Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
There is a reason that in most churches the focal point is a cross. At St. Andrew’s, if you look above the altar, you will see, although it is now obscured by a purple Lenten drape, a cross. Upon this cross above the altar is Jesus, depicted as a crucified king. It is called a “Christus Rex,” Latin for Christ the King.
At the very heart of the Gospel that Paul preaches is a cross, which he calls both a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. The reason for this language is that Paul understands that absurdity of God on a cross. It was an absurd idea at the time, and remains so today – God the creator of all that is - as the recipient of all human shame, death, and violence – here, on the cross. Nothing could be more unlikely than that redemption should come through the humiliating crucifixion of a person. And yet it does.
The cross stands as an affront to the values of the world. So any person who holds on to those values will always stumble over this cross, because it doesn’t make sense. But for those who learn to see the cross, not as something punitive, but as affirming, those people are truly blessed, because in place of absurdity upon the cross, they discover truth. And that is the reason why the cross is the focal point. We don’t come into this church and see a smiley face or a dollar sign above the altar, because Christianity isn’t about being happy or financially prosperous. Christianity is about a relationship with God, which creates a kind of joy and prosperity that is counter to what the world offers us.
We are halfway through Lent. Some of us may have given something up or took something on? And maybe, miracle of all miracles, we are still observing that. Perhaps through your Lenten discipline God has revealed something to you. Paul, the author of 1 Corinthians, writes today that this is what God is always doing. If you have in yourself a desire to know God more deeply, Paul suggests that desire is a gift from God. God is within you.
I recently drove by a church whose marquee board read “God knows what She’s doing” and I believe that is completely true. The impetus for relationship with God moves from God to us, not the other way around.
For Paul, knowing and loving God have nothing to do with believing the right ideas or beliefs, belonging to the right church, or believing that the Bible is divinely inspired. Paul didn’t seem to show much interest in these things.
What matters to Paul is that cross – God’s invitation to us to live a life that is real, vulnerable, and more life-affirming than any other life we could imagine. For Lent this year, I did not give up beer, chocolate, fried foods, or sweets. I gave up trying to earn my own worthiness. I am first to admit, I do this too often. I try to earn my worthiness by working more than I need to, wanting to please everyone, to be liked by all. For Lent this year I decided, I don’t need that crutch anymore, because in the presence of the cross, none of it matters, because being loved by God is enough. We are all worthy because God loves us, and that is what the cross is all about. AMEN.