Sunday, July 29, 2012

Working Together for the Truth-- or Not?

 Texts:    Acts 4:1-31; 3 John 5-10
    HAVE YOU EVER DAYDREAMED ABOUT the glories of the ancient church?  Oh, if we could've lived back then, when everyone faithfully drank up the apostles' teaching and the Spirit had His way in every heart and all believers worked together in love and unity to spread the gospel of Christ!

    But you and I all know that's nonsense.  Only people who haven't actually read the New Testament can get all dreamy and romantic about the early church.  They had troubles and conflicts just like we do.  Which works out well for us.  Really.  Because if they'd had no problems, we wouldn't have the Apostles' words written down for us to help us work out our difficulties. Because like our 1st century brethren, we too are called to keep on working together for the truth.

    As we continue our study of the Third Letter from John, today we'll be looking at verses 5-10. As we noted last week, this is a personal pastoral letter to a Christian named Gaius.  So John the writer, elder, and apostle, doesn't go into a lot of detail.  I'll try to flesh out the situation from what I've gleaned from the commentaries, and if the Holy Spirit commends my explanation to your mind and soul, good.  Take the best and leave what isn't accurate or helpful behind.  But this letter is in the Bible for God's good reasons, and when it comes to what is plain and open in the text, let's accept it gratefully so we may work together for the truth, as Christ's own church.

    In verse 5 John writes to Gaius, "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you."  Who are these brothers?  We see from later in the passage that they were sent from John.  As I mentioned last week, John acted as a kind of presbytery executive, or, as Pittsburgh Presbytery is arranged, he was like the Pastor to Presbytery.  These days, it's only in times of trouble or transition that a congregation has much to do with representatives coming from presbytery.  But in Gaius' day the New Testament was not yet concluded.  The apostles-- who were eyewitnesses of Jesus and His works-- were still speaking to the church in the authority of Christ, and still teaching men (and yes, possibly, women) to carry on after them.   The brothers John sent would be his personal students in Ephesus, where he lived before he was arrested and exiled to Patmos.  They'd go out to the local churches as missionaries and evangelists, to build up the believers in the faith and help them settle disputes in the peace of Christ.  These brothers from John were not personally known to Gaius; they were strangers to him, as John says.  But Gaius was faithful in serving them, because they came with the Apostle's authority.

    What might Gaius have done for the brothers?  First and foremost, he probably provided them room in his home, or made sure someone else in the church took them in.  He made sure they were fed, that their worn-out sandals were mended or replaced.  He might arrange a time and place for them to speak to the members of the church-- not necessarily an easy matter, as we'll see pretty soon.  Whatever he did, we know he did it lovingly and graciously, because as we see in verse 6,  the missionary brothers had come back from previous trips and told the church in Ephesus all about his love.  Now John writes that Gaius will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.  This tells us that a fresh team of missionaries is presently staying with Gaius, and brought this very letter to him.  When they finished their work in Gaius' town, with his help they'd go on to the next town or village on their itinerary, to preach the Word and strengthen the church.

    As Christians we should always do what we do for the church and its ministers in a manner worthy of God.  Remember that our God and Savior Jesus bought the church with His own precious blood, she is His, and when we serve the church, we serve Christ.  And keep in mind always the service God deserves in Himself.  His name is to be honored and feared, and, as John writes in verse 7, it is for the sake of the Name that these evangelist brothers went out.

    In our reading from Acts 4 we see how weighty it is to invoke the name of God in Christ, in the church and in the world.  Peter and John healed a crippled beggar and consequently preached  Jesus as the only Christ and Saviour.  For this the Jewish authorities threw them into prison and are now trying them before the Council.

    Peter and John aren't daunted.  They declare that it is by the name of Jesus that the man was healed.  Friends, the name of Jesus has power.  Peter maintains that there is no other name under heaven besides that of Jesus by which anyone can be saved.  The name of Jesus brings salvation.  The Council consult together and decide to order the apostles never again to speak to anyone in this name.   But Peter and John assert that to preach the name of Jesus is to declare the truth of what they had seen and heard of Christ and to obey what God has commanded them to do.  To speak in the name of Jesus is to declare what He has done.

    The Sanhedrin don't know what to do, and release the apostles.  When Peter and John return to the church, do they say, "Oh, guys, please tone it down about Jesus, you're going to get us all into trouble!"  No!  They recognise that the persecution the apostles have faced is just one more example of the unbelieving world's resistance to God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ.  And they pray that the Lord God will "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

    The name of Jesus carries His power and authority in this world, whether the world likes it or not.  For the brothers to go out from John for the sake of the Name is for them to speak the healing and salvation of Christ. It's to command obedience to His Word.  So it's only right for the church in each town to house and feed and worthily send on evangelists and missionaries who come in Jesus' name.

