Paul preaches the Cross to the Church in Corinth [1Cor 1:18-2:15]

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

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Sermon for Evensong (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Our two lessons this evening provide us with contrasting pictures of people in their relationship with God and each other, understood in sexual terms. Now it is an accusation often levelled at the Church that it is all we are concerned with, though that is in fact far from the case, and whereas the Victorians pretended that sex did not exist, modern humanity especially since the 1960s has acted as though nothing else does.
       In our first lesson the Prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a future when Israel, having returned to God and been purified, is understood as a land wedded to God. It looks forward to a Messianic future, one which we as Christians see as brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the righteousness and the salvation of Israel, who gives himself for love of us, that we may be pure and holy and through Him. The image of married love and intimacy is profound: it speaks of mutual love and generosity, it is what God wills for our human flourishing, it is the place for children to be born and brought up, in love.
       Whereas the Church in Corinth is in a really bad way: as well as taking each other to court, Christians would appear to be behaving in a way which falls short of Christian morality. They appear to have understood freedom from the law as though it were freedom from any law: extreme antinomianism – that anything goes; that they can just do as they please. This is, however, not the case. How we live our lives, and what we do with our bodies matters. For those of us who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be in Christ, clothed with him, and living a new life, conformed to him and not to the ways of the world.
       There are some in the Church in Corinth who have been arguing that all things are lawful, to which Paul has to counter that while something may be lawful, it may not be advantageous, as Christians like others in the ancient world would generally subscribe to an idea of virtue ethics, put simply ‘you are what you do’ or in greater depth, our actions help form our moral character – we become what we do habitually, and thus the more we do the right thing, the more we are disposed to do such things, and thus to progress in virtue.
       While they claim the freedom from being made subject to anyone, they would appear to be subject to base appetites, to lust and gluttony, neither of which help in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus the proper place for sexual activity remains holy matrimony, where a man and woman are joined; they become one flesh, in a life-long exclusive union where children may be born.
       Christians are to love their bodies, as ours is not a spiritual religion, which despises the flesh, but which rather wishes to see it used for the glory of God and for our mutual flourishing. We receive the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our baptism, where we are regenerate, born anew in Christ, we are not our own in that we now live for God, and we glorify him in our bodies by how we live our lives.

       The messianic hope expressed in this evening’s first lesson finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the Church which is his body, we were bought at a price, not thirty pieces of silver, but life of God’s only-begotten Son, who suffered and died for us, for you and for me, and for the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future. How else can we begin to try and repay such love and such generosity than by living the life that God wills for our human flourishing – gentle, generous, and exhibiting the same costly love which Christ showed to us.  This glorifies God and shows due respect to the wonders of creation and salvation, it helps to form our moral character and to live out true faith and charity in our lives, supporting one another, praying for each other, forgiving one another when we fail, and being built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. And by living out our faith in our lives we will proclaim the truth and the freedom of the Gospel – others will come and see and enter into the joy of the Lord and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Sexagesima Evensong


Paul had to begin with the Cross and then retrace his steps backward to Calvary. To him and to his people, the prophetic connection between suffering and glory were repugnant. The Jew and the Greek both had a horror of death; to the Greek there was a physical aversion; to the Jew it was a moral shame. And yet the glorified Christ began Paul’s conversion with the Cross—at that very point where all national characteristics were assailed. He had to see Christ repersecuted, recrucified, renailed. And when he asked who it was who questioned, there flashed the vision, ‘I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 26:16)
Fulton Sheen Those Mysterious Priests 1974: 10
There is something truly wonderful in the fact that one of the foremost persecutors of the Early Church, Saul of Tarsus, is converted and becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles. It reminds us of the fact that no-one is beyond God’s reach, that a second chance, a fresh start, and a new beginning is on offer for each and everyone who turns to Christ. The Gospel is truly Good News, and the saving work of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour, is something which we should both celebrate and share, with everyone whom we meet, at all times, and in all places.
        As a result of his conversion experience upon the road to Damascus, the man who had clamoured for the stoning of Stephen now prizes Christ above all else. When he writes to the church in Colossae he begins by singing the praise of the God who loves him and who saves him.
        Christ is the image of the invisible God, the God whom we cannot see, cannot know, and cannot understand becomes visible and vulnerable in the person of Christ Jesus – he is born as a baby in Bethlehem, he needs his parents love and care. He is tempted, but he resists in order to show us how to live our lives. He preaches the Good News of the Kingdom, calling humanity to repent for the Kingdom is close at hand, he heals the sick to show us what God’s love is like in action. But most of all, He suffers and dies for us – he pays the debt which we cannot. God is Christlike and in Him is no un-Christlikeness at all – Jesus shows us who and what God is. He is the invisible made visible, the incomprehensible made comprehensible, the remote made personal. He is the only-begotten Son of God, begotten not made, consubstantial, co-eternal, and co-equal divinity. As the Word of God He is the creative force through which the World was made, God spake and it was done, it is through the Word of God that all Creation springs into being. All that there is owes its very existence to God – the God who suffered and died for love of us.
        As well as stressing the supreme majesty of Christ, Paul is at pains to stress how it is that in Christ all things hold together – this is the cohesive power of God: to unite, to hold together, to reconcile, to redeem, to love. Christ is the head of the body, the Church. We are all baptised into Him, into His Death and Resurrection, we are nourished by Him in Word and Sacrament, we are fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, to share His Divine life, and to be given a foretaste of Heaven, so that our lives and souls may be transformed by Him, so that we may grow together in Unity and Love, which is His Will. He is the beginning and the end of all things, the Alpha and the Omega, firstborn from the dead so that we might share His risen life. We honour Him, we honour God, in our praise and worship, and in our lives when we live out our faith, when we live as God wants us to, so that in all things God might be pre-eminent – so that God is the most important thing in our life.
        For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell – he is true God and true man: two natures, two wills, united without change, division, confusion, or separation. ‘Was pleased to dwell’ for such are the loving purposes of God – and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. This is the heart of our faith, and the Good News of the Gospel, God became man for our sake. And if we want to know how much God loves us, we can see in Christ – God loves us this much (extends arms) the arms of God are flung wide upon the Cross to embrace the world with God’s love – this is what it takes to reconcile to himself all things on earth or in heaven. This is the price God pays for love of us – for you and me, each and every one of us, everyone who has ever lived, or who will ever live. In this God makes peace by the blood of His Cross, this is true glory, this is how God reigns in majesty, and shows that He is supreme, and over all things, through dying the death of a common criminal, through suffering for our sake, and so we can say with St Paul in his Letter to the Galatians “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free.” (Galatians 6:14) Add ImageTo him be all glory, now and forever,