Opposites Attract
Friday of Advent 1
8 December 2017
As a child, I was fascinated by magnets. That the opposite poles attracted and the same poles in two magnets repelled was a marvel to me. I spent hours playing with little magnets shoving the same poles together and watching them flee from each other. The same is said to be true of love affairs, in which opposites attract. However, that can be chalked up to a domestic economy of abilities made a community by love. Lovers who are opposites find that they can easily divide the tasks of the household in a way that is helpful to both because each does the work that suits him or her. If you asked me, I would say that that is the case in my marriage, but I am not sure what my wife might say if you asked her. She might declare us opposites, but call into question the attraction!
So it is for the preaching of the gospel, which runs completely counter to the expectations of human reason. The gospel is certainly the opposite of what is expected by humans, and there is nothing attractive about it. Human reason is deeply shocked by the unattractiveness of the divine weakness in Christ. We expect God to arise in a blaze of glory to judge the wicked world. We really just want God to do what we ourselves would do if someone made us, well, uh, god, a la "Bruce Almighty." Really, our thoughts about what God ought to do when He arrives on the scene unmask our decimation of the first commandment. We would make a horrible god and worse yet, we expect a God like us to arise and vindicate our vicious legalism. We all want to say, "See, I was right all along about the world!" In our hypocrisy, we are unable to see that we are in that world and are subject to the same judgment. We are double-blinded about God's nature and our own. That should be no surprise to us. For, with all due respect to Socrates, whoever does not know God will never know himself.
But how does God want to be known? Only through the contraries. Luther never ceases to revel in the fact that God was willing in Christ to be known through weakness, humiliation, death, suffering, crucifixion, and the cross. However, again Luther is not the originator of this idea of the attraction of the contraries. Christ revealed it. Paul taught it. John Chrysostom preached it.
The weakness of God, the very thing that unbelievers find so impossible, and even revolting, is the true attractiveness of God. So many Christians today think that they are doing their agnostic friends and neighbors such a favor by showing them how reasonable it is that God created the universe and that Darwinism is so irrational. They are entirely correct in this intuition, but it does nothing at all to bring their friends any nearer the God who reveals Himself not in power but in weakness. In fact, it bogs the discussion down by focusing on God's power. No one will learn who the God of Jesus Christ is in that way. Only through the attraction of opposites will the lost be found, the dead raised, the unbelieving given faith, the hopeless given hope. Strength is made perfect in weakness. The cross must be at the center of the faith, though it appears a failure, because in God's way opposites attract. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"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" (1Cor 1:22-24).
"The things spoken here are so important! For Paul means to say how by contraries God has overcome, and how the Gospel is not of man. What he means is this, when we say to the Jews, 'Believe,' they answer, 'Raise the dead. Heal the demoniacs. Show us signs.' But instead what do we say? 'He was crucified, and died, whom we preach.' And this is enough, not only to fail in drawing over the unwilling, but even to drive away even those who are willing. Nevertheless, it drives not away, but attracts and holds fast and overcomes.
"The Greeks demand of us a rhetorical style and clever arguments. Weakness, in the case of the Greeks, is foolishness. Therefore, we not only fail in producing what they demand, but also produce the very opposite of their demand. For the cross has no appearance of being a sign sought out by reasoning, but even the very annihilation of a sign. The cross is not merely considered no proof of power, but a conviction of weakness. It is no display of wisdom, but an indication of foolishness. When therefore those who seek for signs and wisdom not only do not receive the things for which they ask, but even hear the opposite to what they desire, and then by means of contraries are persuaded, it shows the power of Him that is preached to be unutterably great. This is as though to someone tempest-tossed and longing for a haven from a raging sea, you were to show not a haven but another wilder portion of the sea, and you could make him follow with thankfulness. Or if a physician could attract to himself the man that was wounded and in need of remedies, by promising to cure him not with drugs, but by wounding him again! For this is a result of great power indeed.
"The Apostles also prevailed, not simply without a sign, but even by that which seemed contrary to all the known signs. Christ also did this in the case of the blind man. For when He would heal him, He took away the blindness by a thing that increased it. He put clay on his eyes (Jn 9:6). Just as by means of clay He healed the blind man, so also by means of the cross He brought the world to Himself. That certainly was adding an offence, not taking an offence away. With a small piece of wood, by means of the prophets, He raised up iron from the bottom (2Ki 6:5-7). Likewise, with the cross He has drawn the world to Himself (Jn 12:32). It is proof of great power and wisdom, to convince by means of the things which argue directly against us. Thus, the cross seems to be a matter of offence; and yet far from offending, it even attracts."

 John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 4.5
Psalm 25

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.(ESV)
Lord Jesus, You cloaked Your majesty under the signs of weakness and humility and conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, You became a man. Send Your Spirit that You might be conceived among us under the humble signs of preaching, baptism, absolution, and Your supper. Keep us from being attracted by the crushing power of the law. Lead us to use Your love by forgiving freely, generously, and repeatedly all those around us, that they might know the attraction of Your self-sacrifice. Amen.
For all those who suspect the world is lying to them, that they might be confronted by truth which God has delivered to us in Christ, His only begotten Son
For Ann Kunz, who is recovering from pneumonia, that the Lord who grants breath to all creatures would give her strength in recovery
For Melinda Steinbacker, who is recovering from surgery, that the good Physician of soul and body would grant her healing
For all those traveling to the American Society of Hematology meeting in Atlanta, that their paths would be kept safe and that their conversations would lead to the eradication of cancer and other diseases
Art: JANSSENS, Jan  The Annunciation (17th c.)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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