     There was a time during our Lord's ministry, before He died and rose again, when it was appropriate for His disciples to find lodging for Him with friendly folk who didn't yet understand who He was.  But now wherever Christ's church has been planted, it's not up to the pagans to support our travelling preachers and teachers; in fact, they might well refuse to do so.  No, it's the church's privilege and duty to receive and entertain those who come to us in the name of the Lord, whether they drive over from Pittsburgh or arrive from the other side of the world.  As John writes in verse 8, "We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so we may work together for the truth."

    Think of that!  You don't have to be a missionary or evangelist to work together for the truth that is Jesus Christ.  Simply opening your home or helping at a church supper in support of a preacher or teacher is pleasing and profitable in God's sight!

    But even in the early church, not all hearts were willing to be hospitable.  John says, "I wrote to the church, but-- "

    Wait a minute.  In verse 6 John said the brothers had told the church about Gaius' love, but here he talks about writing to the church.  Which church, where?  From the context, the verse 6 church is the congregation in Ephesus, and here in verse 9, it's the congregation in Gaius's town.  But I think it's on purpose that John doesn't make the distinction.  For the Apostle, the church is everywhere that Christ is faithfully preached and believed, all one body united in His love. There are local manifestations of the body, but one church, one apostolate, one saving Word; one Spirit and one Christ, to the glory of God the Father.

    But too often there are brothers and sisters in the local church who want to make it their private kingdom.  Men like Diotrephes, who loved to be first.  We've all known some Diotrepheses, and Diotrephas, too, in our time.  Judging from the power he wielded, Diotrephes was one of the pastoral team or a ruling elder, but a Diotrephes doesn't have to be ordained.  He-- or she-- is distinguished by his attitude.  Your typical Diotrephes would never say, "Yes, I want to cause disruption and disunity in the church and destroy the faith of many, because it feeds my ego."  No.  He'd plead, "I'm only doing it for the sake of the church!  I work so hard around here, if I stepped back nothing would get done!"

    John says Diotrephes will have nothing to do with him and his apostolic circle.  Diotrephes would answer, "Apostles?  We don't need no stinkin' apostles!  We know everything about Jesus Christ right here, we're doing just fine!"  Jesus sent out His apostles in His authority to be heeded and obeyed, but Diotrephes refuses.  He doesn't merely ignore John and his emissaries, he says nasty things about him, not openly in the church as official charges, but as gossip behind the scenes.

    Friends, it's shocking the malicious stories people will spread about pastors and church leaders.  I'm sorry to say I had a Diotrephes once who falsely accused me of everything short of murder and child sexual abuse.  We can conclude that for John it's bad enough for himself to be slandered at a distance, but Diotrephes willfully extends that evil personally to the brothers John sends.  He refused to welcome them-- by which we know he prevented them from speaking to the church in the Lord's Day services--and he wouldn't even permit other church members to extend hospitality to them.  Members who did, he put out of the church.

    Which brings us back to Gaius.  It really appears that he himself has been excommunicated for welcoming the brothers from John.  Notice that John doesn't make a victim out of him.  There's no "Poor you, that mean Diotrephes has treated you so badly."  No.  He commends and supports Gaius as he does the right and godly thing for the brothers, as they and the other wrongly excommunicated members work together for the truth, despite the in-house persecution.  But because of Diotrephes' attitude, this indictment of his behaviour can't come to the church, it has to be addressed to faithful Gaius. 

    For surely Gaius knows from experience what this bull elder-- as my EP calls them-- has done!  John doesn't need to tell him!

    Yes.  Surely Gaius knows.  But unlike a lot of modern church authorities, John will not leave Diotrephes in the dark as to the charges to be levelled when the Apostle arrives to exercise church discipline.  No fake niceness.  None of this vague "Well, you're not a good fit for this church" or "oh, the dynamics here are just bad."  No, Diotrephes will know exactly what he has to answer for.  And if he will wake up out of his self-deluded blindness and humble himself to hear, he'll know what he needs to repent of.  For even Christians like Diotrephes are called to work together for the truth, who is Jesus Christ our Lord and the church's only Head.

