This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. It was the Third Sunday after Epiphany, and also the second Sunday of our Stewardship Campaign. I preached on the Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. You can view the sermon here (it starts around 25:40).
By God’s great mercy, we are refreshed with the power of God.
That’s our Stewardship theme today. Paul talks about the power of God in our second reading today. Listen to the words he wrote:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”1 Corinthians 1:18, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
What does that mean, I wonder?
Well, first off, what is the message of the cross? Well, I think that might be the easy part. It’s not a deep secret we need to uncover. The God we proclaim is not one to leave coded messages for us that we have to decipher. The message of the cross is straightforward: Jesus Christ, Son of God, was put to death on a cross, and died. That’s the message. The Son of God died on a cross.
And remember what you’ve learned about the Holy Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So to say, “the Son of God died on a cross,” is the same as saying, “God died on a cross.”
So the message of the cross is this: “God died.”
But what does it mean that this message is foolishness to some people, and the very power of God to others? How is the death of God the power of God? Well, I’m going to tell you a story about that. It’s a story told by the gospel writer Luke.
Two people were walking down a long road. Luke tells us that one of them was named Cleopas. I’ll name the other one Robin. Cleopas and Robin were walking down the road, the long road that led seven miles from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. It was a long road on any day, but on this day it felt like the longest journey they’d ever taken.
Because on this day, Cleopas and Robin were mourning. Their hearts were broken. They were followers of a great teacher named Jesus, but things had gone wrong, horribly wrong. Two days ago, Jesus had been arrested by the leaders, and they put him to death. All of his disciples, including Cleopas and Robin, were scared. Many of them huddled into a room in Jerusalem behind a locked door, scared that they would be next. And more, scared also because their whole world was shattered, their hope evaporated.
Why were these two on this road on that Sunday afternoon? Perhaps they were running away, getting out of Jerusalem while they could. Or perhaps they needed some space away from the other disciples. Or perhaps – well, you fill in the blank. But there they were, walking the long journey to Emmaus.
While they walked, they talked. And while they talked, they wept. And while they walked and talked and wept, a stranger came and greeted them. I’ll let you in on a secret, a secret Cleopas and Robin didn’t know. It was Jesus. It was the third day, after all, and Jesus had been raised from the dead! But they didn’t know that; they didn’t recognize him at all.
The stranger said to them, “What are you talking about that has you so upset?”
Cleopas said to him, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know what’s taken place in Jerusalem these last few days?”
The stranger said, “What things?”
Cleopas said, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. We thought he was the one who would save us all. We thought he was the Messiah. We thought – well, anyway, we were wrong.” They told the stranger what had happened.
Robin added, “And just this morning a few of our friends started saying that he was alive again. And that’s just ridiculous – foolishness. Nobody comes back from the cross. The cross is death.”
Jesus then began – oh, I mean the stranger – then began to tell them a story. As they walked, he began to tell them the story of scripture. The story of the creation of the world, the story of the Patriarchs of Israel, the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As they walked, he told them of the judges and the kings of Israel. He told them of the prophets who called the people, of Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah.
They listened to these stories that they knew so well, and they heard them anew. As the stranger wove the tales of their people, they heard within them the message that the Messiah, the Son of God, would indeed come, and would indeed suffer, and would indeed die. And yet, that would not be the end.
And as they walked, they did not notice that their tears of grief were quietly, gradually, drop by drop, being replaced by tears of joy.
It was getting close to the end of the day when they reached the town of Emmaus. The stranger began to bid them farewell, but Cleopas and Robin insisted that he come and share dinner with them. He agreed. Remember: they still did not know who he was.
They entered the house, and prepared the meal, bread, wine, olives, dried fish. They sat down at the table and offered the prayer. The stranger picked up the bread. He broke it. And in that moment, Cleopas and Robin’s eyes were opened. “It’s Jesus,” they both said, stunned. And he was gone. The bread, broken in two, fell to the table.
They looked at one another, eyes wide and mouths hanging open. Cleopas said, “Weren’t our hearts…”
Robin completed his thought: “…burning within us while we walked, while he opened the scripture to us?”
And the two ran back to Jerusalem at once to tell the others. The road didn’t seem as long this time. This was amazing. This was so much better than they ever thought, so much better even than it was before Jesus died.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Perhaps, that’s what Cleopas and Robin experienced. Perhaps for them, the cross, the death of Christ, had appeared as foolishness at first. And yet, in the moment when the risen Christ revealed himself to them, the cross became for them the power of God.
And I wonder – I wonder if that happens in our lives as well.
I wonder if the message of the cross, the message that God died, is a message that can become the power of God for us as well. I wonder how often Christ has revealed himself to us, and how different everything seems in those moments. I wonder how many strangers we have encountered who have been Jesus himself incognito. I wonder what bad news in our lives have actually contained the seed of good news.
I wonder if that’s in fact why we are here, why we, this holy remnant, gather here on a Sunday. I wonder if we have all had the experience of Christ revealing himself to us, showing us that God’s power is greater than anything we encounter in life, greater even than death.
I wonder where Christ might be hidden even now, where he might reveal himself to us next. I wonder how we can respond.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. This is building to something. Last week’s sermon, and this week’s, are building to something in two weeks, the day you will be invited to return your financial commitment cards for 2023.
That’s not much of a secret. It’s a four-week Stewardship campaign, after all. You probably guessed we were building to something.
But here’s the secret. I don’t know yet what this is building toward. I know these are my words, my sermons – but I’m figuring this out as I go along. I believe that Christ is revealing himself to us along the journey. And I believe we are glimpsing the power of God that refreshes us along that journey. But what’s next? We’ll find that out together. I’m looking forward to it as much as I hope you are.