Joint Service, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston and First Lutheran Church, Mount Ayr;
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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–25, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Festival of the Holy Cross is maybe not exactly what you think. Way back in 326 A.D. Helena mother of Emperor Constantine went on a pilgrimage to the holy land and found what she believed to be fragments from the very cross on which our Savior hung. And while maybe it's a bit interesting, it is doubtful that what she found is actually what she claimed. Enough shards of the "true cross" have been found to build a whole church. And we don't venerate the cross itself, anyway. We hold the cross dear because of the one who hung upon it. Whether Helena actually dug out a sliver of that old piece of wood is irrelevant. Whether she even actually found the historic location of Jesus' crucifixion is irrelevant. It's just like the account from the Old Testament. The children of Israel were saved by God giving Moses the command to hang a snake on a pole and put it up before the people. When they saw the snake on the poll, they were healed of the snakebite and didn't die. The snake and the poll were so highly regarded that later they began to be worshiped by the people. They held the thing to be greater than what God did through it. So would be our temptation to the "true cross" were it to be found in our midst. In fact, as we speak, all those slivers all over the world are given special powers for those who bow before them.
For you and me the cross has its power in the Savior. It's not the cross at all, but the blood shed on the cross. It's not the cross at all, but the life given on the cross. It's not the cross at all, it's Jesus Christ crucified. We hold the cross in high esteem. But it's not the cross at all.
St. Paul makes this very clear in this text. He begins "For the word of the cross…". The word of the cross. He's talking about the Good News of Jesus Christ. God in human flesh; born of a virgin in Bethlehem; walking the roads of Jerusalem; Preaching and teaching and healing; Eating and laughing and crying; Living and dying... on the cross. His life lived in perfect relationship to God the Father. His life lived in perfect relationship to the people around him. The sinless son of God in human flesh. Who willingly offered his life on the cross for the sin debt of the whole world. He suffered the complete punishment of hell for all people. This is the word of the cross.
The word of the cross is foolishness… It doesn't make sense for those who don't see their lives in light of God's law. It doesn't make sense for those who don't want there to be a God to whom they are accountable. It doesn't make sense for people who believe that they can please God by offering him their good works. After all that's the way the world works. We do good things, we work hard, we take care of our families, we develop friendships and help other people, and we receive rewards. So in our natural way of thinking, God must work the same way.
The problem is there's nothing we have that God needs. And the deeper problem is there's nothing we do for God that we ultimately don't really do for ourselves. I do things to please God to make God like me. I do good things for other people, while God looks on, so that he will think better of me. I think that I am basically a good person. At least I'm better than you. So what need is there for God to send anyone to die for me. I think that if I set out a scale and put all the good things I do on one side and all the bad things I do on the other, the scale will tip in favor of the good. And God should consider that. He should look at me and say, "he's more good than bad." And even more importantly, I think if you line up all the people of the world from bad to good I would be lined up more on the good end of the line than on the bad. So I think, you may need the cross, but not me. It is a self-centered delusion. For a perfect and holy God nothing short of perfection can be in his presence. Jesus was asked about keeping the law, he answered:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:37b–40, ESV)
And loving God with our "all" and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves is not within us. There's no line from good to bad. There's no scale where good things I do are weighed against the bad. The determining factor is loving God with "all" we have, and loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. And our lives are filled with the breaking of these commandments. Our lives are filled with self-centeredness. What we do is put ourselves is the object of our own worship. Even though we try to think of other people, the truth is we make ourselves the center of the universe. We actually make ourselves, god. And while this is certainly a rejection of the commandments, more importantly it's a rejection of the commandment giver. When we reject God there is nothing left for us but his anger in punishment. Eternal separation, hell is the destination for those who do not keep God's perfect commandments perfectly. That's me. That's you.
Enter… The Holy Cross. The foolishness of The Holy Cross. This is the foolishness that we preach. We preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. We preach that on the cross Jesus is eternally separated from God the Father. We preach that on the cross Jesus suffered hell's punishment. We preach that the sins of the whole world were laid on Jesus on the cross. We preach that the death he died is the death we deserve. To a world that is perishing it is moronic, foolishness, unnecessary. But for those who see their sin it is the power of God. The power is in faith that Jesus on the cross forgives sin. The power is taking sin to the foot of the cross where Jesus' blood is shed for it. The power is faith that my sin, your sin, is forgiven at the Holy Cross. Faith has its power in two simple words: for you. The Holy Cross is Jesus Christ for you.
We are gathered here this evening with the possibility of embarking together on a mission. That mission is to serve two communities, Creston and Mount Ayr, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is appropriate that we begin together this journey of mission with the contemplation of the Holy Cross. The Holy Cross, were our Savior bled and died for the forgiveness of our sin, is the whole point. For Christians there is no image more powerful than Jesus Christ dying on the cross. It is the heart and center of all we believe, teach, and confess. It encompasses our faith. It's what binds two Christians together as the body of Christ. It's what binds two congregations together into one congregation, with one single purpose, to preach Jesus Christ crucified. Jesus himself said "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show us his death on the cross. It is the center point of history. There's nothing more important to proclaim. God has been proclaiming it through faithful preaching at Creston for years. God has been proclaiming it through faithful preaching at Mount Ayr for years. Now maybe it's time for God to do it through one congregation in two locations. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.