For 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 Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18,22-23,25)
Preaching at times seems foolish.
There are terrible problems in the world today. Terrorism, immigration, the refugee crisis, global poverty, world hunger, and the distribution of wealth are just the beginning of the multitude of issues that the world is facing on a daily basis. These are big monumental problems. Problems that are so much bigger than any small community of saints that may be gathered on any given Sunday. Add to these the problems that the community may be facing; sickness, job loss, or broken marriages. With all of these problems confronting the community, and the greater world, it seems foolish to try to preach. Sure, the spoken word may be able to offer hope during trying times, or provide comfort for those who are distressed, but the spoken word seems useless in trying to change the reality of the world. How can a sermon stop terrorism? How can a sermon feed hungry children? How can a sermon stop human trafficking or help the addict find recovery?
Charles Campbell sums up these thoughts in Preaching Fools when he says, “we stand up to preach with nothing but a word in the midst of a world shaped by armies and weapons of mass destruction, by global technology and economy, by principalities and powers that overwhelm both by their seductiveness and their threat. Up against all of that, preachers speak for a few minutes from the pulpit. It seems like foolishness…a weak and fruitless response.”
As one who stands up on a weekly basis to present a word from the Lord, at times it seems foolish. How can I speak a word to combat the powerful forces of evil in this world? How can my meager words, as broken as they are, make a difference in a vast world of problems? It seems fruitless.
Instead of preaching we should take action. Start a food drive. Dismantle weapons. Run for government positions. Join the military. All of these options seem to have a great chance of changing the reality of the world. Global issues require global power. We must use the weapons of the world to fight the evils of the world. Now is not the time for words, it’s the time for action.
And yet, we preach Christ crucified. Against the global problems of the world we preach the love of a God who came to earth and sacrificed for us. Against world hunger and terrorism, we call the church to cruciformity, to living out the self-sacrificial love of Jesus to a hurting and dying world. Toward the issues of immigration and refugees, we remind the church that our security is in God alone, thus we welcome the foreigner, the alien, and the sojourner. As Paul says, it’s foolishness, this is a foolish message. The world knows it’s foolishness. The world knows that following Jesus will only get us killed, just like he was. We might as well simply take up our cross. Preaching, the world believes, is a pointless exercise.
Preaching is indeed foolishness. It makes no sense when using the wisdom of this age. And there in provides its power, because preaching calls us to see outside of the age around us to envision a new world and a new creation. Preaching is the moment when as a community we declare our belief that at the cross Christ became victorious over the powers of sin and death, and that God is ushering in a new world order. It is a world where love conquers hate, and where acceptance drives out fear. It is a world in which evil is undone not through force and might, but through love and self-sacrifice. It is a world in which all of the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus.
This world makes no sense to those using the wisdom of this age, and it seems foolish. Yet the preaching moment allows the congregation to catch a glimpse of what this new world could be. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “In the sermon, the foundation for a new world is laid.” It is in the preaching moment when the congregation can say together; Amen, may it be as you have said, this is the world we believe in and long for.
So I, and others like me, stand up each week to preach. I don’t do it because I believe that my preaching will end all war and stop world hunger. I don’t do it because I believe my words are eloquent enough to catch the minds of listeners and hold their attention. No, I preach because I’m foolish enough to believe that even in the midst of chaos and brokenness God is bringing about a new reality through the crucified Messiah. And I believe that preaching the crucified Messiah, even though it seems foolish, is actually the power and wisdom of God to change the world.