Who’s Fool Are You?

Lent 3 B, March 11, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“The Word of the cross (really) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the (very) power of God (unto salvation).” [v. 18]

One of my favorite “evangelism” stories is the one about the man in Chicago who wore a sandwich board sign on Milwaukee Ave.  Every day for  months during the lunch hour, he walked along the busy sidewalk wearing his sign.  As you approached him, you read : “(1 Cor. 1:18) I am a fool  for Jesus Christ!”  As you approached him, he would make eye contact and say, “God bless you!”  After you passed him though, if you bothered  to turn and see what was on the other side of the sandwich board, you would read this question, “Who’s fool are you?”

So that’s the question that God wants us to answer.  Who do you want to be a fool for?  If you choose the world’s wisdom over God’s wisdom,  beware, because you just may hear these Words from your Savior, “You fool, today is the day God requires your soul!”  You see, in our reading  this morning we have ample warning that ultimately, all wisdom that does not find its source in the cross of Jesus Christ will be laid low, “For it  is written, “God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning He will [frustrate].”

“Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age”  Or we could imagine God saying, “Bring me the talking  heads from CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, PBS and all of the other highbrow agenda seeking news celebrities, and see how they fair against my Word!   Bring me the legal activists that publicly attack my people’s faith and see what will happen to them on judgment day!  Bring out the double  talking politicians who tell you what you want to hear, saying one thing to this group of people and another to that group of people just so they can win votes along with earthly treasure and fame, and see if I do not destroy their lying and self-serving tongues!”

The truth is that many of these people have forgotten the God who gave them their wisdom.  They forget that each one of us was created to glorify God through the talents and gifts that He’s given to us.  Sadly, many not only forget about God, why they even attack the very thought of God!  They belittle anyone who professes faith in a Creator-God as foolish and weak.  They insist that we believe that we evolved out of swamp scum!  And what’s God’s response?  He takes the very idea of a Creator that the world dismisses as folly and makes it even more foolish; He comes to us in power in ways we would never imagine.  And because of our sin, He comes in ways we can never accept.

God comes to us this morning in great power.  It is power that even the strongest nuclear weapon created by the greatest human minds can’t even come close to.  It is an argument that confounds the keenest minds because of its simplicity.  God comes to us in the spoken Word.  The Word of God spoken by sinful men!  The very same Word that was spoken in the beginning of all things, that created all things, is speaking to you even now!  But if it were just the words of a preacher, why they would be just as hollow as the those know-it-alls who call us foolish.  No, this Word that is speaking to you now is the very power of God unto salvation simply because it is the message about the cross of Jesus Christ!

There’s an area in London, England that’s the geographical heart of the city.  It’s called the Charing Cross.  All distances in the city are measured from this location.  One day a London police officer found a lost child wandering the streets of London, alone, frightened, and crying.  No matter what the officer tried, he couldn’t get the child to remember his address.  Finally, in the middle of his sobs, the little boy said, “Sir, if you will take me to the cross I think I can find my way back home.”  And that is God’s plan for us.  If He can get us to the cross, He has made a way for us to get back home; back into His forgiving love.  At the cross we find God.   But not just any cross will do; no, it has to be the bloody cross of death that the Son of God suffered and died upon for the sins of the world.  It is at the cross of Jesus where the message about His love, suffering and death opens our eyes of faith, so that we can see the love of God.

This message of the cross is the only one that God has given to sinners so that they will know and return to a God who not only created them but also wants to recreate them back into His image.  But in order to have a cross, you have to have the Savior who died upon it.  You have to have the very Son of God in our flesh.  And it’s this very thought of God becoming one of us, and dying for us that causes men wise to the world to turn away from their Creator and Savior.  They will accept the cross as a metaphor of something greater and higher for each of us to strive for, but if you put a suffering and dying Savior God on it they will laugh in your face!

In 1959, Thomas Hoving of New York’s Metropolitan Museum purchased an ivory cross from a Yugoslavian art collector, who had stored it in a Swiss bank vault.  Hoving noticed that it lacked its central figure—the body of Christ.  Because of the missing body, the value of the cross was significantly less.  But on the other side of the world, a figure of Christ carved out of ivory lay in Norway’s Oslo Museum.  In 1969, Florens Deuchler discovered that the seven and a half inch figure of Christ in the Oslo Museum fit perfectly into the five holes drilled for it on the New York museum cross.  But the like the cross, the figure’s value is small without the cross.

You see, the cross without Jesus Christ, the Son of God is only a cross; a symbol.  And Jesus, without the cross is only a historical figure with no power from God.  It is only through the crucified Jesus Christ that God’s plan of salvation centered around His wisdom, power, and glory can be seen and understood by sinners like us.

Sadly, the world sees the cross and a crucified Savior as foolishness, and it uses its own wisdom, power, and glory to create a god in its own image.  But in the cross, God prevents us from making Him into our sinful image.  He does it through the foolishness of the cross.  If you won’t surrender all of your wisdom, glory, and power at the foot of the cross, then you will never see God’s glory.  At the cross, we are bewildered and confounded, but we are bewildered and confounded for a reason.  God wants each of us to see that we all fall far short of God’s demand of perfection.  He wants us to see that our only hope for eternal life in glory is to confess our complete emptiness.  Then and only then can God fill us with the mystery of the cross, which is His message about our salvation.

Do you want God’s wisdom?  Then be prepared to have the world call you a fool, because only the cross can make you wise unto salvation.  Only through the message of Jesus’ cross are you given wisdom from God to see your sin and your Savior who suffered and died to forever take that sin away from you.  In the message of the cross you are given faith to receive God’s promise of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.  These three gifts of God are all that you need to be assured that you have peace with a God who loves you and wants you to be with Him forever.  Together with wisdom, these gifts are given to you within your baptism, where you were killed and reborn through the washing of simple water and the unfathomable power of God’s Word!

The righteousness of God is something only He can give to you.  It is the very identity of His Son who suffered and died upon the cross for you.  It is a righteousness that is imputed or injected into you when you were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Your gift of sanctification is the very promise of God that He who began the work of salvation within you will complete that work.  No one can take this promise from you; in your baptism, He recreated you to live a life of good works centered on the love and sacrifice of Jesus and His death upon the cross for you!  And finally, through the cross of Jesus and the waters of your baptism, God gives you redemption.  He gives to you the promise that if you will not turn away from the death of His Son for you, you will one day join Him in His heaven, which will become your home forever.

Now the world will have no part of God’s plan of salvation.  They can’t admit that they fall short of any glory.  They will insist that man’s glory is real and tangible while God’s glory is a fiction for weak minds.  They see no need for divine righteousness, sanctification, or redemption.  In their minds, anyone who clings to these things above the vision of a man-made utopia that science and political order will one day provide is a fool, and they have no time for fools.  But it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God!  Sadly, without the cross of Jesus, they will one day hear God say, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. [Luke 12:20]  Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 22:13]  Who will be the fool then?  But for now, we are not to celebrate what we have at the expense of others.  Instead, God calls us to live for Him as we live out His Word of the cross for our neighbors.  He calls us to share His gift of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption with the world that comes only through His Word about Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross.

As Paul says to us this morning, we repeat among ourselves and to our neighbors. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:31]  In other words, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 9:23-24]  May God give each of us faith and  strength to continue being fools for Jesus Christ… AMEN!

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