need to sort this, imagine what church would be like if this kind of thing became a habit - we’d have loads of little factions all over the place - certain groups not talking to others - how would that work?? That’s not what church is about!
Anyway, In Corinth it seems they have forgotten about JC! People are saying they follow me (they seriously need to get out more!), others say they follow Apollos, and others follow Peter. Peter .... now there is a great guy! We love the stories he tells about JC! Hey, do you want to know how you can really wind Peter up, just for a laugh of course! No ... I shouldn’t tell you really. But there again ... would you like to know? Would you?
Peter hates this, but it is funny! This is best done in the dark, and even better just before sunrise .... creep up behind him, really quietly, and shout as loud as you can ‘Cock a doodle dooo’! I tell you we do laugh when we do that. But you are right, it’s a bit out of order; and we should be getting on! Good guy though that Peter, although he could do with a better sense of humour!
Getting back to the point though, none of us are worth following, that’s the really mad part! I need to make them see sense, I need to point out to them how crazy this is. I’m really worried though about sending a letter though. I hate sending letters, I’d rather meet face to face and see peoples eyes. You can tell a lot about what a person is thinking by looking at their eyes.
Gamaliel - sorry do you know Gamaliel? He was my tutor at the Jerusalem Greater University of Levitical Phariseeism. A great guy. Well he thinks the time is coming when we will all stop communicating face to face and will use the written word all the time and we’ll just learn how to send messages quicker. I don’t see that myself ... I mean what a bizarre way to exist.
I’m a bit stuck actually on where to go with this. I know what I want to say, but I’m not sure how to say it! It’s simple but they have just made it all complicated by letting the world affect how they think. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t think the world is all bad (God made it after all!) but there is some thinking going around that is not really that helpful.
‘For Jews demands signs and Greeks desire wisdom’ (v22) Let me tell you what I mean. Us Jews, we need everything backed up with a sign - if it’s not got a powerful sign it’s not kosher! Now the Greeks, they need things to sound good - they are your kind of rational people who love to talk and talk and talk and its all about the beauty of the argument with capricious, chimerical, flamboyant language rather than coming to a decision; but they do like it all to make sense in the end.
But we proclaim Christ crucified (v23) and people can’t cope. To try telling a Jew that this naked man dying and bleeding on the cross is the Messiah is actually quite offensive. The Greeks look at this and ask ‘how can a God be crucified’ ‘how can humans ‘hurt a God’ and I must admit I see their point - it does not make any sense at all. It is pretty daft!
Ah ... that’s how I can start the next section ... For the message about the cross is daft, mmm? mad, no .... no FOOLISH! The message about the cross is foolish (v18) - that will turn a few heads and grab their attention!
Foolish ... yes! But following God has never been rational. The parting of the Red Sea, the wandering in the desert for 40 years, Samson’s hair, Balaam’s talking donkey, King David dancing naked in the street - yeah like that’s normal! Although I am told that is quite the norm in these parts on a Friday and Saturday evening. Don’t make it right or rational though does it! It’s not what we would call wise behaviour!
Wisdom? So where are the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? (v20) Hmmmm I think I can use that! Although actually I saw something similar on some art work under some tunnel thing outside - but don’t tell anyone!
You see God has turned this all upside down! God really has made the wisdom of the world foolish.
The problem is everyone looks at this from within their cultural upbringing. That makes it hard for anyone to think outside of what they are used to. It’s easier for people to think that way. To keep telling themselves that they have to climb up to this amazing powerful in the heaven-lies God to please him. But the really exciting news is that God came down to us. The incarnation, crystallised in the crucifixion means we do not need to climb up to God, ‘cos God has come down to us. Might not make any sense, but its true!
Things aren’t always what they seem y’know. It’s typical of us humans to try and squeeze God into a mould that we are comfortable with. It’s a thing we do to try and stay in control. We look in those places we expect to see God. As a Jew I expected to see the Messiah come and take charge and to our utter shock we see him on the cross. It’s in those painful, surprising, offending moments that we can hear God. It all depends how you look at it.
The cross pries open our ideas of wisdom and power and then we do start to see things differently. This isn’t new you know. It’s all there in scripture and so I’ve quoted it. It’s what I do, it reminds people that this has always been true! That “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise’ line - that’s Isaiah. I also try to rework scripture ‘cos I find that works well too. ‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’. I got the inspiration for that from Isaiah again, you know - the bit where he writes ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord.’ I was quite pleased with that.
You see God has always been talking like this - we’ve been losing the plot for centuries which is why Jesus came and allowed himself to be pushed out of the world on that cross.
Yes ... a horrible death for the messiah is outrageous
Yes ... God coming as a man is madness
Yes ... Jesus loving us enough to take that pain is unbelievable
but ... it does all depend on how you look at it!
It’s just amazing the lengths that God’s love is prepared to go
Ah well ... its going to take me a little while to finish this letter so I’d better knuckle down. Three letters! ... pffft. I never dreamt I’d be doing this. Still, this is going to be the last one I write .... hopefully!
So ... back to it ... I need God’s help, though, to sort the rest of these words ..
Help me through these words to challenge my friends in Corinth. Shine through these words so that they may see that everything revolves around you on the cross no matter how mad that may seem. Let them experience that great love you have for them shown in the crucifixion. It may not make sense but remind them, and keep reminding me, that your foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and that your weakness is stronger than human strength.’