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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


15th March 2009

Fr David Shepherd

Lent III at Bushey and Oxhey Methodist's Church

‘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’ I Cor. 1.18

Censoriousness – in recent weeks there has been an outbreak of censoriousness in our land. Some, Christian, have been attacked for publicly, if a little foolishly, expressing their faith. Others have called for the press freedom to lampoon & ridicule those in power to be curtailed. Others have complained about media intrusion into their lives; the McCann family, Nicholas Mosley & Julie Myers. (I won’t begin to attempt to unravel those three!)

On the whole I am suspicious of such attempts at censorship – it seems to go against the spirit of a free society. In many ways the press is much milder than it was in say the C 18th. Public mockery, particularly of the Church is nothing compared with that found in medieval times.

Lent was once accompanied by activities that sent up and sought to turn the established order of things upside down, parodies of church ceremonies, boy bishops and general foolery - Hence the origins of April Fool’s Day.

If you know Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, you’ll remember the character of the Fool. He was a clown like jester who often spoke gibberish & yet was the only one who could tell the truth to the King.

In Russian Christianity there is the tradition of the Holy Fool, the staretz, who could likewise get away with much. One threw a bloody joint of meat at the feet of Ivan the Terrible and got away with it.

Foolishness is the theme of today’s epistle to the Corinthian’s, the foolishness of the Cross. The Church is called to proclaim the foolishness of the Cross – ‘Lift high the Cross.’ So we do, we might think; the Cross is central to our faith. And yet to be publically Christian in our society is to face ridicule for being a little mad.

St Paul faced ridicule on two fronts. The Jew’s saw the cross for what was foremost a scandalous means of execution at the hands of the hated Romans. Paul saw Jesus’ Cross as, the power of God’, a means of salvation, a means to life. The Jews looked for signs of God at work – remember the signs in John’s Gospel. The Cross became a sign but to the Jew’s it was a stumbling block.

Paul was addressing new Christians in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, a place heavily influenced by the Greek philosophical tradition. At its heart was wisdom, the search for closely reasoned argument about the truth at the heart of reality. The Greeks were impressed by fine oratory. Paul was by his own admission a bad speaker with a message that would have seemed nonsensical to the Greeks, utter foolishness to the absent scholar and wise philosopher.

Here comes the crux of the matter, the message Paul proclaimed turned the world upside down. Christ crucified is the power of God & the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

This profound Christian truth continues to challenge and offend as a foolish means of salvation.

The lectionary pairs the Corinthians passage with the Exodus account of the giving of the Ten Commandments. Until recently they would have been accepted without much thought as the moral basis of Judeo-Christian society. Now in part at least, many see them as foolish, something to ignore. The last six concerning our relationship with our fellow human beings are probably still acceptable albeit often observed in the breach. It is the first four that are dismissed: worship one God, without idolatry, not blaspheming & keeping the Sabbath holy. Yet once again such apparent foolishness is the means to life.

We began with censoriousness. Some attempt to censor the Church, to push Christianity into the margins of personal, private, eccentric belief. This won’t do. As well as being illiberal it doesn’t understand the essence of our faith. Like Paul we are called to preach the message of the cross, the wisdom and the power of God in the public place. This may be costly but we pray that walking in the way of the cross we may find it none other than the way of life & peace.

Amen

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