Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - March 4 2018

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 4, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Have you ever stopped to consider how paradoxical Christianity is?  Today, it seems as though the paradoxes are almost literally leaping out of the scripture readings and beating us about the ears.  We are assailed by word games and gotchas and riddles and puzzles.

I’m sure that the scholars and theologians who selected these particular readings for us were trying to make a point.  But, like the Scriptures themselves, that point is something we need to discern for ourselves.  Why didn’t they just write us a letter explaining what they were up to with these choices?

What does Paul mean, that God is foolish?  Why does God place stumbling blocks in the paths of those who seek to follow him?

Why was Jesus angry about the people who provided the materials that were necessary for worship?  How could he even talk about raising a great building in three days?

Paradoxes serve a vital function in conveying important ideas – they force us to think, to reason and analyze, while at the same time, almost make a mockery of reason and analysis.  They point out the tensions between what we know, and what we think we know, and what we have yet to learn.  They push us to new perspectives.

Here’s Paul’s story:  at least some of the people at the church he founded in Corinth have fallen for a flashy preacher, Apollos.  It’s not that they don’t appreciate what Paul has done for them; it’s just that he’s not always there, and when he is there, he is uninspiring – not exciting, but, perhaps boring, dull, or pedantic.  Paul himself admits in his letters that he’s no great public speaker – but I suspect this is a rhetorical gambit.  After all, he put all the philosophers to shame in Athens, and he regularly gathered crowds when he did choose to speak in public.  It may well be that his “admission” he can’t speak well is simply ironic.

It lets him bring up the subject of “the wise” and “the debater,” and set them over against God, whose testimony seems anything but sensible, logical, or even wise.  A God who seems to mock all wisdom by sending his son to die on a cross – the nadir of all forms of death in the empire – is a challenge, nay a rebuke, to those who think that wisdom is the key to happiness, fame, and acclaim.

God does this not only as a sign to the Jews, who thought that following the law and teachings of Moses and the prophets would keep them right with God, but also to the Gentiles, who thought that being rich and comfortable was a sign that they had God’s favor.

The sign says: the way of God is not the way of rules, and it is not the way of worldly success; no, the way of self-sacrifice and self-giving is the way of God.  God’s way is the humble way, and, from all appearances, it leads to death, not greatness or glory.

And therein lies the paradox – because Jesus Christ died, he made it possible for us to die in the reality that death is not the end at all, but the door to eternity.  The cross is not about death at all; it is about the resurrected life, when all the things that pull us away from God are revealed for the charlatans they are. 

Riches?  Nope.  Wisdom?  Please.  Hope?  Now you’re talking. 

And then there’s Jesus at the temple, kicking out the merchants, busting up the markets, tossing out the candle-sellers and the Jordan Water peddlers and the vestment purveyors and the Bible salesmen and the book shops from the churches. 

The paradox here is that while they’re focused on the building, he’s focused on the body.  We all know that the church is really supposed to be the community, the people, the “ekklesia,” the gathering.  But we worry about empty pews and balanced budgets and musical choices and even matters of dress and deportment, and of course, who sits in the pews or serves at the altar … and none of these things – not one of these things – has anything to do with our calling as followers of Christ.

We are called to walk the way of the cross, the way of humility, and not the ways of pride or privilege or power.  We, too, want to shy from the cross, the ignominious death at the hands of outraged fellow citizens, the disregard of those who claim authority over us. 

But the cross is the door to eternity.

So we have to ask ourselves each day, what is most important, what is foundational, what is central, what is … crucial – a word that has the same root as “cross” and “crux”.

Is it wisdom, power, riches, and acclaim?  Or is it the soul bared before a God who is not afraid of dying if dying means one more soul is released from bondage to all the world?

From the perspective of the cross, all else is dross.  And paradoxes?  Paradoxes are the keys to changing our perspective.  The cross is a stumbling block; it is foolish; it kills; and it is our freedom.


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