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The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 2, 2014
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Sermon: "Something to Cheer About"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
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. 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, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
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."
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Something to Cheer About
Have you ever been swept up in a wave? No, not an ocean wave at the beach, but the kind of "wave" that sweeps through a football stadium, or the baseball stands or a hockey rink. It's an exhilarating crowd experience to see the wave created by thousands of people standing with their arms raised and then quickly sitting back down to simulate one big ripple effect. Of course, we Episcopalians do our own version every Sunday; when the crucifer passes down the aisle, we bow until the cross passes by. It’s the Anglican wave! The rather unique thing about "The Wave" phenomenon is that it is one of the most unifying noncombative forms of cheering that can go on at sporting events. It takes everyone's cooperation to get a wave going and keep it moving through the crowd.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. I realize that the Church calendar actually dares to suggest that there might be some other meaning to this day. The title at the top of the bulletin page in most churches will read "Fourth Sunday after Epiphany." But all of us know the real truth. God created this Sunday for the Super Bowl, even if the Apostles and Prophets thought it was for something else.
Now, all this cultural fanaticism is what got me to considering the actions of sports crowds, and the boasts and cheers we commonly associate with big games. For instance, sometimes cheers simply celebrate the greatness of a school, team or player.
He's our man!
If he can't do it,
Two bits, four bits,
Six bits, a dollar.
All for our side,
Stand up and holler.
Then again, some cheers spend the fans' energy by putting down or even threatening the other team. Take the Barbershop College yell for instance. (Imagine these guys with straight-razors…)
Cut 'em in the lip!
Cut 'em in the jaw!
Leave their faces raw, raw, raw!
As anyone knows who has ever attended a game where their own team was losing, the key is not to dwell on your own imminent defeat, but on any perceived weaknesses on the other side. Here's one I once heard at a High School game.
You ain't got no alibi.
You ugly! Hey, hey, you ugly!
And no matter how strange, untalented or highbrow a team might be, there is always a cheer that can be adapted to serve. Here's one from the Ethical Culture School:
Strong as a lion,
Swift as a vulture.
Rah rah rah.
And finally, from Louisiana State University, specifically from the School for Cajun Cooking comes this one:
(Hot Boudin, by the way, is a blood sausage, and cold coush coush is sort of their version of grits.)
Come on, Tigers,
Poosh poosh poosh.
Cheering is the way we celebrate what we believe to be our strengths; whether the cheer is based on talent, intimidation or a peculiar bloodsausage. In our Epistle lesson to the Corinthians this morning, we find that the Corinthians were just as anxious to project a winning image as any of us. But Paul discovered some problems with what they were cheering, and not cheering. They were not only cheerleading for certain groups and leaders within the church, they were beginning, rather casually to let slide any emphasis on the awkward, embarrassing fact of the Cross. The Corinthians, understandably, wanted to focus on what they believed were their strengths; their leaders, their knowledge, their wisdom.
Paul's words, though, catch them up short. Listen especially to his words to them in verses 22-25, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." And jumping down to verse 31, "...in order that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'"
Here Paul clearly declares that the thing that the world perceives as our greatest weakness is actually what we should be cheering about. Christ crucified! Now there, Paul insists, is a catchy cheer, a boast worth making. In light of the cheers that many of us will be making later on today, let's consider together for a few moments this morning this most important act of cheering and boasting as we are called to properly do it; and this is our proper cheer: BOASTING IN THE LORD. Look at verse 31 again, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." The kind of boasting Paul condones, "boasting in the Lord", requires a new kind of cheering from the church. Consider our Gospel lesson this morning from Matthew 5: 1-12. We call these soaring and majestic words of Jesus here the "beatitudes" or "blessings" because of their grammatical construction; "Blessed are...". As someone has pointed out, they are called Beatitudes because they should Be our Attitudes.
What if we thought of Jesus' blessings here as actually being the cheers of the new kingdom?
"Hooray for the poor in spirit .... "
"Rah, rah, rah, let's be the meek .... "
"Nofear persecution, nofear persecution .... "
"We are the merciful; we are the merciful .... "
In light of what we usually think of as cheers, these seem like the most foolish sounding excuses for "cheers" that any "team" might chant. Who could possibly be impressed by a team that touts itself as poor in spirit, meek, merciful and persecuted? Surely these are the marks of losers, not winners.
But that is exactly what Paul is telling the Corinthians to stand up and shout about. We have become numbed to the cross as a symbol of scandal and shame. In our culture, it is simply a jewelry design or an architectural adornment. We forget just how shocking it was for the first Christians to claim that the Cross was a victory.
As Christians, we are to make "the wave" not just when someone hits a home run, but when someone turns the other cheek. As Christians, we are to offer a "high five" not just when someone scores a touchdown, but when someone sacrifices his or her own welfare for the sake of others. As Christians, we are to be clapping and stomping in rhythm not just when someone leads a cheer, but when someone offers a prayer for an enemy or a persecutor.
These are "foolish" cheers. But they are the genuine response of a church that recognizes God's greatest strength was revealed in a supreme act of weakness and sacrifice. Only with these drastically reordered concepts of power and wisdom wellestablished in our minds are we allowed any room for boasting. And what is the boast we can make that impresses God, that something to cheer about for all eternity? It is just this: Jesus Christ's sacrifice for us upon the Cross, and the difference his sacrifice has made in your own life and mine.
You know, every good school has a fight song and alma matre. Even Princeton Seminary, my seminary, has one, believe it or not. It's one of our hymns for Eucharist this morning, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Pretty foolish fight song by most collegiate standards. But listen to its boast. "When I survey the wondrous Cross, on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride."
"Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood."
"See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ere such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?"
"Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far to small. Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
To a world that only recognizes brute force as power, the church and her cheers will remain a foolishsounding proposition, "but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" The power of God to change the world; the power of God to save it; the wisdom of God to heal the world, the wisdom of God to win it. Boast in the Cross of Jesus Christ; boast in its power to save. For there is something to cheer about.