    One thing more, then I'll close.  Don't be too quick to assume someone in the church is a Diotrephes.  Sometimes people genuinely believe what they're doing is for the best.  You do the church no good by gossiping about them or keeping your mouth shut as you drop your membership. If someone in the church is pursuing a policy that's unhelpful or even harmful, go to him openly and honorably and let him know.  Most of the time you'll come to a deeper understanding of one another and be able to work together better than ever.

    In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes that we are all

    . . . fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 

    To work together for the truth is to support and uphold and proclaim the message that John and the rest of the apostles preached, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, for there is no other Name under heaven by which every human being must or can be saved.  As we come to one another with this message, as we work to promote this true word, let us humble ourselves to serve and support one another.  May we welcome and be gracious to our brothers and sisters in the faith, whether they're sitting in the pew next to us or come from afar.  This is how we demonstrate the love of Christ that overcomes the world.  This is how we work together for the truth.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Walking in the Truth

Texts:    Psalm 26; 3 John 1-4

I WONDER, WHAT WOULD YOU WRITE if you thought a personal letter of yours would end up as Holy Scripture?  Maybe you'd work to pen something grand and glorious, with eloquent, soaring phrases fit to go down in history.

    On the other hand, if you were an apostle of Jesus Christ whose words were likely to go down in sacred history, likely you'd write just the way John does-- as a humble servant of God addressing the concerns of a brother in Christ. You'd look out for the good of Christ's church and always keep in mind the Lord you both served.

    These next three weeks we'll be looking at the third epistle of John.  Today we'll be focussing especially on verses 2-4.

    It follows the pattern of a typical letter from the 1st century A.D.  It begins by stating who it's from.  The sender doesn't name himself; he merely notes that he is "the elder."  Or, following the Greek, "the presbyter."  Nevertheless, there has never been any serious doubt that 1, 2, and 3 John were indeed written by the Apostle John, brother of James and writer of the gospel being his name.  We know this from unbroken church tradition, and the style of all four books matches so well, it puts it beyond all doubt.  So here we have the Apostle John writing a private Christian a personal letter.  Imagine, when John wrote to churches and individuals, he really could have thrown his weight around.  He could have given all his titles and reminded everyone who he was-- the disciple whom Jesus especially loved.  Instead, in both 2 and 3 John he chose to be known simply as "the elder."

    True, John wasn't just any elder.  As an apostle who walked with Jesus, John was rather like an executive presbyter or a diocesan bishop.  He had churches under his care and his joy and duty was to make sure they were fed and nurtured with the truth of Christ.  He also wanted the pastors and evangelists who served those churches to be received properly.

    He writes to a man named Gaius.  John doesn't identify who his friend is or even where he lives.  This is a personal letter, after all.  It appears Gaius had a position of some responsibility in his local church; possibly he was a ruling elder or a deacon.  In any case, we know that Gaius was a very dear friend to John, and not just a dear friend as the pagans might have, he was "agapete," beloved with the pure love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.

    I'm sure you've heard before about the difference between the various words for love in Greek-- eros for romantic love, philia for brotherly love or close friendship, and so on.  The Church didn't invent this word "agape"; it was used in every day life before the New Testament was written.  You could use it to refer to the high esteem you had for some object you thought would make you very happy.  But more often it meant the love of man for the gods, the love of the gods for man, and the love of supernatural beings for one another.  Especially it meant to love someone more than one's own life, like a mother would love her child. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by Jesus' own example, the New Testament writers took this word for love and made it the Church's own.  For what greater love could anyone know than the love of Christ shown for us on the cross, and what greater love could one human being have for another than to love one another in the agape love of our mutual crucified Lord?

    It's sad, but sometimes we Christians use the love of God as a substitute for really caring about each other.  I'm talking about those times when we say, "Oh, I love her in the Lord," but our hearts are not warmed with any affection for that sister and our hands aren't willing to do anything to help her. 
Christian friends, the agape love of God is not some pale substitute for human love and concern, rather it includes and transforms and makes holy whatever human love is appropriate in the relationship.

    And so John is concerned about his friend's welfare in all aspects of his being.  We see this in verse 2.  John notes that Gaius' "soul is getting along well."  The friend is trusting in Jesus Christ as his Savior, he's growing in the faith.  We'd expect a spiritual father to be concerned with this.  But John also prays that Gaius' bodily health and material circumstances are good, too.  "[T]hat all may go well with you" signifies financial security.  We Christians don't put our trust in earthly wealth, but neither are we called to despise the good gifts God gives us in this life.  Any religion that rejects the proper use and enjoyment of the good things of this world is not Christianity.  In holy love, John prays health and prosperity for his friend, even as he rejoices in his spiritual progress.

