Summary: That the Son of God should die on a cross is pure foolishness to many people. But for Christians, it is the sign of the power of God.
The Word of the Cross is Foolish
January 22, 2006
A pastor colleague of mine received a call from a worried mother some time ago. “Pastor, can you come over to talk to my daughter? She’s been acting strange ever since she went away to college. Now she has joined the Moonies!”
Being the good pastor that he is, he rushed over immediately and set about the task of trying to convince her that she was mistaken in her new religious fervor. “What on earth convinced you to get involved with these folks?” he asked. She told him that she had met a couple one evening who had taken her to see a movie featuring the Rev. Moon. “When I heard him preach that night, I thought that I hadn’t heard such good preaching since the last time I listened to you! That’s why I am a follower today. I owe it all to your preaching!”
At that point, my colleague remembered a conversation he had with an older and much more seasoned pastor. He asked the older colleague what he had learned in over forty years of preaching. “What I have learned in preaching is that the possibilities for being misunderstood are virtually unlimited.”
This preaching is an interesting way to make a living. I stand up here every Sunday morning and my words bounce off the walls and ricochet around for awhile. Sometimes they penetrate. Sometimes they just die here and are never heard again…until the next appointment when I’m rushed and so dig one out of the barrel and try to preach it again.
One important reason for pastor burnout is preaching. It is difficult. It is fragile. Sometimes we don’t know if it does any good. Sometimes we wonder if we ought just as well be out shouting at the trees.
Paul had it right, I think, when he declared that the word of the cross is foolishness. We preach Christ and him crucified, a stumbling block, an offense. How foolish to think that something so significant as the crucified and risen Christ can be interpreted and proclaimed in such a feeble exercise as preaching, in a discipline that is so frequently misunderstood.
Yet, that is what Paul asserts here in his letter. He says that to the unbeliever, to the person who is on his or her way to being lost, to the one for whom all this talk is nonsense – this preaching is just so much foolishness. But, he says, for those of us who are being saved, this preaching is the very power of God. This preaching is more than just mere words. It is the power of God for the salvation of souls.
Think about that for a moment, won’t you? Paul says that preaching makes Christ present in individual lives. In other places, Paul will ground salvation in the resurrection. But here, he says that the WORD of the cross brings with it salvation. This is an amazing claim, isn’t it?
God’s saving power in Christ meets us in the foolish preaching of the cross. That’s even more amazing when I think about all of the truly lousy sermons that I have heard…that I have preached myself. Christ meets us in the foolishness of preaching.
What does he mean when he talks about “the word of the cross” that has the power to save? What do you think of when you think of power? Power to save must mean the power to break the grasp of sin on my life. Power to save must mean the power to bring me back to God when all else in my life has failed.
The gospels speak of that kind of power when they speak of stones rolled away, the earth shaking, the voice of an angel, broken bread, and opened eyes. That is power. That is power to save. But here, Paul says that the “word” has the same power. The “word of the cross” is just as dramatic.
Regardless of what those with a false sense of intelligence will say, real wisdom is found in the cross. Regardless of what those who find power in strength, or position, or the number of degrees on the wall say, real power is found elsewhere.
Real power is found where we least expect to find God…among the poor, with the outcast, standing beside the lonely and forgotten, kneeling with those for whom life has lost meaning, standing with those who struggle with their faith…in the fragility of preaching.
So let me attempt, in my own feeble way, to preach the cross today. Preaching is, for me, without a doubt, the most important and most difficult thing that I do because preaching is the word of the cross. And in the word of the cross is the power of salvation. For a humble preacher to have that sort of power at his or her fingertips is awe-provoking indeed.