Last March, The Atlantic’s monthly feature, “The Big Question”, asked: “What was the most influential act of protest in history?” All of the responses are interesting, but none of them pointed to the single most stunning and shattering protest of all time.
The cross is a loving sacrifice, not a powerful sign. It turns the world upside down in a mighty act of protest.
We are living in a golden age of protest.
Case in point: 10 to 15 million protesters took to the streets from January 2017 through March 2018. That’s probably a higher percentage of the population than the number of people who protested the war in Vietnam. In 2017 and early 2018, protests occurred in all 50 states, including many places where marches and rallies have rarely been seen before. The protests have continued over the past year.
Will these protests have an impact?
Time will tell.
What we do know is that a number of protest movements have actually changed history.
Marches, rallies, vigils, protests. They can certainly have an impact, and even change the world.
In similar manner, the cross of Christ is a protest against those who demand signs and wisdom.
The apostle Paul says to the Corinthians that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v. 18). Protesting signs and wisdom is part of what it means to live a cross-shaped life.
But why is Paul so upset about signs and wisdom? He is speaking to the people of the powerful Greek city of Corinth, to men and women who know a lot about “the wisdom of the world” (v. 20). Paul is aware that in this educated and sophisticated society, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” (v. 22). Signs and wisdom are part of their religious culture, and at first glance they don’t seem to be such bad things. After all, God has shown many great signs over the years, and wisdom is a quality that is praised throughout the Bible.
Signs and wisdom don’t seem to be deserving of marches, rallies, vigils and protests.
But here’s the thing: Paul has discovered that “the world did not know God through wisdom” (v. 21). Yes, it would be nice if Greeks came to know God through wisdom. And it would be great if the Jews of his day entered into a relationship with God through powerful signs from above. But they didn’t.
Signs and wisdom are not enough, says Paul, a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” a Roman citizen with a Greek education.
Paul realizes that something else is needed: The cross. He believes that the surprising and shameful death of Jesus on the cross is what enables people to finally know God.
Why? Because that “surprising and shameful” death on the cross is a message writ large of love and forgiveness.
This, after all, is the meaning of the cross.
That’s a bit of a shock, isn’t it? It’s like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church, or Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus. Paul is hitting the streets and proclaiming, “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (v. 23).
The cross is God’s protest movement. And it changes the world forever.
We need to be part of this movement today, because many of us still demand signs and wisdom. Many Christians will ask God to give them a sign that tells them what kind of work they should do or what kind of personal relationship they should pursue.
Some will even pray for something as simple as a parking space, and then, when one appears, they’ll say, “It’s a sign!”
In Germany, a driver was going almost twice the speed limit and was caught on camera. But he was spared the fine of $120 because a white bird obscured his face when the picture was taken. The police could not prove that he was the driver.
“The Holy Spirit intervened,” said the police in a light-hearted statement. “We have understood the sign and leave the speeder in peace.” Apparently the Holy Spirit did not intervene when Pastor Tina was given a speeding ticket in Seville even with her collar on. Welcome to your new parish!
But God is not a cosmic GPS, working to move us quickly and painlessly from Point A to Point B. “God is more interested in developing a loving relationship with us.”
In place of signs from above, God gives us the message of the cross. Loud and clear, the cross tells us that Jesus loves us so much that he will sacrifice himself to bring us forgiveness and new life. It sends the message that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God gives us the cross because he wants a relationship with us: one that is based on a loving sacrifice from below, not a powerful sign from above. The cross is a mighty act of protest, one that turns the world upside down.
When we live a cross-shaped life, we join this protest movement. We love as Jesus did, reaching out with compassion to the poor, the sick and the strangers in our midst. We sacrifice as Jesus did, giving of our time, talents and treasures in support of God’s mission in the world. We serve others as Jesus did, remembering that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Such a life is a protest against a world in which people usually act with self-interest. A decision to put the needs of others first is as radical as The Beatles’ decision to say no to the money being offered by segregated venues, and to bring their music only to places where blacks and whites could be together.
The message about the cross is a kind of foolishness to those who are perishing, says the apostle Paul. “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v. 18). In the upside-down world of God’s protest movement, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (v. 25). Christians who have faith in a crucified and risen Lord know that there is nothing wiser than the teachings of Jesus, and nothing stronger than the Lord who sacrificed himself for us, and who expects us to sacrifice ourselves for others.
Over the years I have watched many of you sacrifice yourselves for a parent, a grandparent, or a good friend with some type of dementia. When we help support any person with dementia, we are joining God’s protest movement and living a cross-shaped life.
Many of you know that one year ago my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in its early stages. I thank God it was early, because it gave me and my daughter, Rachel, time to respond and prepare.
Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, Rachel has inherited many of my characteristics including getting things done quickly and efficiently without much patience for slow pokes. With the diagnosis, my mom living on Social Security, my persistent follow-up phone calling to slow moving government workers, and Rachel’s inside knowledge, I was able to get her on Medicaid in just 3 months.
Medicaid pays for a woman to spend weekdays with her, frozen meals are delivered, my uncle owns the townhouse, her prescriptions are covered along with the push button on her wrist if she needs medical help.
On most Fridays I take her to doctor’s appointments, to the bank, the grocery store, occasionally to Luisa Neff’s for her hair, and other destinations. Have you ever grocery shopped with a person with Alzheimer’s?
Last summer John Smeets sat in the front seat next to me and my mom in the backseat as I gave in and drove them to Amish Country.
My mom talked the whole way, repeating the same stories. Just before arriving at the Ashery, our first stop, mom asked John a question. He didn’t respond.
She asked me if he can hear. I told her that he’s enjoying the scenery. She asked, “does that mean he hasn’t heard anything I’ve said?” I replied, “yes, but I’ve been listening.” Assured she had my attention, she started back up again.
Unfortunately, our nursing homes are full of abandoned parents who rarely get visited. “They won’t remember I was there anyway,” is the excuse.
When we help any person with dementia, we are joining God’s protest movement and living a cross-shaped life. The cross is a loving sacrifice, not a powerful sign. It turns the world upside down in a mighty act of protest.