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Mar 01, 2020

From Weakness to Power

Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:17-31

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Power of the Cross

Category: The Power of the Cross

Keywords: power, cross, transformation, virtue, weakness, fortitude


For the first Sunday of Lent we’ll read from 1 Corinthians 1:17-31. This passage introduces us to the power of the cross that transforms our weakness to strength. Often we feel powerless. We assume there’s nothing to be done about the state of things, or nothing we can do but be swept along with the cultural currents of the day. But there is power in the cross as we take ours up in the name of Jesus. Our title is: ‘From Weakness to Power.


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The Power of the Cross: #1 From weakness to power

For most of the world and most of history,
the cross of Jesus is offensive.
1 Corinthians 1 sums it up this way:
but we preach Christ crucified:
a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles . . .
to limited human reasoning
the cross of Jesus is nonsense and a scandal.
You don’t save the world by dying.
You don’t make things better by
taking on yourself the guilt of others.
You don’t rule and reign
by the suffering and sacrifice of forgiveness.

Yet we confess the power of the cross.
Do we believe it?
Trust this gospel with our lives?
Yes, we believe that we are forgiven
by the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
We are made right with God
not by our own goodness,
for each one of us falls short
of the righteousness demanded by the Holy God,
we are made right with God by Jesus
taking on himself our sin, guilt, and shame:
the sinless one becoming sin for us.

We confess this.
But do we really live it out?
Do we really base our life choices, desires,
and assurances on the gospel?
Did Jesus die for you?
On the cross?
Do you feel powerful?
Hmmm . . .
Most times I don’t feel that I have much power
to change things or life
the way I would like to.
My son is struggling right now.
I don’t have the resources to fix his problems.
You struggle at work to hang on to your job.
You have no control over corporate decisions
about what will happen.
We can list together those on our hearts
and in our prayers,
who need help
yet there’s only so much we can do -
what are those offerings compared to the need?
The scriptures tell us:
18 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.

The power of God,
freely given by the cross of Christ.
You’ve tried human powers:
your own reasoning abilities,
your health and wealth and happiness,
your trade skills and your college degrees,
the power of being white,
being American . . .

But the cross of Jesus judges those powers.
Maybe I can say it better:
the cross of Jesus reveals
what we’ve known all along
but hide from ourselves and so deceive ourselves:
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser
than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger
than human strength.

What did human wisdom and strength do?
It killed God come in the flesh.
That’s the judgment of the cross:
Buechner - Two of the noblest pillars
of the ancient world
Roman law and Jewish piety together
supported the necessity
of putting Jesus Christ to death
in a manner that even for its day
was peculiarly loathsome.
Thus the cross stands for the tragic folly
of human beings,
not just at their worst but at their best.

What does it say about us
if the best we can do results in crucifixion?
Over and over again we experience
that for all our attempts at power we are weak.
Violence in the world increases.
The rich get richer at the expense of the poor.
We don’t love our neighbor as we ought to.
You’ve determined not to fall into that temptation, but you fell again last night.
Can we see our weakness taken up
as Jesus carried the cross?
Can we see our power and thirst for control
judged there?

So why do we still go about life
as if the cross is foolish and weak?
What do I mean?
Why do we still hunger and thirst for earthly power –
of wealth,
of control,
of influence,
of physical strength and accomplishment,
of popularity,
of getting our own way above all others
and above all else?

Who’s power will we trust,
our own,
powerless before the grave
and even the human heart?
Or the power of God,
which raised Jesus from the dead
as the firstfruit and guarantee
of our own resurrection?

About the power of the cross we read this:
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong.
28 God chose the lowly things of this world
and the despised things—
and the things that are not—
to nullify the things that are . . .
The cross looks weak.
But we have experienced its power.:
just look around.

A widow finds the peace and joy
to not only carry on
but thrive and be a blessing
because her church community
demonstrates by loving-kindness
that she isn’t alone..

Healing is given thru the power of prayer.

The patient mentoring of children
thru church children and youth programs
his given you the faith you have today
to give and help and witness.

The church ended slavery in America,
not the civil war.
The church brought down the Berlin Wall,
not political pressures.
The church brought health and education
to our country,
not philosophers and aristocrats.
The church cares for the poor and powerless,
not the government.

And you and I have our own stories
about the power of the cross;
taking up our cross and following Jesus
choosing to suffer and sacrifice together
brings a newness to life
not of our own making!
How your doing without
has brought the joy of Jesus;
how your choosing to suffer with and for another
has brought the kindness of Christ;
how your giving and forgiving
has brought the Spirit who saves
a lost soul.

My invitation to you this morning
is to see in the power of the cross
this transformation at work among us:
from weakness to strength,
from weakness to power.

That power of the cross to save
is a gift from God,
out of his forgiving love,
a daily reality in all our roles, relationships,
and responsibilities.

If you base your responses
on the cross of Jesus,
and take up your cross and follow him,
what looks like weakness
is, in grace, the power of God.

What might your family look like
in the months to come,
our church, our community,
if we live by such faith?
Brothers and sisters quick to forgive.
Slow to exert control
and quick to give up entitlements.
Ready with witness and kindness to share.
Eager to welcome the guest
and share our lives together.
The power to shake our selfishness,
our pettiness,
our spiritual laziness.
The power to welcome the stranger
as we would welcome Christ himself.

