Better Together – “Tank Man”

Sermon, Sunday February 5, 2017, Epiphany 5A

1 Corinthians 2:1-10 (NIVUK)And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard,and what no human mind has conceived’[b] –    the things God has prepared for those who love him –10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,‘Who has known the mind of the Lord  so as to instruct him?’[d]But we have the mind of Christ.http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/20170205_message.mp3

I vaguely remember this happening.

I remember seeing the footage of this “Tank Man”. Tank Man is the nickname of an unidentified man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force.

That day we saw China’s People’s Liberation Army gun down hundreds of civilians in a brutal crackdown on protests against government corruption, lack of transparency and freedom of speech.

This photo has become iconic in our culture. It speaks of standing up to the bad guys, having your say no matter the cost, standing for something and not caving in to things.

For a lot of people we know, the message of Jesus’ cross looks a lot like Tank Man. Small, powerless, insignificant and no match for the prevailing forces at work in the world.

The message of the cross also seems foolish. It was foolish for this guy to standing in front of the military might of his country. At best, many may view this Tank Man as being like the cross of Jesus of Nazareth; noble but of no great power against the besetting destructive forces of poverty, injustice, violence, terrorism, greedy big business and the like.

But, if Tank man is so foolish and weak, then why is this photo so iconic? If the message of Jesus’ cross is the same, then why are we still here?

Somehow in this lone man’s unarmed weakness a strength you cannot just manufacture is found. Somehow there is hope in this seemingly foolish action. Just as it is in the cross of Jesus at Golgotha, weakness has a place after all. What seems weak to the human way of being just maybe the greatest strength in the face of such a brutal powers we sense we are dealing with daily.

But to focus in…..What about us who are aware of and thankful for the message of the cross of Jesus; us who are happy to be named ‘Christian”? What of the message of the cross for us?

Truth be told, the message of the cross of Jesus can seem the same for us; weak, of little real consequence, maybe even a bit irrelevant to the issues we are facing; noble and good, but not able to deliver want we need now.

What good is the message of the cross when finance is tight and you are in danger of serious financial hardship?

What good is the cross of Jesus when your kids’ marriage or your own is falling apart?

What will the cross of Jesus do when you are being unfairly criticized, misunderstood or harshly judged, especially by people who are supposed to be your family or your friends or fellow baptised Christians?

What benefit is the message of the cross when you have just heard that dreaded diagnosis for yourself or for someone you dearly love?

What good is the message of the cross when you are so disappointed that the plan just is not happening the way you thought and believed it should?

What does the message of Jesus’ cross bring to that besetting weakness you carry, that long-term grudge you keep, that addiction that gets you, that gnawing loneliness you live with, that broken heart, that dashed hope, that painful regret, that dark shadow that attacks you from time to time and seems to have your measure?

Paul tells us. Will you hear the message again today?

The message of Jesus’ cross is actually the very power of God at work in us and in his world.

The message of the cross is the power of God at work doing more than a hundred tanks could ever do; wiser than any human wisdom, more effective and powerful than any human effort and power.

The message of the cross is the message that judges the human heart and sets it free – truly free.

By the cross of Jesus;

  1. We are humbled to the core and resurrected beyond our fears, pain and regret – and beyond that shadow who we find does not have our measure after all

  2. We are accused and found seriously wanting, and we are made alive anew for hope and joy and light and love.

  3. We are accused and we are called and of great value and use after all – all in the cross of Jesus.

This message we have received it is the hope for every flawed human being on a pathway to destruction and death.

It is light in our darkness, joy in our suffering, comfort in our loss, healing in our hurtful words and behaviour, learning in our ignorance, release in our bondage, love in our hatred, humility in our pride, acceptance in our judgementalism, peace in our terror, hope in our despair.

The message of the cross is THE message. It is a person not a theory; a relationship with a person not a religious demand; it is freely given affection and praise between friends, not fearful slavery to keep up appearances.

This message is us. This message binds us together into a holy community with a holy calling to stand, not alone like Tank Man, but together against the sinister forces still at work in the world trying to bring us down and keep the world blind to this message.

The cross of Jesus Christ makes us better together. He makes us a community that is an unstoppable force of acceptance, kindness, love, brotherly and sisterly affection, heavenly vision for an earthy world.