    And now (verse 3) John shares his joy in what he has heard from some brothers who had returned to him from Gaius' town.  Gaius, he has learned, remains faithful to the truth and continues to walk in the truth.

    But what does John mean by this expression, "the truth"?  It occurs four times in verses 1-4 and he doesn't go into detail about it to Gaius, because his friend knows what he means.  Let's make sure we understand it, too, so we'll get the good out of this passage the Holy Spirit intends.

    The best thing is to go back to John's gospel and see how he uses the term there.

    In John 1:14 he writes,

    "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

    Truth is an attribute of God, an expression of the reality of who the Father is, that Jesus the Word of God shares and brings to light in this world.

    In chapter 3, verse 21 Jesus tells Nicodemus that

    "‘Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.'"

    So the truth is something one can and should live by.  Our lives should match up with God's character, and when that happens, we don't have to be afraid to let Him see what we are doing.  Our actions and attitudes will reflect his glory.  More than that, when we live by the truth we will acknowledge that whatever good we do we do it through God.

    Jesus teaches the woman at the well in Samaria (4:24) that

    "‘God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.'"

    We know from this that truth, this same expression of the character of God, must characterize our worship.

    In John chapter 8 Jesus makes it clear that those who do not accept and love Him are children of the devil, who does not hold to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  So we see that to hold to the truth is to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father, who was to come into the world to save it.  In 17:17 Jesus prays the Father that He will sanctify this disciples by the truth, for God's word is truth.  The truth, then, is what God is and does; and it's also what God says and has written by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

    And most significant of all, in 14:6 Jesus tells the disciples,

    "‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'"

    The truth is Jesus Himself.  Jesus wasn't just an example of the truth, he embodied it in this world, especially as He died for us on the cross.  He was and is the exact image of God the Father.  He continues to be the truth at the right hand of God on high, and the world will be judged by Him at the last day.

    Gaius is faithful to the truth: he is faithful to Jesus his Lord. He is not afraid to confess who Jesus is and what He has done for him.  He understands and accepts that the Son of God became flesh in this world to be the one true and perfect sacrifice for his sins.  His hope is in Christ and in Christ alone, even in the midst of a pagan society.

    There are those, even in the church, who love to remind us that people these days believe in many different concepts of God and often in no god at all.  So, they say, we should be loose and flexible in our commitment to Jesus Christ.  These are pluralistic times, things are different, and we shouldn't be so intolerant as to say that Jesus is the only truth who can bring us to the heavenly Father.  But don't they realize how pluralistic the world was when St. John wrote this letter?  Unbelievers back then thought Christians were terribly narrow-minded for not accepting  Caesar as lord along with Jesus the Christ.  But Christians like Gaius knew that faithfulness to the truth of Christ was essential to salvation.  Not only that, it was what our God and Savior Jesus Christ deserved. 

    Are you faithful to Christ as your only Lord, and is your Christ the One who is revealed to us in the writings of the Old and New Testaments?  It's crucial that we be faithful to Him and Him alone, and not make up false Christs and false gods out of our own desires or out of the pressures of popular culture.

    But Gaius wasn't merely faithful to the truth, he also continued to walk in it.  Now you know how old the expression is: He didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk.  He carried out the duties and actions that belonged to a man of faith.  Psalm 26 which we read this morning describes what some of those behaviors might have been.  We can also turn to Galatians 5, where we read of the fruit of the Spirit.  To walk in the truth is to treat our neighbor with love, joy, peacefulness, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To use an old-fashioned phrase, it's to make our lives an ornament to the Gospel.  When we walk in the truth we encourage other Christians.  And we show the unbelieving world that the word of Christ dead and risen again really is the truth-- for them as well as for us.

    But to walk in the truth signifies something even greater than that.  We can do all sorts of good things in this world and our lives would still be a lie.  To walk in the truth as Gaius did is to live our lives in the strength and merit of Jesus Christ.  Not trusting in ourselves to please God in our own selves, but putting all our faith in Christ alone.  It's conforming our lives to His word and following the guidance of His Holy Spirit, giving all the glory to God the Father through Christ our Lord.

    This is what the brothers came and reported to John, and it gave him great joy.  His spiritual son was walking in the truth!  Those of you who have children are so happy when they grow up and keep on practicing the good habits you've taught them, even when they've moved away; how much more joy do fathers and mothers in Christ have when we hear that those we've discipled remain strong and committed to the Lord in word and deed!

