LANGUAGE OF THE CROSS
Linda Chase
Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church
March 4, 2018
I Corinthians 1:10, 18-25 John 2:13-22

Imagine if you will, explaining to someone what it is we Christians believe.
Perhaps we would say something like this. “We put our faith and trust in a man
named Jesus who was a poor Jew who lived over 2,000 years ago in a backwater
place born to dirt poor parents. He lived only about 33 years and never got
wealthy, was not very successful in the eyes of the powermongers of his day and
in fact got in major trouble with the leaders of his own faith. Basically, they had
him hauled before the powers of that day accusing him of treason. Power
triumphed and this man named Jesus was executed in the most humiliating way
possible for a Jew. He was crucified on a cross on top of a garbage dump outside
of town. The cross is now the central symbol of our faith. Many wear cross
necklaces and we hang big crosses in our houses of worship. I guess you could say
that the cross would be the equivalent of the electric chair of today. This is who
we claim as our redeemer.”

Our listeners would probably be thinking if not saying, “Are you nuts? That
sounds like so much foolishness.” So, is it any wonder that the Jews and the
Greeks of Apostle Paul’s time questioned what it was that Paul was preaching? Is
it really so surprising in the face of the foolish message of the cross that the Jews
wanted signs, that is proof that Jesus was who he said he was? That the Greeks
who valued wisdom and logic and loved to debate, were so skeptical of Paul’s
claims about Jesus? IS that really so much different from today when we
Christians seem to be an ever-shrinking minority on the world’s stage of religious
options with none at all leading the way? Who wants to invest one’s life and well
being in a God who demonstrated God’s power in what seemed to be weakness
and powerlessness? Who wants to follow a God born as vulnerable as a baby and
helplessly died rejected and alone on a cross?

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth spoke of the gospel as paradox, for
that is what it is. That which appears to be weak, God, is actually ultimate power
beyond all earthly power. That which seems most foolish, God, is ultimately the
source and embodiment of true wisdom.

In this passage from Corinthians, the verse that really resonated with me
was verse 18. Paul wrote “For the message or the language of the cross is
foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it’s the
power of God.” What does that mean, language of the cross? As I thought about
it, it seemed that there are two languages spoken today. The language of the
culture/world and language of the cross. They are in direct opposition to one
another. The language of culture is boastful and proud. It depends on worldly
power and might. Its wisdom comes from self as well as like thinking people. It
advocates what is best for me and mine.

Language of the cross is that of love. It often does look weak on the surface
and does seem foolish in the eyes of the world. It seeks the well being of others
first and does not promote ways that harm or devalue or even see the other as
“lesser.” The language of the cross forgives even when we are the ones wronged.
How foolish is that. I see and hear illustrations of both types of language every
day.

Last Monday I was talking with a friend from another church about their
church’s annual gift auction which they had just had. They raised over $30,000.
This gift auction has become so successful and well know for the quality of their
gifts that people wait for the tickets to go on sale. This year they sold out in just 3
weeks. Most of those who go now are non-church members. The members go to
work.

There is always one big ticket item. This year it was a $3,000 Amazon gift
card. What fascinated me was that people sent in checks of $100, $200, $250 to
buy the limited number of tickets for this item. The money came flying in all on
the change to win the big one.

Repeatedly I was told by my friend, that those who now attend their
auction are gamblers; they like to gamble. Apparently spending $250 is a drop in
the bucket for the chance to win $3,000. To me this speaks volumes about the
language of the world which says, “You have to spend money to make money,
Right? You have to pay to play, Right? After all, you only live once.” I wonder if
any of these gambles would consider dropping one of their checks off at a food
pantry, IHN, Dotty’s House. There is no “chance” to win anything. Are they just a
generous with their giving then?

Contrast that experience with another one I saw this past week which
shows the language of the cross. There was a story on TV about the Larsen family
who live in Ridgewood, NJ. After the mass school shooting in Parkland, FL, Mr.
Larsen wanted to do something to help the students in Parkland raise the $2
million they wanted to raise for the families of those killed. He also wanted to
teach his own 4 children how they could make a difference. He wanted to do this
particularly because he had grown up on Parkland.

The TV cameras showed the 4 Larsen children standing in the snow in front
of their house selling lemonade. Yes, selling lemonade in the winter with snow on
the ground. Foolish? Perhaps. However, the children leaned probably what will be
a life long lesson on helping others and they raised $360 through their efforts.
They got nothing tangible in return. What they did probably brought awareness to
the fund so that I expect a great many others gave to it as well.

Perhaps it seems strange for me to have paired the reading from I
Corinthians with the reading from John where Jesus got angry. We know this story
of so well. Jesus went to the temple and seemingly outraged at finding all the
noisy animals for sale to be used for sacrifice. Unfortunately, they were in the
outer most court of the temple called the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only
place Gentiles were allowed to worship in the temple and with the noise of the
animals and the transactions, it was not really conducive for worship. Jesus used a
whip to drive the animals out.

His next act of righteous anger was to topple the tables which held the
money and the coins needed for an offering in the temple. Coinage of the
government, with the emperor’s image on it, had to be exchanged for the coinage
of the temple on which there was no image. Although it does not say so, there is a
suggestion that perhaps Jesus’ anger was at the fact the religious authorities were
taking advantage of the worshippers by over charging for their services. There
was little the pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover could do against
these abuses. I expect there was some heat behind Jesus’ words, “Take these
things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market place.”

Believe it or not Jesus’ words and his actions in the temple were also the
language of the cross. For John, Jesus was setting up his own death by taking on
the powers of the temple and the powers of the Roman government at the
beginning of his ministry. Jesus was clearly saying by this act to whom he
belonged, that is God. The language Jesus acted out that day was ultimately the
language of love for he was speaking out at practices that cheated the poor; that
put up barriers hindering worship of the “outsiders”, the Gentiles. His anger was
directed against anything that devalued others especially those who used their
religion to do so. There was anger at how the rituals surrounding worship had
been corrupted by the language of the culture to make a profit at another’s
expense; being comfortable and complacent with practices that no longer served
the wellbeing of all the people. Of allowing faithfulness to be replaced by self-
serving.

It makes me see the movement of the youth that has grown out of the
shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as righteous anger. Their
aim, from what I understand, is to bring about in non-violent ways changes to our
country’s gun laws. They seek these changes so that no more children need to
fear being killed in their own schools. When I commented to my husband that it’s
so sad that it took more school children being killed along with their teachers
before businesses and government finally is willing to be serious about how to
prevent gun violence. I asked how come it didn’t happen after Sandy Hook school
shooting. He suggested that perhaps it is due to the fact that the youth
themselves have said enough. The youth no longer are looking to the adults to
provide leadership on this issue but have mobilized themselves.

The language of the cross carries with it pain, suffering and at times even
death. The language of the cross declares that we speak the truth in love even
though lies often seem easier and safer; that we practice gentleness, nonviolence
in the face of force which often gets things done faster. The language of the cross
says we are to be proponents of justice for the marginalized and oppressed when
maintaining the status quo is easier and certainly more comfortable for most of
us. We are to be generous in the face of the culture which says acquiring,
protecting and holding onto it the better way – for us.

Shortly you and I will gather around the communion table. We are invited
to this table not because of anything we have or have not done nor because of
who we are. We are invited to come to this table of forgiveness and love because
of the love of God poured out for each of us on the cross. Jesus says come, come
all you who are heavy burden and I will give you rest. Come with your brokenness
and pain and I will heal you and make you whole. Come, I will speak to you the
language of the cross which is God’s love. Come.