1 Corinthians 1:18-25
March 10-11, 2012
“We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…”
Do Paul’s words surprise you?
Paul says the emphasis in his preaching is Christ crucified.
His primary focus in preaching is not the risen Christ…
it’s not the Christ who heals…
it’s not the Christ who teaches….
but it’s the Christ who is crucified.
A crucified Christ.
A crucified God.
And it is a crucified God which he says is a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles.
There was no foolishness in Christ’s rising –
Paul could preach resurrection to the Gentiles without anyone thinking him out of place.
They could understand that gods do supernatural things like rise from the dead.
There were a number of Greek gods who were said to have been resurrected.
A god who rose from the dead was perfectly reasonable to them.
There was no stumbling block in Christ’s healing either.
Jews expected healing to come from God.
The Hebrew Scriptures are full of passages about God’s healing power.
Jeremiah prayed for God’s healing (Jer 17:14).
The psalms over and over again pray for and celebrate healing which comes from God (Ps 147:3)
A God who heals?
Certainly not a stumbling block to Jews.
How about a God who teaches?
No problems there either.
Jews knew that the 10 commandments were teachings from God.
Gentiles knew that good harvests were a result of good teaching from the gods.
But a God who is crucified.
A God who dies on a cross – now that was a problem – both to Jews and Gentiles.
The African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois commented on the absurdity of the cross.
As has been said, “One has to be a little mad, kind of crazy to find
salvation in the cross,
victory in defeat,
and life in death.”[i]
So why in the world does Paul insist on preaching a message of such foolishness?
Because the irony is that the cross is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.
It is the cross which is our greatest sign of hope in the midst of a darkened world.
It is the cross which shows us God’s strength.
So Paul says – preach the cross.
Preach the cross.
And that phrase sticks with me with every sermon I write.
It comes in the form of a question I was encouraged to ask myself:
“Does Jesus need to be crucified for this sermon to be preached?”
Because if not, perhaps God’s strength and power are missing.
The power of the cross is most easily recognized by those who are powerless.
Black theologian James Cone says that the cross speaks to oppressed people in ways that Jesus’ life, teachings, and even his resurrection do not.[ii]
In a recent book, he draws a parallel between the horror of the cross and the horror of the lynching tree.
It is an awful piece of our history in America.
Between 1880 and 1940, nearly 5000 black men and women were lynched.
The violence enacted against them by whites was indiscriminate and brutal.
Cone says that as a result of their experience of this arbitrary violence,
the cross became a redeeming and comforting image for many black Christians.
There were more songs, sermons, and prayers about the cross than any other theme.
“Calvary, Calvary, surely he died on Calvary”
“Were You There when they crucified my Lord?”
“They crucified my Lord and he never said a mumblin’ word.”
were all spirituals based on the cross.
They saw the crucifixion as a first century lynching,
and knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering
in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them,
even in suffering on lynching trees,
just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.[iii]
Cone says that, “They came to know that the final word about black life was not death on a lynching tree,
but redemption in the cross.”[iv]
One of the tragedies during the era was that it seemed like only black Christians
made the connection between lynchings and the cross.
White preachers did not.
Famed white theologian and preacher Reinhold Niebuhr spoke out often against racial prejudice.
But he never spoke of the sufferings of blacks as another crucifixion of Jesus.
As pastor of a large church in Detroit he urged prudence and caution and said that his own church was not yet ready for integration.
What if white preachers had joined black preachers and in the 10’s and 20’s had proclaimed that Christ was being crucified on those lynching trees?
What if preachers around the world in the 1930’s had proclaimed that in Nazi Germany, Christ was being crucified in those concentration camps?
What if preachers in the 50’s had proclaimed that Christ was being crucified in the congressional hearings led by Senator McCarthy?
What if in the 1990’s and the first decade of this millenium, preachers had proclaimed that Christ being crucified in the Rwandan genocide and the crisis in Darfur while much of the world ignored it.
And today? Where is Christ being crucified today?
Is it in the way immigrants are being treated?
Is it in the way gays and lesbians are being treated?
Is it in the way the unborn are being treated?
What if we spoke of these ills in our world as yet other examples of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The cross is not pretty.
If we look at a cross on a necklace, and see only an ornamental piece of jewelry
we’ll miss the power of the cross.
The cross is and has been an instrument of great suffering.
It is a means by which the dignity and life of another human being has been stripped away.
And yet our God chose the cross – to show the depths of His love.
The paradox of the cross is that
God chose a means of death to bring life.
God chose suffering to bring healing.
Foolishness. Stumbling block. Yes, for many.
But for us it is Power. Strength. And most importantly – Love.
Preach the cross.
Preach the cross.
[i] James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, p. 25.
[ii] Cone, p. 26.
[iii] Cone, p. 21.
[iv] Cone, p. 23.