    And you know who else is filled with joy when we walk in the truth?  God our heavenly Father.  St. James writes that God "chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."  Psalm 26 says

    "For your love is ever before me,
        and I walk continually in your truth."

The agape love of God draws us on to walk in His truth.  In the love of God our Father, may we continually entrust ourselves to God's own truth, who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"But They Laughed at Him"

Texts:    1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Mark 5:21-43

        PEOPLE LAUGH AT GOD THESE days. How absurd that anyone should believe in a Deity we've probably "just made up in our own heads."  We reply that our God could be seen and heard and felt when He lived on earth as the Man Jesus Christ, but the unbelieving world thinks that's a terrific joke.  How could a man be God in human flesh?!  How could one Man's death deal with the problem of our sins?!  Most hilarious of all, where do we Christians get off saying that people have any sin problem in the first place?  People laugh at Jesus, and they laugh at us.

    Maybe if we could go back in time and walk with Jesus in Roman-occupied Israel, we'd find that nobody laughed at God like that.  Everyone would respect Jesus and take Him seriously.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah, the Holy One of God.  And as His disciples, people would respect us take us seriously, too.  No one would dare to laugh, or say that Jesus-- or we ourselves-- was a fool.

    But we know that's not true.   We know it from our Scripture readings this morning.  Just as now, people in the 1st century had no trouble laughing at Jesus and laughing at Christians.  Why?  Because from this fallen world's point of view, Jesus seemed to go about His work in a very foolish way.  He didn't do things the way that was prescribed or expected.  Not even the religious people approved of what He did and why He did it.  Jesus deliberately went around turning things upside down.

    Now, not always.  In our reading from St. Mark's gospel, we see Jesus surrounded by a large crowd.  That's the way it was supposed to be--the famous rabbi, with the crowds hanging onto His every word.  And suddenly through the throng comes the respected Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue, beseeching Jesus' help.  The man's little daughter is dying-- please, Rabbi, come and heal her.  Ah, yes, the high and respected ones look up to Jesus.  That's right.  And Jesus goes with the man to heal his daughter.  That's the way it's supposed to be, too.  And the pressing crowds enthusiastically come along.

    But what's this?  Suddenly Jesus stops dead, looks around, and asks, "Who touched my clothes?"  Even His disciples think this is an odd thing for Him to say.  Good grief, Lord, the people are all crowding against You!  Why ask who in particular touched Your clothes?  Jesus' modern detractors would say this proves He wasn't really God, because God knows everything, so Jesus should have known who had touched Him. They fail to comprehend what God gave up to become a Man, and so they laugh.

    But that day in the crowd by the Sea of Galilee, nobody was laughing.  They waited, and out of the crowd crept a woman who fell at Jesus' feet.  You can imagine the whispers that would have flown from ear to ear.  "Heavens!  Isn't that Hannah bat Itzak?  Doesn't she have some sort of bleeding trouble?"  "How dare she appear in public?"  "How dare she touch the Rabbi, even His clothes!"  Then, "Blood!  Blood!  Unclean blood!"  Nobody's pressing around Jesus anymore.  They've all drawn themselves and their garments back, lest they be rendered ceremonially unclean, just like this afflicted woman.

    And under the Old Covenant law they were right.  Back then our worthiness to approach God in worship depended upon our following certain rules of ritual cleanliness.  Why isn't Jesus following the Law and avoiding this woman?  Doesn't He know her history?  And even if He didn't before, He does now, because she tells Him of her twelve years of bleeding and suffering and isolation.  Does He draw back in horror?  No!  Jesus looks on her with compassion and says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."  Sorry, Jesus, it doesn't make sense!

    Besides, Jesus, what about poor Jairus and his dying child?  Even while Jesus was still talking to the woman, men from the synagogue ruler's house came and reported that his daughter was dead.  No call for Jesus to come now.  Maybe if He'd ignored that unclean creature He would have been on time, but now, forget it.

    But Jesus won't forget it.  He tells the grieving father, "Don't be afraid; just believe."  What an odd thing to say!  But Jairus doesn't laugh.  He goes with Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, back to his home where his daughter lies dead.  Already at the door the hired mourners are at work, weeping and wailing in honor of the dead child.  Jesus, really, isn't it too late?

    But our Lord says, "Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep."

    But they laughed at Him.  From every reasonable point of view, they had a right to laugh at Him.  You didn't need to be a professional mourner in that day to know what a dead body looked like.  The girl was dead.  Enough with the sick jokes, Rabbi.  You make us laugh.