How is this power?
Let me ask you,
what takes more strength:
to forgive the one who has hurt you
or to hold a grudge?
to give or to take?
to love or not to care?
to sacrifice for another or to stay safe?
to suffer or to soothe yourself?
Is it easier to deny yourself and do without
or to look out for yourself first?

How is this power?
You don’t change the world by resentment,
by taking more than you need,
by not caring,
by playing it safe,
by being comfortable.
Look at how Jesus transformed lives
by his loving sacrifice,
sharing in suffering,
giving and forgiving:
Walter Brueggemann reflects –
-what kind of a world is it
when a Samaritan can be good
and a Pharisee is unrighteous?
-what kind of world is God making
when a little child shall lead them?
-what kind of a world are we building
if we seek first the kingdom
and do not worry about what we shall eat
and what we shall wear?
-what kind of a world is it
when it is hard for the rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven?
and the meek will inherit the earth?
-what kind of a world is it
if it’s not an eye for an eye
and you love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you?
-what kind of a life can I have
if I don’t store up treasures on earth
but treasures in heaven?

It leads to the peace of the Lord:
a new life -
–forgiveness in order to start again
in a society that shames, mocks, judges,
and keeps score forever;
–generosity that overwhelms our lack
in a society based on the rich getting richer
so we better focus on getting more for ourselves;
–hospitality that welcomes us
in a society that is inhospitable
to all but our own kind;
–justice that protects the vulnerable
in a social system that is deathly in its injustice.

That’s the power of change
that leads to the kingdom of God,
and comes only by the wonderful cross.

I am overwhelmed to think
I can live by the cross.
I must confess, I don’t want to carry a cross.
I cringe at the thought of bearing the lash
of judgment on my back.
I only have so much blood.
But then I remember the gospel:
“Since I have been crucified with Christ,
and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,”
the same power of his love and grace
is alive within me.
What did we read? . . . you are in Christ Jesus,
who has become for us wisdom from God—
that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Our response is to recover the holy habit,
the virtue of fortitude.
Fortitude as a gift of the Holy Spirit
shows itself in moral courage
to favor and work for what’s just and true,
against the common tendency
to seek what’s comfortable and to my own benefit.
Fortitude, as a gift of the Holy Spirit,
also allows us to cope with poverty and loss,
to rise above the pressures and temptations
that reduce life to selfish gains or earthly pleasure.
Fortitude means I can be steady in difficulty
and dependable in pursuing God’s good.
It strengthens my resolve to resist temptations
and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.
The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, to sacrifice in the name of Jesus,
and to face trials and persecutions for Christ.
Its courage and strength relies on verses like these:
"The Lord is my strength and my song."
"In the world you have tribulation;
but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Fortitude shows two ways:
First, it means courage, bravery, valor, heroism;
because Christ is in you,
you can face this,
the Lord will handle this.
The second meaning is endurance, tenacity, perseverance,
because the Lord reigns,
his people are meant to take up
the sufferings of the world.
It is that ability to stick with the hurting
and keep our promises
despite every discouragement and setback.
Courage and endurance—
this is the virtue of fortitude.

In the Lord of The Rings,
When Frodo is at the point
of giving up strength and hope
as the two hobbits cross to Mount Doom,
Sam says to him with utmost conviction,
‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried.
‘I can’t carry it for you,
but I can carry you and it as well.
So up you get!
Come on, Mr. Frodo dear!
Sam will give you a ride.
Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’

Even in the face of certain death and desolation,
Sam remains stouthearted
for the sake of Frodo
and for the sake of Middle Earth.
He is not concerned about his own well-being,
but is consumed with care for Frodo
and for the fulfillment of their mission
to destroy the Ring.

The power of the cross of Jesus
unleashes the habits of fortitude
in our lives and community.
The first step in gaining fortitude is to ask yourself, "What do I value the most?"
Another way to ask the same question is,
"What do I fear losing the most?"
So to fuel the habits of courage and endurance
remember the cross as the great sacrifice of God,
and in thanksgiving ask the Lord
to do great things in and thru you.

It’s too easy to settle for having a small soul.
Many people are tempted with the danger of settling for a small existence, in which they do not attempt to strive for greatness.
So what great things is the Holy Spirit
putting on your heart?
-I want to have the best marriage like I promised.
On a scale of ten we’re probably a 5 or 6 right now. I’m not going to settle for that.
I’m going to practice self-sacrificial love
until we get our marriage to a ten.
-I want my siblings to know they are loved
and we are united in our belonging
to bring out the best for each other.
-I’m good at my work,
but I can use my abilities to do something other
to work for justice in my field,
or stewardship of creation,
or use my abilities to serve the powerless.
-I have a gift given by God
and I want to use it for God’s kingdom.
-Our church blesses us tremendously,
I desire my friends to live in such blessing,
so I’m going to work to invite them
and welcome them
into this healthy fellowship
of Jesus and his grace.
Big things.

When we the last time you prayed
for the Lord to do such a big thing thru you?
When have you prayed for fortitude?

Fortitude also suffers patiently
and endures the trials that befall us.
What is required is a persistent pursuit
of the good in holy patience.
In fact, patience is the supreme test of fortitude,
for when a person has run out of other options, patience still enables her
to hold her ground and persevere
through any oppressing hardship.
The measure of courage is endurance.

What is that difficulty that you just can't fix,
no matter how hard you try?
Try the cross.
This wisdom and patience comes by prayer,
“Lord, give me strength!”

And the Heavenly Father has already answered
that prayer by the giving of his Son:
18 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.