Faithlife Sermons

A Stumbling Block and Foolishness

Notes & Transcripts

lass=MsoNormal>May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our strength and our redeemer – Amen 

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)   

            Here’s a little humour for you – I hope that you receive it in the spirit that it is delivered

There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Irish:  

1.   He never got married 

2.   He was always telling stories  

3.   He loved green pastures 

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:  

1.   He talked with His hands  

2.   He had wine with His meals  

3.   He used olive oil  

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:  

1.   He never cut His hair  

2.   He walked around barefoot all the time   

3.   He started a new religion  

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a North American Indian:  

1.   He was at peace with nature  

2.   He ate a lot of fish  

3.   He talked about the Great Spirit  

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:  

1.   He went into His Father's business  

2.   He lived at home until he was 33  

3.   He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God  

But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:  

1.   He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food  

2.   He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it  

3.   And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do 

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)  

This is intended to be humorous and not offensively racial, if you were offended, I apologize…that was not my intention.

            It is, in most of the examples, racial or racial profiling, and at the very least stereotyping.

This is something that in our western, progressive culture is not acceptable

Police forces and airport security get a black eye when they are caught profiling by stereotypes, especially if those stereotypes are racial

Our passage from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthian church has, in the very first chapter, St. Paul doing just that – “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22)

            To our modern ear this might seem racist, or at the least racial profiling

                        And you might be offended by his rhetorical technique

Well, that is not the only place where St. Paul could be heard as making a statement that might offend

26Consider 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. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)


I love reading St. Paul

I love his passion, the life he lived as a witness to our Lord,

I enjoy and find great wisdom from his compelling arguments

And in general his desire to proclaim the gospel by whatever means possible

By whatever rhetorical device he can used to challenge people into paying attention so that he can share the good news, the gospel

But it wasn’t always this way… just before I went into seminary, before I knew better and knew St. Paul’s and his writing better – I didn’t like him at times

I found that he would brag too much – that he was sometimes offensive, and in general I wondered if he could have presented his position with more humility and subtlety

                    Basically, I wished he was more Canadian – … in a way I wished he was more like me

This is not an unusual thing to do; in fact some might say that it is part of the human condition

Although St Paul was not God, but a prophet and apostle of God, there was still a desire, by me, to wish that he was moulded in my image… and not me in his

And as part of the human condition, it is not uncommon for us to profile God to look a lot like us

Remember my opening attempt at humour, all the attributes – made Jesus like the whatever group was the focus

Consider also the classical paintings of Jesus – made by white Europeans – Jesus looks a lot like them – white and tall

When in reality the average appearance of Jewish man 2000 years ago would have been shorter and olive skinned

All these things that we do that make God in our own image – or understand the wisdom of God by our own parameters… are stumbling blocks and foolishness

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

            And it is the same in our understanding about God and the wisdom of God

                      We hate a vacuum in knowledge and fill the space with our cultural perspective

Then… as now - there are generally two ways of authenticating divine presence and activity:

      Signs and wisdom.

           Here Paul, using a rhetorical device by classifying humanity into two broad groups: Jews and Greeks.

The one looks for signs, dramatic demonstration of the presence of God.

The other looks for logical explanations.

Miracles and wisdom – these become the major ways of determining whether God is speaking or acting in the world. [1]

So the question we are faced with today is a basic one:

Does authentic spirituality follow the pattern of Babel, with human beings constructing towers to heaven from building blocks of their own spiritual wisdom or philosophical insight?

OR Does true religion, rather, conform to the pattern of Sinai, where knowledge of God results from sovereign, divine decision to come down from heaven and establish fellowship with humanity?

… Paul, in this passage stresses that fellowship with God is a product of God’s decision to come to us.

He bases this claim on God’s act of reconciliation in the cross.[2]

The irony (indeed the paradox) of this divine scheme is that the cross is the last place where humanity would expect to discover God's ultimate wisdom and power.

            The brilliance of God’s way is that it is not the human constructs of ‘God as man - only better’

                        Like some super-hero, like Spiderman, Superman or Wonder Woman

Or the mythical Greek Gods of Zeus, Apollo or Aphrodite

                                                But that God’s wisdom is beyond what we would have constructed

God… is not a reactive deity.

God has not sought out humanity according to the ways humanity has sought out God.

Rather, God has intentionally and decidedly destroyed the ways and means by which humanity decided get to God


Paul is presenting the divine enterprise which intentionally thwarts all human attempts to know or find God. This is the divine initiative of the cross.


Where today, when we see and think of the cross in our cultural perspective

            We think of it as a piece of jewelry or a decoration for a church

The cross is so culturally understood as the main symbol of Christianity that it has lost much of its original power

The cross of 2000 years ago was reserved for those disreputable individuals or groups such as rebellious slaves, insurrectionists, pirates, or brigands who had threatened the divinely sanctioned social order of the Empire.

Thus the cross was the imperial instrument used to suppress subversion.

As a public spectacle, crucifixion was an act geared to shame its victims through degradation, humiliation, and torture before, during, and even after death ensued.

At the same time, it was a political statement which declared that all who threatened the imperial social order would find themselves co-crucified with the current victim.

       In some Jewish circles, it could also be regarded as a sign of divine curse

We read in Deuteronomy: His corpse must not remain all night upon   the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. (Deuteronomy 21:23). [3]

Into this cultural setting that we have the core of Paul's preaching which is: the word of the cross and the proclamation of Christ crucified.

This is not a message geared to win friends or influence people.

            For many, anchored in this world, it is a stumbling block or just mere foolishness


The longer I look at the Greek people and their philosophies, these gentiles of yester-year, the more they look like Canadians of today.

These people, of centuries ago, enjoyed the blessings of political freedom in what was one of the earliest democracies.

They were cultured, highly intelligent, and educated, and very religious, but they had rejected God and exchanged the worship of the one true God for “gods” of their own.

How much like them our culture is

            With our worship of material stuff, always wanting and getting more

The latest smart phone or TV or car or keeping our houses up with the Jones – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

We have more confidence in human reasoning, in science, and our search for truth than we do in the one who is the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We, as a culture, are always in pursuit of something new and novel.

And so what is our response as Christians in this dominantly secular society – what do we see happening

At our worst, we Christians have isolated and insulated ourselves from our culture’s mainstreams.

We can be inward-looking, self-absorbed, self-important, and cloistered, instead of engaging people

At our best, Christians have always been just as comfortable living, learning and sharing the Gospel in the marketplace of ideas as is the ministry of the church, in bars and board-rooms

Believe it or not we are all given numerous situations in which we have the opportunity to "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you."(1 Peter 3:15)

It doesn’t need to be any more complicated then sharing your own story, to people that you care about or love enough share what has blessed you

Remember, we are the Church, God’s risk of love in history, as mature and immature as the average of its members

So as you go from here - and as you will return to your own varied sub-cultures, whether that be family, bridge group, curling club, golf club, poker pals, work or whatever.

May you leave empowered with the knowledge, faith and trust in the cross

Foolishness to those perishing and stumbling blocks for those in need of signs and wonders

         “But to us who are being saved… it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18b)

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)  



[1] Preaching the New Lectionary commentary – Year A, Volume 1 – pg 146

[2] Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 1 pg 302


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