April 19, 2011
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
The Message of the Cross
“The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God.”
For one sentence, this packs a punch! The questions I ask are:
- What is the message of the cross?
- Who is headed for ruin?
- What is ruin?
- Who are those experiencing salvation?
- What is salvation?
I’m sure, given time, I could create more questions, but that is enough for now.
A few years ago, during my first year here at Seattle U, I was taking a United Methodist doctrine class. Doctrine was something I had neatly sidestepped my entire United Methodist “career.” The primary reason is that when I was a teen, I went to a Southern Baptist church and then an Assembly of God church. During that time span, I grew to completely reject the doctrine of a God of punishment and pain. It didn’t fit with my experience. The doctrine that they taught was that of substitutionary atonement. God came to earth in the form of Jesus and then HAD to be killed and take on the sins of mankind, go to hell for 3 days, and then be raised again. Jesus was the substitution for what should be our punishment. These were things that I didn’t want to think about. These ideas caused me to dread taking the doctrine class.
Then, in our class, we were doing presentations on doctrinal topics. One of the students presented atonement theology. There were ideas I had never heard of before! (1) Jesus had not descended to hell. (2) the crucifixion was not a Godly response to sin, but a human response, and (3) and that, in fact, the idea of God as punisher of Christ is harmful, particularly to women who had been abused.
Ah-ha! This is a God I like! But what does that do to the message of the cross? The first message of atonement – back in the day, we would have said “at one ment,” creates meaning out of an impossible situation. Jesus dies a horrific death. Why could that possibly be? Because we are so sinful, somebody had to pay the price. The second message atonement – makes us more responsible for being in a relationship with God. We have more control than we are comfortable with. In the granting of the gift of free-will, we are responsible for the thousand ways we kill Jesus every day, but we are also responsible for creating a relationship with God that is based on rising out of the depths, resurrecting our life with God, so to speak.
The message of the cross, ultimately, is that of resurrection. In protestant-land, we most often show an empty cross. I have a friend, Pastor Pam, who tells this story:
When she was just starting out in seminary forty years ago, she was given a necklace with a cross. This cross had a little tiny Jesus on it. She wore the cross constantly. And when she wasn’t wearing it, she carried it. Eventually, the little tiny Jesus fell off. She had a decision to make right then: should she put Jesus back on the cross?
That is a theological decision she had to make.
Whatever side of the cross you stand on, the cross holds a saving grace and a message of love and hope. “For those who are experiencing salvation.”
So, who are those that view the cross as completely absurd or are headed for ruin? I’m going to point to four and ½ characters that are doing well and thriving today.
- Political figure Scooter Libby, convicted of perjury
- Here’s the ½ characters: President Clinton who committed perjury, VP Cheney who encouraged perjury, all the political people that allowed Scooter Libby to become the face of perjury.
- Media figure Martha Stewart, convicted of perjury
- Sports figure Barry Bonds, convicted of obstruction of justice
- Financial figure Bernie Madoff, convicted of a financial Ponzi scheme
It is appalling how our lives have grown to encourage and accept the big lie. There is Senator Kyl who said that 90% of the business of Planned Parenthood is doing abortions. He later defended the statement saying that it wasn’t intended as a factual statement.
And nobody gets upset enough to do anything about it. Our social situation is such that as long as our side is winning, the lie is ok. Those are the people that find the message of the cross absurd.
How can the cross, an event of such courage, honesty, and vulnerability find a foothold in the political and social milieu of our current situation? Where people regularly lie and are rewarded?
That is where we come in. We who “are experiencing the salvation” that “is the power of God.” If we experience the power of God, we need to express what we are experiencing. We need to hold political, media, sports, and financial figures accountable for their message. We need to demonstrate how their message of “folly” can be transformed at the cross. That in an act of self-giving love, a new thing can happen. We cannot afford to sit and wait for someone else to speak on our behalf. Who is going to speak for us? Senator Kyl? Martha Stewart? Bill Clinton? Dick Cheney? All people well practiced in the art of deception. Will you cede your voice to them?
Shalom and Amen.