The Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:10-17
Jesus "cleansing" the temple by overturning the tables of the money changers(John 2:13-22)
and this little gem from Paul (1 Corinth 1:18-31)
My friend Ryan from Church of the Beloved reminded me this week that what passes for most sermons we hear is the following formula
#1) what is the problem
#2) what you can do about it.
This is often called “Christian Moralism” or sometime “Biblical Teaching” or if you are a cool emerging church person then it’s called “Living in the Way of Jesus” But the desire for me-based solutions is not exactly limited to church folk. Sometimes when I first meet new people and they find out that I’m a pastor they say “I’m not into organized religion. I just hope that being a good person is enough”. I’m like, “yeah, it’s not”. But I can see where they are coming from - if you obey the 10 Commandments then you are covered, right? Of course that would make you the first person to pull it off - basically our record as a species is like 125 Billion and – 0 but hey, knock yourself out. And we do. We try really really hard. Why? Because when sinners hear the law – what sounds like demands from God, we have exactly 2 choices. Pride. Or Despair.
Pride in this realm is the empty comfort of being right. On one end of things Pride under the law looks like a focus on purity and personal morality and upholding so-called family values. It is approaching the word of God as a rule book and spiritual self-improvement policy. On the other hand pride under the law can be political correctness and the tyranny of being more anti-oppresion and more inclusive and more multi-cultural than anyone else. It is to look at the word of god as nothing more than a public policy manual with nothing to say to me as a sinner.
The other option of course, if we do not look at the demands of God with self-congratulations, is to look on them with despair. Jesus helped to up the ante here for those of us who think “just being a good person is enough” To those who feel self-satisfied that out of virtue they do not commit adultery (check) he says anyone who has lust in their heart has committed adultery. (oh. Maybe un-check) To those who are prideful that out of our virtue we give to charity (check) Jesus says oh yeah, sell all you have and give it to the poor (ok, maybe un-check). It can feel like a set up. Looking at how impossible it is to really fulfill God’s demands leaves us with a tortured conscience. I wonder if moving from vice to virtue isn’t a really a lousy salvation plan namely because it’s not actually possible to pull it off. The thing is, me-based solutions don’t look very hopeful.
So if we are all hoping that “being a good person is enough” then now is as good time as any…. to see that it’s not. We’d prefer to have it be about laws that we can cling to as a plan for salvation or a way to know who is in and who is out, but in reality it’s not like that. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that ours is a God who chose what is foolish the world to shame the wise. Our wisdom says that religion, when properly practiced should get us something. Our wisdom says that the solution should be a market system for making our way to God. But that’s not it. And the solution also isn’t to just try harder. If trying harder worked some of us in this room would have arrived. Although honestly several of you would have no hope whatsoever.
Well, there is a solution but there is good news and bad news about that. The bad news is that it’s not a me-based solution. The good news? It’s not a me-based solution. Even still, my wisdom holds out for a me-based solution that I can either boast about or despair in. But the solution isn’t me-shaped. It’s cruciform. This cruciform solution doesn’t earn us glory and power and status. It actually levels our pride and inverts our sense of spiritual accomplishment.
The solution is Christ. See, when I think that my efforts toward fulfilling God’s demands or being virtuous or trying harder is what will earn my salvation then this means that I no longer really need Christ. He is for all intents and purposes left idleing in his van on the corner. Virtuous self-made market system rule followers just don’t end up having a great need for the cross. Maybe because at the cross Jesus messes with all our ideas about rules and worthiness and power; here we see a messiah who is foolish enough to allow himself to be killed and not even in a neat or noble way. The solution is for God to be made flesh and walk among us, God’s own beloved sinners. Because this changes everything. See, Jesus isn’t a new Moses bringing a better law we’ll never live up to. Jesus isn’t just sitting in heaven waiting to see if we can pull off the impossible and then condemning us for our inevitable failure. Jesus subverts the entire paradigm. Jesus actually IS our righteousness. This righteousness we have is not our own, but that of a Merciful and gracious God who comes to us in vulnerability and suffering. And the thing is….with the righteousness of Christ there is no extra credit to be obtained.
So we offer no me-based solutions here. Not if we preach Christ and him crucified. Then you know what we have to offer? Divine foolishness. But to the weak and the cynical and the socially awkward and the gays and those injured by religion and the parentless and the unemployed and the alcoholics Christ crucified – the foolishness of God – is life in a way that our own wisdom can never be. Only a God who intimately knows such pain and sorrow can take on all our crap at the cross and exchange it for Christ’s own tender blessings. To preach the foolishness of Christ crucified is to say ok, we can all stop clamoring our way to God. We can all stop bringing our petty righteousness to God in some sort of market system or as Peggy preached last week, some sort of Spiritual pawn shop. When we think we are buying our way to God through our own virtue, then we might out of the corner of our eye see Jesus making that whip out of cords. Jesus upturns our tables of personal righteousness. And dumps out the jars filled with coins of our virtue with which to trade for our own salvation.
A professor of mine at Luther seminary says that this whole thing isn’t about moving from vice to virtue. We actually move from virtue to Christ. We can stop all of it because in Christ God has come to us. The direction is decidedly from God to us, not from us to God. So it ends up that it actually is good news that “just being a good person” is not enough. Because the cross is enough and perhaps we should remind each other of that whenever we slip in to pride or despair. We should remind each other that you do stand in righteousness before your God, not due to your virtue, but due to the cross. Only a God who slips into skin taking on flesh in all it’s broken glory – only this God of foolish love who dies a scandalous death without even lifting a finger to condemn the enemy – only this God can love you where you are. Right now. Because in the world according to God that’s how things work. And it’s beautifully, bafflingly foolish.