A few weeks ago, there was a mindfulness retreat in Asheville, led by the yoga teacher who made it all click for me last summer, and though I desperately wanted to learn more from her, I couldn’t go (you know, occupational responsibilities, like, Sunday morning).
After the retreat, she posted about the weekend on facebook, commending mindfulness as “where it’s at.” I lay in bed with my phone very early Sunday morning, wishing I could have been there and learned something with that community, and I commented, “what should I read to learn more?” I could almost see my teacher smiling compassionately as her comment appeared, “find a quiet place, sit comfortably, breathe, let go!” I rolled my eyes–of course!–I wanted to study the practice of meditation and to learn about mindfulness, but doing the actual thing? Learning by practicing? No, no, that was too hard. It was much easier to let my mind just run about while I dove into a book, or let my thoughts wander around while I discussed the theory.
That’s what Paul’s telling us this afternoon about the cross (1 Corinthians 1:10-18). For many reasons, we’ve become a people who believe that knowledge is power. We’ve seen how our medical advances save, or at least prolong, life. We pay lots of money for diplomas on our walls that symbolize years of reading, writing, and testing. Our obsession with study and learning, while they are goods, can begin to blind us to the Gospel. I do not believe that being a “thinking church” or the “church where you don’t have to check your brain at the door” is a badge of honor; it is a condemnation.
God did not come into the world as a scholar, though he has all knowledge. When God the Father sent his Son to be among humanity, and to be human himself, he did not set his kid up in the hotbed of intellectualism, or in the most prestigious city in the world. God showed by his example in Jesus’ life that knowledge is not the core of our faith.
A former rector of mine always used to say that, “the Episcopal Church is David dancing before the Lord.” We understand grace; we depend on it–we dance because of it! What a beautiful gift for our brothers and sisters in other denominations in Christ’s regrettably divided body. However, as Paul said elsewhere, though everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23); sometimes our deeply-held belief in the grace poured out for us, we think that we decide to believe whatever else we want, because of the grace safety-net. We can slurp up the newest theories of Jesus’ wife, or find the “real person”-Jesus behind the text, we can obscure the view of Jesus’ death on the cross all together with the more pressing, more important matters of social justice. Again, Paul says, “while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
Our first charge as disciples of Jesus is to sit at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice of love through his death on the cross is the foundation of our faith. “The wisdom of the cross stands against worldly wisdom” (Feasting on the Word Commentary, Year A, Volume 1, pg 282; Timothy F. Sedgwick). We understand God’s love not by reading about it, or by studying the details of the Gospel accounts; we learn by practicing. We sit, and stand, and bow, and kneel in front of the altar, the most-ancient symbol of sacrifice. It is at the altar, the table–the cross–where God, through Jesus shows us the Good News. The Gospel is that we are no longer helpless to evil, there is no longer any reason that we should drown and die in our sins. The one person in the history of the world who had the power to fight evil from the beginning, the one person who lived a perfect, blameless, sinless life–he died a violent death for each of us.
Jesus taught using words on the Mount, in the Temple, on the road, and on the sea, but we do not spend every Sunday remembering any one of those places or moments. The most important moment was not when disciples’ minds were being given a work out, the most important moment was when Jesus gave himself up to death, even death on a cross, because of God’s great love.
When the church tries to argue its way into converts, it will always lose. Our world doesn’t set us up to understand the Gospel as making sense and as the respectable thing to do. Our world is a place of division and dissension; just as Paul talks about in the Epistle lesson today–how the church in Corinth was prioritizing their spiritual lineage over their identity as Jesus’ disciples. I wonder how much we prioritize our lineage as Episcopalians, or as Methodists, or as Roman Catholics above our identity as belonging to Jesus Christ because of his life in backwoods-Nazareth, his death on the cross and sacrifice on the altar/table, and because of his resurrection from death, the complete triumph over evil on Easter Day.
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we gather together, sitting quietly at the foot of the cross, waiting for God to reveal himself to us again, to enlighten our hearts with his saving grace. May we be ever-humble, knowing that we do not have the whole picture, eager for the reunion of all the disparate pieces of Jesus’ body, the church, throughout the world, and placing our trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone.