The Piety of the Cross
Tuesday of Advent 2
12 December 2017
In our lackadaisical age, we think that coming to faith is some kind of general ascent to a "Christian lifestyle" or a concurrence with a set of spiritual principles. Such a definition of conversion is so general as to be indistinguishable from any other religion's views. Unfortunately, this form of "getting religion" is often all that is known and even desired these days. The last time Mitt Romney, a Mormon, ran for the presidency, he delivered a speech about religion to quell the jitters Americans feel about the possibility of having a Mormon president. Of course, this speech generated a great deal of chatter from the opinion editors and political commentators. Those favorably disposed to a Romney candidacy argued that the Mormon religion encouraged its members to be particularly ethical persons, and therefore Americans had nothing to fear from a Mormon president.
 
Now I am not sure whether or not Americans should fear a Mormon president in general or a Romney presidency in particular, but I am sure that this religious commentary simply ignores what religion is (or ought to be) for Christians. And this is not a criticism of Romney in particular, because Mormonism is not a Christian religion. The Christian religion is not an ethical standard but salvation from our fallen morals in the person of Christ, the incarnate Son of God who dies for the world on the cross of Calvary. How different this is from Mormonism! Christianity is not a question of external piety or ethical standards, it is the answer of God to our sin in the person of Christ, the Son of God. The "religious" commentary on the Romney speech just missed the point. Mormons may be good people. So were Plato and Seneca of old and they were neither Mormon, nor Christian, nor running for president.
 
The problem is that biblical Christianity swims upstream against the legalistic presuppositions of the sinful human heart, which presumes that religion is a matter of human piety rather than a matter of God's merciful acts in Christ. Satan would love for us to fall piously into the trap whereby we try to justify ourselves in God's presence on the basis of our own ethics. No, Christianity is about the cross and what happened on it. This foolishness and weakness of God is the center and sum of what we Christians believe. Without the cross, all religion is spiritualistic claptrap. This false piety does nothing to effect salvation, resurrection from the dead, or give the courage to suffer unto death for Christ.
 
Such amorphous moral piety could never have inspired the thousands of Christian martyrs over the centuries to confess their Savior. Mere moral courage does not suffice when faced with devouring lions loosed in the arena upon unarmed people kneeling in prayer. The ancient martyrs were not encouraged by morals, but by Christ. They were not assured by pious platitudes but by a certain and confident knowledge of the resurrection of the body. They declined to offer pious obeisance to the emperor, so that they could worship the only King, Christ. A set of pious religious principles will never do. May God preserve us from such a lackadaisical piety. Only the foolishness of the cross will do.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"What philosophers were not able to accomplish by means of reasoning, the foolishness of the cross did excellently well. Who is wiser, he who persuades the many, or he who persuades few, or rather no one? He who persuades concerning the greatest points, or about matters which are nothing? What great labors Plato and his followers endured discoursing about a line, and an angle, and a point, and about numbers even and odd, and equal unto one another and unequal, and such-like spider webs; (for indeed those webs are not more useless to man's life than were these subjects;) and without doing good to any one great or small by their means, so he made an end of his life. How greatly Plato labored, endeavoring to show that the soul was immortal! Even as he came he passed away, having spoken nothing with certainty, nor persuaded any hearer.
 
"But the cross persuaded through unlearned men. It persuaded the whole world; and not about common things, but about the speech of God, and the godliness which is according to truth, and the gospel way of life, and the judgment of the things to come. The cross made all people philosophers: the very rustics, the utterly unlearned. Behold how 'the foolishness of God is wiser than men,' and 'the weakness stronger' (1Co 1:25). How could it be 'stronger?' Because it overran the whole world, and took all by main force, and while men were endeavoring by ten thousands to extinguish the name of the Crucified, the opposite happened. It flourished and increased more and more, but they perished and wasted away. The dead at war with the living, had no power.
 
"When the Greek calls me foolish, he shows himself above measure foolish, since I who am esteemed by him a fool, evidently appears wiser than the wise. When he calls me weak, then he shows himself to be weak. For the noble things which tax collectors and fishermen were able to effect by the grace of God, these, philosophers and rhetoricians and tyrants, and in short the whole world, running ten thousand ways here and there, could not even form a notion of. For what did the cross introduce? The doctrine concerning the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the contempt of things present, the desire of things future. Yes, angels it made of men. All, everywhere, practice self-denial, and show forth all kinds of courage." 

 John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 4.6
Jeremiah 11:18-23

The LORD made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more." But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand"- therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: "Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine, and none of them shall be left. For I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their punishment." (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ in Your cross all wisdom shines. Keep me in Your foolish wisdom, through which I might confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
 
For John Fale, who is the Executive Director of the Office of International Mission of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would give him strength and wisdom as he carries out his duties
 
For Ed Jutzi, that he might be strengthened and upheld in God's merciful care
 
For all teenagers, that loving parents would guide them and that they would show proper honor and submission to their parents and other authorities
Art: JANSSENS, Jan  The Annunciation (17th c.)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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