This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Sunday Jan. 29, 2017.
The text for this week: 1 Cor. 1:18-31
Mary Tyler Moore was a great actress wasn’t she? She had a real light and a joy that came through on screen. I was sorry to hear she died this week. But in listening to the coverage about her I was reminded of a quote from her book. Did you know, that with all the success she had, she thought of herself as a failure? Yes, she said that inside the successful actress beat the heart of a failed dancer. She didn’t want to be an actress, she wanted to be a dancer, and she failed at that.
When we start on a project or a process, what we expect the outcome to be usually determines whether we succeed or fail.
If we want to be a dancer, and we aren’t, we fail.
If we play soccer and we make the team, we succeed. We get cut, we fail.
If we plan a party, and people come, we succeed. Nobody shows up, we fail.
If we lose ten pounds, we win. If we gain ten pounds, we fail.
Success or failure depends on what we want to happen, what goals we set for ourselves.
It’s pretty simple. This is pretty much the way our culture operates.
It’s not new to human nature either. Everybody wants to back a winner. That’s what’s going on in the scripture for today, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. First Corinthians is a letter that Paul is writing to a church in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul went there at one point and had been preaching conversion to Christ in synagogues until the leaders of the synagogue kicked him out for preaching a crucified Messiah. Then, he started preaching to non-Jewish Greek people. Eventually, his message began to catch on with a small group of Jews and Greeks, and a wealthy person began to host their little congregation in his home. They became a small church, and Paul went on his travels.
But, once Paul was gone the people got a little lost. So, Paul wrote to them with advice.
Paul understands that the church in Corinth is not getting their message across because they are not backing a winner. They are backing a loser. Their God is not the military hero the Jewish people of that time expected or a powerhouse like the Greek God Zeus. Jesus is a poor man who got crucified.
So, our Scripture for today is about the struggle to preach the gospel to the wider world because the message of a crucified Christ seems just absolutely foolish. Why would you worship someone who failed so spectacularly in his mission as to be crucified for it? Crucifixion wasn’t just regular death. It was public shaming plus death. If you’re worshipping a crucified Lord, you are worshipping a Lord that died in the most public and shameful way possible.
To the outside world in Corinth, it’s utter foolishness to proclaim that a man who was captured and executed by the Romans had any power at all. If he had any power, he would have saved himself and led his people in battle to victory. Obviously.
Obvious, only if what we are expecting is a display of wordly power and might. Paul is addressing this problem in his letter to the church in Corinth: people invested in displaying worldly power, wealth, and human knowledge, can not see beyond the accumulation of power wealth and knowledge. It blinds them to the truth.
These days, many Christians take for granted a kind of triumphalist super hero Christ who conquers all. But if we really take a look at the bible that is not OUR story. The first Christians, like Paul and the people of the church in Corinth, who were not wise or noble or powerful, proclaimed Christ crucified. A Christ whose power is revealed in weakness.
Proclaiming a crucified Christ reveals that people invested in maintaining power and wealth, will go to any length to keep it. They will crush the most perfect person who ever lived to silence the voice that says that we should love God more than power, and our neighbors more than wealth.
If we divide the world into strong and weak, wise and foolish, the truth is we will always come out a weak fools because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
To proclaim a crucified Christ is to proclaim that we’re ALL fools. Forgiven fools.
The grace of a crucified Christ is that we can escape our foolish human standards of winners and losers, weak and strong, and live assured of God’s grace even in our weakest moments. Failure’s is only lie, told by people to other people to shame them.
Speaking of failures, we come a long way ‘round from Mary Tyler Moore who considered herself in heart to be a failure. If we reflect on all the goodness her acting brought into the world, we can see that she might have not made it as a dancer, but she made it as an inspirational human being.
I wonder: what love and light would you bring to world if you weren’t afraid of failure?
You might throw a party and invite a new friend. You might start a petition, or write your congressperson. Learn to play the guitar. Go to law school. Run for office yourself. You might come up with a bold new idea to end homelessness. Some idea so wild and crazy everyone will say, it’ll never work. You’d be a fool to try..
Friends, consider the good news of our call. The good news found in the grace of a crucified Christ is that we don’t need to be great. Again. Greatness is a lie. We need to be fools, for Christ, for in that foolishness is freedom. Amen.
For Sunday's bulletin click here.
For Sunday's Leader's Guide (all the prayers, etc, said by Rev. Stockert) click here.
Credit for the above "fool" image is from here.