Lent 3B, 10 March 2015
1 Corinthians 1.18–25
We live in a world in which God’s work is largely hidden from us. Yes, Psalm 19 reminds us:
The heavens declare the glory of God—
and we know that more than any other generation. They’ve just discovered a black hole that is about 12 billion times more massive than the sun. It’s also around 12 billion light years away, which means it’s 12 billion years old. It’s almost as old as the entire universe! A black hole that old shouldn’t exist. Physicists are going to have to change their ideas about how black holes are formed. Yes,
The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God.
But: people see nothing of God in the heavens without the eye of faith—even just a little faith. God’s glory is hidden from their eyes.
I want to claim today that while the heavens, are majestically great, they are not God’s greatest work. God’s greatest work is greater still than the heavens—yet it is even more hidden from human eyes.
What is this ‘greatest work’?
Might it be the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law, on Mt Sinai? The story says that before Moses went up Mt Sinai alone except for his brother Aaron,
there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.
The story says ‘Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire…’ It says that God spoke to Moses in thunder and that the people were not allowed anywhere near for their own safety. If I were there, I’d have been relieved to stay away.
On the mountain God gives the law, which begins
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
It goes on to set the limits of people’s behaviour—do not lie, steal, commit adultery and so on.
This law has formed the basis of our own code of laws today. Surely it is the greatest work of God?
No, I’m afraid it’s not.
Ok, what about the coming of Jesus, God’s eternal Word in human flesh? Now, we’re talking! Remember how the Gospel According to John begins?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… And the Word became flesh and lived among us…
The Word became flesh… So, what does God’s Word made flesh do in today’s lectionary reading, in just the second chapter of John’s Gospel? Let’s just look at it in the eyes of those around him, shall we? In their eyes, he disrupts the lawful business of God’s holy temple.
In the eyes of those around him, he sets himself above the temple worship and he sets himself up against the law of God on which the temple and their whole society stand. In their eyes, his behaviour is scandalous.
Yet to the eye of faith, the Word made flesh is a greater marvel than the law or the temple.
But the Word made flesh is a marvel that is hidden. The story of the giving of the law on Mt Sinai shows a God who is far from hidden, with all the booming thunder and lightning flashing. But the Word made flesh is a human being. The Word made flesh didn’t walk around ancient Palestine with a halo around his head and a shining heart on the outside of his robe.
The Word is made flesh in the hearts of those who trust him. To the others, he is hidden right in plain view, a troublemaker who needs to be eliminated.
God hides in plain sight. Isaiah (45.15) said,
Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Saviour.
The Saviour hides in plain sight. Ultimately, the Saviour hides on the cross of Calvary, there for all to see. But also not to see.
What do people ‘see’ when they look at that figure on the cross? Many see only the tragic figure of an innocent man executed in a horrific fashion. A cruel end, a barbaric end, but an utterly final end nonetheless. His words remain, but he is gone forever.
Doesn’t it make sense? We can dress it up all we like, but Jesus is dead. ‘Christ crucified’ is a mystery hiding in plain sight, ‘a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’.
God’s greatest work is not only becoming human in the flesh of Jesus Christ; God’s greatest work is a death, the death of the eternal Word made flesh.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is the greatest work of God the world has ever seen—yet the world cannot see it.
The ancient world was very conscious of this rule: you reap what you sow. If Jesus is crucified, then he must be a very bad man. End of story.
For the leaders of the people, the crowd, and for his disciples it was obvious: on the cross Jesus was put to everlasting shame and dishonour. Everything about him was false and wrong.
It’s foolishness for Christ to die on the cross. But it’s the foolishness of God.
Jesus died in weakness. But it’s the weakness of God.
But God’s foolishness is wiser than what people call wisdom. And God’s weakness is stronger than what people call strength.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians,
I have been crucified with Christ…
Isn’t that foolish? Isn’t it foolish to stand with someone who was crucified by the forces of law and order, the very people who are experts in the law of Moses? But that’s what Paul says, and that’s what he wants us to be able to say. ‘I have been crucified with Christ.’
But there is a ‘nevertheless’. Paul says, ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’.
Nevertheless, Christ lives. In me. In you.
The crucified one is also the risen one.
It was the forces of law and order that put him away, outside the temple, outside the city, outside the law, beyond any redemption; but God vindicated Jesus! And we are vindicated too as we allow ourselves to share in Christ’s death and risen life.
the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God
We are ‘being saved’—we are on the way to full salvation. We are not ‘there’ yet, we are works in progress.
We are not being saved through our knowledge of God. Nor are we being saved because we go to church. Nor because we have wonderful spiritual gifts.
We are being saved because the crucified-risen one holds our hand, and we cling to the crucified-risen one in return.
Jesus hides in plain sight from those who look but cannot see. Jesus reveals himself to the weak and humble of heart.
Let’s read the rest of 1 Corinthians 1:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
God’s greatest work is not the heavens, great as they are; not the giving of the law to Moses, far-reaching though that was.
God’s greatest work is also God’s most hidden work: that a man crucified 2000 years ago by the forces of law and order ‘became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption’.
Jesus the crucified-risen one is the way to eternal life here and now. He died on the cross out of love for the world. In that death, God the Father knew the suffering of God the Son. In that death, God overcame death forever. And we can be sure that God knows our suffering as we walk the way of Jesus. There are things still hidden from our sight here.
The Saviour is hidden in plain sight—as are we his people, we who are weak and foolish in the eyes of the world. We are called to hold out the promise of life to others as Jesus did—in ways that are hidden to many. We are called to speak of new life, to set prisoners free, to serve the poor and sick. We are called to do it freely and gladly in Jesus’ name and as Jesus’ people.