For me the Cross is the most potent symbols of power and yet St. Paul warns that such a symbol may be “emptied of its power.” This sermon is a brief review of how the Cross (but maybe also other symbols of power) may be emptied of power.
Below the audio is the text of the sermon.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday January 22nd 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
“The Blasphemy of Emasculation”
It is the most wretched of works, the most of cursed of commitments, the most abominable of actions when symbols psychic and primal in power are emasculated and made impotent before our very eyes.
It is blasphemous when mythic and ancient symbols of power are undermined, enervated, weakened and we seem powerless to do anything except watch, observe and grieve.
We stand at the brink of such an abyss of calamity today… as Christians have done for centuries. Whether we are standing in the streets of Corinth around 55AD or in the streets of Newport 2017.
Listen to these very stark words of Paul to his beloved, though exhausting, Corinthian Church (I Corinthians 1:17)
Beware “lest the Cross of Christ be trivialized into mere words, be emptied of its power, become meaningless.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, these words of St. Paul are serious stuff, we ignore them at our peril, neglect them at our cost, dismiss them at our pain. As we approach our Annual Meeting next Sunday we rightly think about all the goals and hopes of this vibrant community; but primary among them all is the sharing and the living of the Cross. How pathetic the plight of a church community that becomes merely a shell devoid of the power of the Cross.
In 1995 Wendy and I, and a young Benjamin, set off for a sabbatical. Part of our time was spent in Egypt and, much to our delight, some was spent cruising on the Nile. At one port, Luxor, we docked and walked the lanes of that intriguing city. At one store we stopped and looked and saw this cross; the shop owner told us it was a cross used by Coptic priests. As they walk the streets they hold the cross and when a parishioner sees the priest, they kneel and wait for the cross to touch their foreheads. We bought the cross. Later that evening, Wendy and I and Ben set off for dinner; as we left our cabin Ben said, “Bring the cross.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I want to see if it works.”
“I want to see if it works.”
Yes and so do I, over nearly forty years of ordained ministry I want to see “if it works.” Does it work to set shame-filled people free, does it work to draw disparate groups together, does it work to break down privilege and entitlement?
Yes it works but there are corrosive, destructive, enervating effects of pride, personality and partisanship that “empty its power.”
I Corinthians 1:17 “I did not preach with eloquent nor fancy words.” I mention again the braggadocios man who boasted to Oscar Wilde that he was a self-made man; to which Mr. Wilde replied, “Well, that relieves the Almighty of a terrible responsibility.”
We know that Paul was eloquent to a fault, his mastery of oratorical skills was unmatched in his age and yet… he refuses, resists, recoils at the thought that his skills were crucial.
“He knew words, he knew the best words.” But oratory will never be enough. Pride, self-sufficiency empties the power of the Cross.
I Corinthians 1:12 “Here is what I mean. One of you says, “I follow Paul.” Another says, “I follow Apollos.” Another says, “I follow Peter.” And still another says, “I follow Christ.”
Churches, like many other institutions, face the challenge of personality. We know, of course, that the church’s mission is far beyond any single person and yet, to quote the memorable words of Lord George McLeod, “matter matters” and to quote my dearly beloved Phillips Brooks “personality is the message.”. But personality is not sufficient of, and by, itself.
I Corinthians 1:10 “Brothers and sisters, I make my appeal to you. I do this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I ask that all of you agree with one another in what you say. I ask that you don’t take sides. 13 Does Christ take sides?”
There is sad comfort, there is temporary relief, there is erstwhile delight in the whole business of partisanship, of belonging to a group and knowing that others do not. Mrs. Astor’s “400 List” was made all the more elite because it excluded so many. But partisanship, argues St. Paul, does damage to the Cross and weakens its power.
Our young Ben mused whether the Cross would work; our country and global observers likewise wonder whether the great and powerful symbols of our country will work to eradicate privilege and entitlement and to establish equity, respect and dignity.
Work they will… but pride, personality and partisanship must be named with a passion and exorcised with an appetite from the preaching of the Cross, from the mission of the church, from the mission of our nation.
“The Cross – power to those being saved.” AMEN