by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Sermons from Seattle
I Corinthians 1:18-31
The sermon today grows out of the epistle lesson which talks about the cross of Christ. The key lines are: "Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel and not with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ is emptied of its power. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God."
If you really want to understand the heart of God, you need to understand the cross because the cross symbolizes the love of Christ. Christís love is the deepest kind of love, a love which is willing to die for another. The epistle says, "We are to preach the gospel which is the cross of Christ and the cross is the very power of God for salvation." The cross is power, the power of the love of Christ.
If I were God, and if by some fluke of nature, I was mean and malevolent, it would be a horse of a different color. If I was God and I was really nasty, I would sit up there in the midnight sky on a dark gray cloud. I would sit there on my ebony throne, and I would look through the blackness of space with my giant black binoculars and I would look down there through the vastness and blackness of space all the way to earth. And I would get downright mad. I would get madder and madder and madder and madder and madder, I would get so mad as I looked down on that earth. I would see Cain killing Abel and I would see the rich stealing from the poor. I would see adultery and idolatry. I would see massacres and murders. I would get so mad I would pull out my zap gun, my laser gun. I would zap the earth and fry the whole thing up. That is what I would do if I were God. And then I would create another earth. And if the second earth turned out as bad as the first one, I would zap that second earth as well. That is what I would do if I were God, and if by some fluke of nature I was mean and malevolent.
On the other hand, if I were God and if by some fluke of nature, I was pure sweetness and light, it would be a horse of another color. If I were God and if I was made out of ice cream and sugar daddies and candy floss, why things would have turned out differently. For I would sit up on my beautiful blue throne of my white puffy cloud, and I would take my gigantic white binoculars, holding them with my white gloves and look through the blueness of space and see that little blue-green marble called earth, I would give everybody what they wanted. I would give one person a castle by the sea and to another, a home mortgage free. I would take out of my giant cornucopia bright sunny days, weather always in the high seventies, grass always green, and rain late at night.. All the hogs from the farms would be fat and wheat would sell for one hundred dollars a bushel. Consumers would have bulging wallets full of money to lavish on every gadget. I would have all the governments make their budgets and never have to tax anyone. I would eliminate all those nasty things like world starvation, war and droughts. I would eliminate cancer and coronaries and crinkled arteries. I would eliminate sinuses and runny noses and allergies. I would make the world beautiful and perfect, with symphonies and orchestras and rhapsodies and rhythms. That is what I would do if I were God and if by some fluke of nature, I was sweet and nice and made out of ice cream and candy floss. In the mantel of every home above every fireplace would be carved the words, "God is great, God is good, God lives in my neighborhood. On the back of every bumper of every car, I would have a sign which would read, "Honk if you love Jesus" and all of the automobiles of the whole world would honk together, with a wonderful cacophony of praise. That is what I would do if I were God and if by some fluke of nature, I sweetness and light and made out of ice cream and candy floss.
Thank heavens I am not God. For the nature of God is not like some mean and malevolent father who has a back yard whip that cracks and snaps and whips everybody into fearful obedience, snapping at us and cracking at us for every mistake that we make. Nor is the nature of God is some kind of soft sugar daddy who is going to give you everything that you think you need. Rather, ours is a God who loves us. Ours is a God who loves us so much that he suffers for us and with us; our God loves us unconditionally and affirmatively; our Godís love is so great that he is willing to die for us. And this quality of love in God creates a similar love within ourselves. That is what the sermon for today is all about.
The sermon for today is about the cross which is the very power of Godís. We must talk about the cross for the cross symbolizes a way of loving, a way of living, a way of losing yourself for another.
How do you create love in people? That is what the sermon is all about. How does God create love in us? That is what we want, right? For our children, our grandchildren, our spouses, our family, our friends, people we know people we donít know: we want all these people to be deeply loving, do we not? Not shallowly loving people, not superficial people, not syrupy people but deeply loving people. So the question for this morning is: how does God go about this, creating deep love within us?
Tell me, what would have happened to you kids if God would have given you everything that you wanted during your life? All of you who are young children who are here today, how would you feel if your parents had given you everything that you wanted? For example, what if your parents allowed you to stay up as late as you wanted every night? How would you like that? How about if you had pizza for breakfast? How about hamburgers and milkshakes for dinner? How about it if you watched as much television as you wanted every night and as much popcorn as you wanted every night? How about at Christmas time and you have a Sears catalogue and you circle everything that you want in that Sears catalogue, what if your parents gave you everything that you circled in the Sears catalogue? How would you feel about a mom and a dad like that? Would you really love a mom and a dad like that?
No, not at all. If your parents gave you everything that you thought that you wanted, you wouldnít love them at you. Instead, you would become a little monster. You would become a spoiled brat. You would become the kind of person who would become frustrated when the world would give you everything that you wanted. You would explode with frustration. No, no, no, no, no. That is not the way you create love in someone by giving them everything that they want. Such self indulgence creates a monster.
