Micah 6: 1-8; 1 Cor 1: 18-31; Matthew 5: 1-12
Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…
This section of the first letter to the Corinthians gives us an extraordinary insight into Paul’s courage. He has no hesitation in telling it as he sees it. As we know, once he embraced the Gospel message, he did so wholeheartedly, leaving no room for doubt in the minds of his readers and listeners. He lives out the zeal of one whose mind, and life, has been changed. We often think of Paul as a convert to Christianity – we even mark a day in our calendar for the conversion of Paul, and yet, he wasn’t a convert in the way that we now understand that word. Throughout his writings, Paul continues to describe himself as Jewish – and he certainly hadn’t converted to Christianity because there was no such religion at that time. His conversion, if we want to use that language, was to turn away from his previous activities, the focus of which was to stop the Jesus narrative, to get in the way of people hearing Jesus’ teaching or trusting in the gift of his disciples, to challenge the narrative that he was the long-awaited Messiah.
After his experience on the Damascus Road, Paul took on a new mission – to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. He was convinced, and he then set out to convince others. He became the most significant commentator on the life and teaching of Jesus, a person whose own voice carried authority and changed lives. This morning we hear him telling the people of Corinth that central to his faith is the truth of Christ crucified.
The people of Corinth weren’t the easiest to convince. Corinth was a very rich city, and its people had a reputation for a degree of arrogance, a confidence in their own place within the wider society and the self- assured opinions that can accompany that. I guess they had the kind of self-confidence we often see in in people of privilege within our own communities. And this morning, Paul takes them on.
He takes them on with a very serious challenge – the crucified is the one who we proclaim. The crucified is the one for whom we have been waiting. The crucified is the one who has the capacity to bring real transformation into your lives and into our world.
He is essentially saying to the people of Corinth: you might think that what is most important in the world mirrors the values you hold dear, but I’m here to show you a different way of thinking and seeing. The value you place on status is an artificial construct. People have value whoever they are. Your ideas need to be shaken up – because at the heart of Christ’s message is a deep compassion for the people who are most vulnerable, for the people who find themselves pushed to the edges. Christ’s voice is a voice for the voiceless. Christ’s values are not the values of the society that you have created, they are the values of the God’s Kingdom.
Paul singles out two groups of people who have a particular perspective – Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom. A significant percentage of the population would have been Jewish or Greek, and Paul makes a particular challenge to them. You spend your time looking for signs, seeking greater wisdom – you’re looking in the wrong places. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking and to start listening. Because the light of the world has been revealed, if only you were able to allow yourselves to recognize him.
This is in some ways an uncomfortable passage to read in contemporary Scotland. We know that in our communities naming people in such a distinctive way would be a crime against a protected characteristic. But in this context calling out the Jews and the Greeks may not have the undertone that we could easily read into it. What if Paul is actually using that language in order to appeal to the people – to say I know what is most important to you, and I am still able to say that there is a different way. He understands them – but still wants them to know that the message of the cross is that they could look and live through a different lens.
That different lens gives us the parameters for the fundamentals of our faith. That is the faith, that post crucifixion, post resurrection, post Paul’s writing faith, that Hector is about to be baptized into. In a few minutes Janet will mark Hector’s forehead with the sign of the cross. That anointing is a reminder to all of us of the baptismal promises we make – and the nature of the Messiah whom we follow. That anointing is our reminder that we are called to follow the Christ who was not impressed by human wealth or self-importance.
This is the Messiah who came to turn our values on their head. This is the Messiah who asks us to make ourselves vulnerable and to respond to the vulnerabilities of other people. The Messiah who asks us to be aware of the people who find themselves on the edges of our communities, those who become the voiceless, almost by default.
And those of us who are more privileged have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to speak out. To be a voice for those who are more marginalized; to recognise the gifts given to all of God’s people.
Hector, as you grow in years, so you will grow into yourself – into being the person who God made you to be; the person God longs for you to be. Your parents, grandparents and godparents will have a role in supporting you to be your best self. We honour God most when we allow ourselves to fully be the people whom he calls us to be.
We have no idea what you will be called into in later years, but we do know that you will be called to compassion and care; to concern and generosity. Those are fundamental Christian characteristics.
They may not be protected characteristics, but they are the foundation stones that set us apart as people who have been transformed because we know Christ crucified.
We know Christ crucified every time we hear someone challenge the established ways that benefit only one small section of society; we know Christ crucified when we are the recipients of random acts of kindness; we know Christ crucified when we experience the unconditional love of the people around us, a love that is but a reflection of God’s love for us.
Hector, you already know what it is to be loved. You know what it is to be unconditionally cared for. As you journey through life, that knowledge will grow and will help to form the person you are becoming. My prayer for you is that as you grow into the person you will be, your compassion, care and love for others will grow and will be known by all who meet you.
Don’t be afraid to proclaim Christ crucified – it is through him and with him that we truly find ourselves.