    But Jesus isn't working from human reason.  He's working from the wisdom of God.  He isn't bound by the limitations of human strength, He's filled with the strength of God.  Jesus isn't controlled by the powers of death, He Himself is the everlasting Life of God.  He can confound all human expectations.  Taking the child by the hand, He commands, "Talitha, koum!" or, in English, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"  And this twelve-year-old child gets up, walks around fully alive, and ready for something to eat.

    What?  Who is this who by the speaking of His word can restore life in what was dead?

    It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.  He is the Savior of Israel and hope of the nations, great David's greater Son.  He came in fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies, but even those who claimed to be waiting for Him didn't recognize Him when He came and laughed at Him as a fool.

    In Jesus' day, good religious Jews were expecting God to act to save them, through a human Messiah.  But God chose to come to earth Himself, as the Man Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God.   Can our human minds get around how this can be?  No, but the mind of God can and did make it happen.  And so Jesus lived and served among us, and demonstrated His full humanity by accepting our limitations.  He was willing to be like us, getting hungry, thirsty, and tired.  He accepted that at times His Father would hide some things from Him, such as the identity of the woman who deliberately touched Him in the crowd.  But He was also eternal God, with power over life and death, whose very clothes carried the power to heal those who reached out in faith.

    But then Jesus was hung on a cross and killed.  Now where was the glorious divine kingdom He was supposed to bring?  The Romans mocked and the Jewish authorities scoffed.  They laughed at Him as He hung there.  Where were all His godlike pretensions now?

    But we know what happened on the third day.  God the Father vindicated His Son by raising Him from the dead.  God had the last laugh.  What a reversal!  See all the wisdom and disdain of the world turned upside down!

    But amazing as the resurrection is, as much as it upsets everything we assume about the way things are supposed to be, the cross of Christ challenges our worldly assumptions even more.  For as St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, to those who are perishing-- that is, to all who do not believe in Jesus Christ-- the message of the cross is foolishness.  For what was a Roman cross but a mark of defeat, death, and shame?  To be hung on a cross meant disgrace and weakness, the end of everything you stood for and the end of you.  But God in Christ took that shameful instrument and made it the only sign of the world's hope, glory, and life.  The only sign, I say, because God in His wisdom and power has ordained that only through the cross of Christ can anyone anywhere gain access to Him and enjoy life everlasting.

    The unbelieving world laughs at this.  It laughed in Paul's day and it laughs in ours.  Everybody knows you're in charge of your own salvation, say those who are perishing.   First century Greeks insisted that intellectual enlightenment was the way to union with God.  The Jews of that day were waiting for Jesus to do a miraculous sign that would come up to their standards.  Make all the Romans suddenly drop dead in the streets, perhaps.  And in our time, it's common wisdom that if there is a God you please Him by obeying the rules and making sure your good deeds outweigh your bad!  You're laughed at if you say otherwise.

    But God our Father steadfastly points all mankind to Christ and Him crucified.  All the derision, all the disdain of the world cannot change the eternal fact that it's only through the broken body and blood of Christ that anyone at all can be saved.  Just as Jesus took the corpse of Jairus' daughter by the hand and called her spirit back into her, so the Holy Spirit of Christ entered into us while we were dead in trespasses and sins.  He raised us up in God's strength and enlightens our minds with God's wisdom.

    And so, brothers and sisters, the world may laugh at Jesus and it may laugh at you, but let the cross of Christ be your unchanging message and your eternal hope.  On this good news we take our stand unshaken, even when so much that is good is being torn down and denigrated, even when laughter at the crucified Christ comes from the heart of the church.

    But what if those who laugh and scorn are those we love?  What if our friends and family call us fools and worse for trusting a dead and risen God?  We do them no favors by compromising God's truth to make them feel better about their worldly wisdom.  Stand firm in Christ; love them, pray for them, be always ready to give a reason for the divine hope that is in you.  Remember, there was a time when you, too, couldn't believe that Christ's death was enough to save you, maybe a time when you didn't think you needed to be saved.  The Holy Spirit made you wise with the wisdom of God; He can raise and enlighten and enliven those you care for, too.

    Jesus Christ came to earth as God in human flesh, to die and rise again that we might be raised by the power of God.  The Supper here spread confirms this reality to and in us.  Come to our Lord's Table and eat and drink unto eternal life.  And laugh, brothers and sisters, laugh, no longer in derision, but in holy, exalted, and overflowing joy.  Amen.