The cross is the point in our real and human story of the “Great Exchange” of which Luther spoke:

  1. My stupidity for his wisdom.

  2. My over charged ego for his over the top humble service;

  3. My lovelessness for his acceptance.

  4. My dirty hands for his bloodied hands embracing me and forgiving me.

  5. My love of the glitz and glamour and glory for his rugged wooden tough love that betters it all with sheer grace,

  6. His purpose and meaning and joy for my arrogance, blindness and depression.

The cross of Jesus, the Son of God, given and shed for us while we were enemies of God, is our hope, is our life, is our future as a church.

Whoever you are today – the proud, the beaten up, ther well connected or the disconnected, the critical or the criticized, the joy-filled or the joyless, the doubter or the doubtful, the elder of the youngster, Jesus’ cross is grace of God embracing, the fire of God purifying, the breath of God renewing, the supernatural dynamite of God resurrecting dead sinners, lost brothers and sisters, timid strangers, wayward travelers, the broken hearted, the ego-centred and everyone in between.

Will you receive the message of Jesus’ cross today? Will you let his straw manger, his homeless travelling, his piercing words, his reaching hands, his breaking bread, his broken bloodied body, his talk of the feast and the joy and the light win the day and win you?

I hope so. We are a church. The Spirit calls us to take up that wooden cross of self-sacrificing Saviour with blood on his body and love in his eyes. As we do and if you do, the flood of grace comes and we are truly free and truly love here and now and there is hope and life and joy among us again.

He makes us, Us. He says “Follow”, and follow together – always together, for in his cross we are better together.

Gladly accept this “Tank Man”. He is our man and our God of grace in real blood and real sacrifice of love.

The message of the cross if mere foolishness to those who are dying and life itself to those who are living in him.

Amen

CONVERSATION STARTERS

For the 4th week in a row we focus in on this letter of St Paul to the Christians in Corinth. The readings “just happen” to be the one set in the three year lectionary. Funny how pastors and people don’t choose the bible readings if they follow this three year cycle of bible readings (lectionary). Maybe God chooses them and they come at just the right time according to him, not us!

As Paul continues to deal with the division among the local church he founded where factions and cliques have formed in his absence, he now raises himself up as a living example of the “weakness” of God that actually is the power of God to change people.

Read the text slowly and deliberately pause as needed to note;

What questions come to in this text as you listen to the text, and,

What do you find yourself wondering about, thinking about….what ‘catches your ear’ in this text.

Share these when the reading is finished.

1 Corinthians 2:1-10 (NIVUK)

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

‘What no eye has seen,

    what no ear has heard,

and what no human mind has conceived’[b] –

    the things God has prepared for those who love him –

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

‘Who has known the mind of the Lord

    so as to instruct him?’[d]

But we have the mind of Christ.

Verse 1:          There is some discussion about Paul and his presence among his people. It seems that he wrote with more power than he preached and that his appearance was not of a dynamic and charismatic figure, but a lot less than that. Paul would probably not win office in our political system. He just would not be charismatic or handsome enough!

Verses 2-5      What is Paul saying here in your opinion? Describe how speaks about foolishness and wisdom, and how he see the cross of Jesus…

Why do you think he raises up the crucifixion of Jesus as the power of God for salvation with the Corinthians. He could have focussed them on the ascended Jesus or on God as the creator of all things or of Jesus as the one transfigured on that mountain top with Peter, James and John in fear as they witness this mighty power. But instead he named the CRUCIFIED Jesus as THE power of God for the salvation from sin, death and evil here. How come?

Verses 6-12    Paul seems to say that the message of Jesus cross is ‘foolishness’ to some but is still wise. His message has always been wise to those who receive the message. It makes sense. It is not a message of silly thinking. How do people you know regard the gospel message of God’s grace in Jesus’ cross?

Share you experience…….

What does this focus of Paul on the crucified Jesus mean to you as you live out your calling to be ‘salt and light’ with them? Share your thoughts….

The Holy Spirit is heavily involved in this message! Paul speaks of how the Spirit knows the Father as our own inner human spirit knows our body and mind. Since God’s Spirit knows the mind of the Lord intimately, he can speaks with authority to us about who God is and who we are.

In this text, who is God saying we are?

In this text who is saying he is?

In this text what is God saying he is doing for us?

Verse 13         Where does the Bible fit in this message of the cross and God’s power to save and restore people to himself?

Verse 13-16   What do you think Paul means when he says “we have the mind of Christ’ and how do you see this at work in our congregation?

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me hear you speaking from your cross of self-sacrifice for me. Help us as a church hear you and follow you as we lay down our lives for each other and our community. Help us set our hearts of always speaking of the message of the cross of Jesus.

#BetterTogether #1Corinthians2110 #Epiphany5A #cross #TankMan #TiananmenSquare

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