The Power of the Cross
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 1:18–1:25
Holy Cross Day
September 13-14, 2014
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The Power of the Cross”
We live in a world where symbols are all around us, so much so that we may not always even notice or pay much attention to them. Without using any words at all, a symbol can convey powerful emotions and deep feelings, both for good and for ill. Here are a few examples (show images of Apple, dollar sign, Nazi swastika, peace sign, Islamic state flag, MS gang graffiti, and cross). Does this last symbol, the cross, speak to us today? We wear it as jewelry, we hang it on our walls, and we make the sign of the cross. Here in this sanctuary, the cross is front and center; it is a focal point for our worship and devotion. And despite it being an object of suffering and death, it is also a symbol of victory and hope. There is power in the cross! On the church’s calendar, September 14 is set apart as Holy Cross Day. This gives us an opportunity to stop and reflect on this one symbol that, more than any other, speaks of Jesus Christ, pointing us to the power of his death and resurrection, and the new life that we have in him. On this Holy Cross Day, the theme for today’s message is “The Power of the Cross.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Think back to Good Friday, that most solemn day of the Christian year when we remember and give thanks for Jesus’ life-giving death upon the cross. In our worship on this day, we do something called the Veneration of the Cross. It involves carrying a large wooden cross up the center aisle, and at three points along the way – back, middle and front of the sanctuary – stopping and chanting: “Behold, the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world.” And we respond back with: “Oh come, let us worship him.” We come forward to silently venerate the cross, giving thanks for all that Jesus has done for us. And in doing so, we place a nail into that cross, remembering that it was our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. The ancient title for Good Friday is “The Triumph of the Cross.” This reminds us that the church gathers not to mourn this day, but to celebrate Christ's life-giving passion and to find strength and hope in that cross, which is our tree of life. We will sing about this in our sending hymn, bringing out that beloved Lenten hymn, “There in God’s Garden.”
When we think about power, what usually comes to mind are things like money, prestige, influence, control, and authority. It goes without saying that money and influence can and should be put to good use, and in many instances are, for the sake of the world which God made and dearly loves. But the sad truth is that these aspects of power are frequently misused for selfish and sinful purposes because of our selfish and sinful human nature. Instead of being put to good use in ways that will bless people, these things are put to evil use in ways that curse people. And this is the radical thing about the cross of Christ: here at the cross Jesus has redefined power. Originally, it was a means of torture and death, and so it was a symbol of powerlessness; of humiliation and weakness. How can there be any power in this instrument of death? It is only through what happened on the cross that there is power – power that far transcends anything we could imagine! That instrument of torture has become the means which brought about our salvation. In giving his life on that cross, Jesus has destroyed the power of death. The hopeless downward spiral of sin and death has been broken through the cross of Christ, and life has been restored. This is the power of the cross! We see this now only in part, but the day is coming when in Christ all will be restored. Even now, as we heard in today’s psalm, “He [the Lord] put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3). The power of love that came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) is what the cross of Christ is all about. This power of Christ’s self-giving, sacrificial love at work in us and through us as Christ’s people is what transforms lives. This is what our life together in this congregation must be about – ministry and mission not for our sake only, but for the sake of those around us who do not know the power of the cross and Christ’s love.
You heard what today’s Epistle lesson has to say about all this: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 1:18a). That word is foolishness and nonsense! What Paul wrote nearly 2000 years ago rings true today! To people who are caught up in the symbols and trappings of worldly power, they don’t get it. The cross makes no sense to them, and their eyes are blinded to the greater truth of a greater power. Still, we must reach out to them, praying that the Lord who created and loves them, who shed his blood for them, will open their eyes and hearts to the power of the cross. We don’t have the power to do this, but the Holy Spirit does. When Paul talks about the “power of God” in that Epistle lesson, the original word for power here is δÏναμις, where we get our word “dynamite.” The word of the cross has that explosive power to break through barriers and walls that seem impenetrable. So, when people are moved to seek out Jesus and his cross they will come like those people did in today’s Gospel lesson: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’” (John 12: 20-21). The Greeks were foreigners and outsiders to the house of Israel, but they came to see Jesus. So, what will we do when people come to us asking that same question? How will we respond to their request of “We wish to see Jesus?” Woe to us – woe to us! – if we put any roadblocks or hindrances in the way of those who wish to see Jesus! And how will they see Jesus? Will they see him as some kind of superhero or divine vending machine who gives us what we want? Everyone who wishes to see Jesus must come to his cross. It is here – at the cross – that we see who Jesus really is. He did not shy away from his appointed mission and purpose, as he himself tells us in today’s Gospel: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour… And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:27, 32). It is here on the cross that Jesus was lifted up from the earth, and through his life-giving death upon the cross that we have received forgiveness, life and salvation. That is the power of the cross. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Holy Cross Day takes us back to what happened on that hill outside Jerusalem on a dark Friday so very long ago. For us, it is Good Friday – good because of what Jesus did for us upon that cross. May the power of Christ’s cross and his redeeming love shine through us to the world around us. Amen.