If God gave us everything that we thought that we needed, we wouldnít be honking horns for Jesus but we would be honking horns for ourselves. We would not be worshipping Jesus but we would be worshipping ourselves. We would be the most miserable people.
God does not try to buy our love by giving us everything we think that we need. Rather, God creates love in us.
This morning, I would like to talk about four qualities by which God creates genuine, deep love in usÖlove for God, for each other, for the world around us.
The first quality that creates love in us in that our God is a God who suffers with us and in us.
God does not eliminate suffering from our lives but God suffers with us and for us. Would you all imagine a little kid like Cale here? Cale, would you please come up front with me? Cale, how old are you? Seven years old. So Cale comes running out of the house as fast as he can go and he misses a curb and he stubs his toe and bumps his head. Cale is crying up a storm. Cale is in enormous pain. So his mother and father take Cale in their arms and hug Cale and hug him and hug him and hug him and hug him and hug him, squeezing him with love. Pretty soon Cale stops crying. It seems that the pain that was inside of Cale goes into the mom and dad. Thatís what happens. Now, God does not eliminate fast feet and God does not eliminate curbs and God does not eliminate the temperament of little boys who come shooting out of the house and trip over a curb near the street. God does not eliminate all that stuff. God does not eliminate suffering. But God is with us in our suffering, holding us and hugging us until the suffering goes from his heart into mine. Thanks Cale.
Having come from the seventh grade retreat recently, I am aware again that seventh graders have enormously big hearts that feel the power of suffering. And as these seventh graders talked about the power of death in their lives, the reality and painfulness of divorce in their families, you knew that it hurt. If anyone says, "O, go and head and get a divorce. It doesnít create pain." Such people havenít listened to seventh graders share their pain having lived through divorces. That does not mean that people shouldnít get divorces but letís not pretend that divorces do not cause pain in the children. And I hear those kids say and I am quoting, "I donít know what I would have done without God. I would not have made it through without God. I would have gone crazy without God." These are quotations from seventh graders, sounding like adults, already understanding the story of Jesus. The way that you create love and the way that love is born is to be with each other in the midst of suffering.
This past summer has been a bummer of a summer for so many people. There has been so much death, so much pain, and so many families in our parish who have had their hearts broken. As one person said to me, "My heart is beating but it is broken." What touched me in all of that is when you see a family who has been struck by disaster and you see their friends quickly come to be present. And those friends who have come quickly donít say much, and they hold the persons whose hearts have been broken. They7 hold them and hold them and hold them. People come and they are there in the midst of that pain. That bonds people like nothing else. Recently, that has been the experience of the Frerichs, the Tervos, the Dallas, the Bumgardners, the Vaughts. Regarding these wonderfully devout families of our congregation, we also know that there always has been aging, premature death by nasty diseases, and traumatic accidents.
What I am suggesting to you this morning is the question: "How does God create love in us?" It is not the elimination of suffering but it is God being with us in our suffering. When you finally understand that, as little seventh graders do, that God is with me and we are not alone. That creates love within us. You need to understand the power of the cross, the power of Godís love, Godís love that suffers with us and for us.
A second quality that goes into this creation of love is a quality of unconditional love.
Basically, our love for our children is to be unconditional. No matter what, we love our children. We donít always like our children. In fact, there are those times when we actually dislike our children. But we always love them, deeply love them, even if we dislike some the things that they may do. We donít love our children if they are beautiful, if they are smart, and if they do everything we say. We donít love our children that way with if, if, if and if. No matter how big or small or smart or dumb or beautiful or ordinary or obedient or disobedient. We love our children, no matter what. No matter what, you cannot stop me from loving my children. No matter what, you cannot stop the love in me for my children. Now, I donít love your children that way, to be quite honest. And you donít love my children in that way either, to be quite honest. But there is something about love within the family that you cannot stop loving your children deeply. And so it is with God. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop God from loving you. God loves you not because you are good or smart or beautiful. God does not love you because you are perfect and obedient and do everything right. Even when you get to that point in life where you run away from God.
In the childrenís sermon for today, I will talk about unconditional love. I will select a little boy or girl and then create a story about them such as this. "Once upon a time there was a little boy by the name of Travis. Travis had bright red hair and was wearing a blue shirt with black stripes and had a pair of Nike tennis shoes on. One day, young Travis got himself into big trouble. At school, on the playground, during recess, Travis hit another boy in the face and hurt his eye. Travis was taken into the principleís office and the principle called his mother to come in and talk to Travis. The mother did. As Travisís mother sat in the principalís office with Travis, did she stop loving him? Kids what do say. All together now, yes or no. Did the mother stop loving Travis for being mean? "Nooooooo," answered the children. Travis came home that day after school and that night, he pushed his sister and she fell and hurt her knee. Mother came into the room and Ödid the mother stop loving Travis? Yes or no, children. "Noooooooo," answered the children. Early the next morning, Travis didnít empty the dish washer as he was supposed to. Did the mother stop loving Travis for not emptying the dishwasher? Yes or No. "Nooooooo," answered the children. Because the mother loved Travis, did she discipline him? "Yessssssss." answered the children. Did she punish Travis? "Yessssssssss" Answered the children. One day, Travis got into trouble and he actually ran away. Yes, he ran away. Now, the question is this: Did the mother stop loving Travis when he ran away? "Noooooo." And neither does God stop loving us when we run away from him. Thatís the Gospel.
