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"...through the folly of what we preach" - 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 - The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

[1 Corinthians 1:18-25] 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 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?21 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. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

…through the folly of what we preach

Are you willing to look like a fool? A strong desire we all have, lying under the surface of much of what we do and say, is the desire to be accepted. Maybe even to be respected or honored. But definitely to be accepted. No one wants to be thought a fool. No one wants to be on the outside.

Some desire to be wise. Or clever. Or sharp and knowledgeable. To be accepted or respected for this. A religious person desires to be seen as spiritual. Maybe they even reach and grasp for what they can call signs and miracles in their life so they can see themselves as spiritual.

Another wants to be seen as – or wants to see themselves as – compassionate, altruistic, humble, generous – or maybe even holy. But nobody wants to be a fool. Acceptability and respectability even, at times, rule over our faith.

What are you willing to believe? What are you willing to believe out loud? “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” A religion that is full of signs and miracles – full of the spiritual – is often acceptable in this world. Amazing experiences give credence to the thought that maybe I’m something special – that man is something worthy.

Religion that sets forth morality is popular – popular with part of the crowd. It gives me the chance to believe that I am moral – that I have a righteousness of my own.

Religion that sets forth man’s love as the greatest good – the religion of man’s charity for man – the religion of adopting a cause – is acceptable in the world. It’s another avenue for men and women to believe about themselves that they are righteous.

Religion that is intellectual and embraces man’s best minds in science, philosophy, and politics – this religion is accepted in the world. Religion that can be respected by the best and brightest. Religion that leaves man wise and good, without God’s Word.

If your religion allows man’s voice to have the final say, man will accept it – and your neighbors will accept you. What is unacceptable is faith that gives God’s Word the final say.

This is nothing new. In the garden, in man’s fall, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked desirable “to make one wise” [Genesis 3:6]. Man and woman sought to make themselves wise – to be something on their own. They began to see God’s Word and command as that which interfered with their ability to be wise. But in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they didn’t gain wisdom but instead lost the tree of life. [Genesis 2&3]

Man’s desire for wisdom – and to be something on his own – still causes him to reject the tree of life today – that tree of life now being the cross of Jesus. The cross is acceptable if it’s made into a political or social message or into a spiritual example to follow. But the true cross of Jesus, which is about a death that atones for your sin – this cross is foolishness to the world. But for you it is salvation.

Faith in the cross of Jesus means first believing that we are sinners deserving God’s present and eternal punishment. Faith in the cross of Jesus means believing that Jesus, God’s Son made man, carried our sins in His flesh on that tree and has suffered God’s wrath and punishment in our place – thereby gaining for us free and unearned forgiveness.

This leaves no room for man’s own righteousness as the redeeming factor in his life. This leaves no room for the pride of making it right myself. This leaves no room for claiming a holiness of my own through spiritual experiences or spiritual exercises. This leaves no room for mankind saving himself through his wisdom and ingenuity – nor by his own benevolence.

The cross of Jesus leaves man with nothing of his own, but gives man everything from the Lord. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” [Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me The Lutheran Hymnal, #376].

The cross of Jesus is foolishness to the world, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

God’s catch of mankind – His saving of sinners for His kingdom – happens through the preaching of the cross of Christ. “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 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.” Some demand signs, some seek wisdom, “but we preach Christ crucified” – a stumbling and foolishness to many – but “to those who are called” it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In today’s Gospel [Luke 5:1-11], when Simon Peter and the other disciples brought in the great catch of fish, they did not do so by their talent and wisdom as fisherman nor even by the greatness of their human toil. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” “But at your word I will let down the nets.” (Nor was it by their holiness – Peter responded, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”)

Though they had toiled all night in the labor, talent, and wisdom of fishermen to no avail – an empty net – they followed the seemingly foolish command of the Lord to go out once more and let down their nets. It wasn’t them – at the word of the Lord, the nets were filled.

The Apostle Paul says of His own preaching, “I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” – “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]

And of his hearers he says, “consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly 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, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:26-29]

God gathers His catch only “through the folly of what we preach” – Christ crucified and risen. And you, brothers and sisters, are part of that catch. You are caught up to God and made His own only through the power of the preaching of Christ crucified. He is crucified for you. You are His.

And in Him what do you receive? Acceptability in this world, which is perishing? No. You are received into the family of heaven and are made acceptable to God, which is far better.

And in Jesus-crucified-for-you, you have the true wisdom and righteousness: “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” – “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” [1 Corinthians 1:30-31].

We may look like fools in the world. But we are blessed to be God’s fools. Believe His Word. Christ is crucified for you – you are saved in Him. Amen.

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