Have you ever had that experience where your child runs away, where you are running after that child down the street in the darkness of a rainy night and your heart is breaking? I do. I donít forget that night. Your heart is broken because it has love. And so it is with us. When we run away from God, Godís heart is broken, waiting and aching for the time where we finally come to our senses and come back to God. What I am suggesting is that when you finally understand that, when you finally get down to the core of our Christian faith, that even when you run away from God, God still loves you and me. When it finally gets into your craw, then you start to understand the love of God and that starts creating love inside of you.
A third quality that goes into creating love is to affirm. To affirm our children. To affirm them in their uniqueness.
We donít tell our children forever what is wrong with them. We are not going into those picking parties where we want to pick on all your faults. Let me find my favorite pick today. Some of us parents and some of you parents get into this habit of picking. Pick, pick, pick, pick, pick. Studies have been done in measuring the responses of parents of teenagers compared to the parental responses when the children were very young. The social researchers compared the positive and negative parental responses to parents of young children and parents of teenagers. The picking responses went up significantly when the children became teenagers. We can always pick, pick, pick, pick, pick at our spouses, our parents, our bosses, our friends, our neighbors. We often get into the deeply ingrained habit of picking at a certain person way too often.
What I am suggesting to you today that it is the affirmation of who you are, the affirmation of the uniqueness of your child, the uniqueness of the other person, the uniqueness of your spouse. It is this quality of affirmation that creates love in the other. When you finally understand that, when you finally move beyond your picky party towards your child or spouse or boss, when you finally understand that it is affirmation of another person in their uniqueness and in who they are, that creates love in them. And that creates love in us as well.
The last quality that creates love is this: to be willing to die in place of another person if he or she becomes sick.
I guarantee you, if one of my children or grandchildren were sick and going to die, I would do anything to die in their place. You who love your children are the same. If anything happened seriously to your child, you would say, "O God, why couldnít it be me." Do you realize how many times I have heard that statement in recent years? From parents who have lost their children. Such was the feeling of Sharon Bumgarner at the threat of the loss of her daughter. She said, "O God, why couldnít it be me?" That is at the very heart of the cross. That God gave us his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. When you finally understand that, when it finally gets into your heart that God loves you so much that he is willing to die for you, when that becomes an experiential reality in your life, that creates love within you. What I am suggesting to you that this quality of love that suffers with us and for us, which loves us unconditionally, a love which affirms us in the way we are, a love which is willing to dieÖ that kind of love creates love within us.
God does not buy me with all kinds of presents and give me everything that I want. Nor does God whip me into compliance and fearful obedience. But God loves me and love me and loves me.
One of the blessings of being a pastor is to experience momentous conversations with people at critical moments of their lives. One of the blessings of pastors is to be with people as they face the inevitability of their own death. I have old notes from old sermons from years ago, but I recall that conversation as if it were yesterday, even though it was several years ago. My friend, my peer, my contemporary, Ray Osterloh, was up at Swedish Hospital on the fourth floor, dying of cancer.
In one of those precious conversations with Ray, I asked him, "Ray, is there anything that I can do for you before you die. I know that you donít have long to live. What can I do for you before you die?"
He said, "Help them to understand, Ed."
I asked Ray, "Ray, what do you want me to help them understand? Your suffering? Your pain?
He said, "No, help them to understand Jesus."
That is Rayís eternal message to me: "Help them to understand Jesus." Help them to understand Jesus.
To understand Jesus is to understand the cross. To understand the cross is to understand the love of God. To understand the love of God is to understand a God who suffers with us, who loves us unconditionally, who loves us affirmatively, and a love that loves us so much that God is willing to die for us.
That is the Gospel. That is what it means to understand Jesus. It is to understand this glorious love of God and that is the Gospel and that is the good news. Help them to understand Jesus.
God does not buy us off by giving us everything that we think we want and need and God does not whip us into submission and fearful obedience like mean father who snaps and cracks a barnyard whip. But God loves us and loves us and loves us.
There is one thing more. God asks us to have the same quality of love for each other. Not a cheap love that buys off people. Not a punitive love that whips them into shape but a love of the cross, a love that loves unconditionally and affirmatively. And this is the hidden wisdom of God. This is the hidden wisdom of the crucified Christ. This is pure, unbounded, love divine, love all excelling. Amen.
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