Foolishness to Gentiles 3rd Sunday in Lent 2018 B

Friends, we live in a time that is tragically evil, crazy, faithless, hideous, selfish and greedy. It is a tragic and sinful world that no longer takes cognizance of heaven in its dealings. It is a time of lack of respect, integrity, honour, truth, mercy, reconciliation, goodness and justice. Many are filled with anxiety and confusion. Many Christians have become apathetic, indifferent and takes pride in mocking and ridiculing God. It seems that we live in the end time and the prince this world seems to be having a field day in recruiting millions of people world over. Values that are celebrated around the world are those that celebrate idols, godlessness, mocks and blasphemes God. We are reminded today of the need to reflect on our relationship with God's law and how we abuse God's name and all that belongs to Him for our own gain by making God a commodity or commercializing God's Word. People all over the world are suffering from spiritual or religious abuse or what might be called terrorism even within traditional Christian institutions perpetrated by those entrusted with leadership positions. We cannot even mention the depravity and the celebration of simony, superstition, magic that are taking place among religious entrepreneurs.

Last Sunday, Abraham met God on Mount Moriah. Jesus and three of his disciples met God on Mount Tabor. Mountains have always been a place to encounter God. Today, Moses meets God on Mount Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments (Exo 20: 1-17). The Ten Commandments of God governed the Jews relationship to God and to people. There were similar regulations among other people, such as Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. What separates the Ten Commandments of Israel from the others was the monotheistic belief that underpins it. God was the one who gives Israel the law. There are many Christians who believe that the Ten Commandments of God are no longer necessary and relevant to Christians. As Christians, they mean that we are no longer under the law and therefore should not obey the Ten Commandments. There is a misunderstanding here. Obedience to the law was what justified in the Old Covenant but in the New Covenant, it is no longer the law, but the grace of God, which justifies through Christ. It does not mean that Christians do not have to obey the law. Jesus referring to the law says that he has not come to abolish it but to fulfil it. They are the foundation of Israel's spiritual life. They are also still the foundation of the Christian Church.

The first commandment sets the tone for the rest of the commandments. It forbids us having any other gods. Tragically, we have many gods in our lives today. God's name is abused in an unbelievable way in our age by many. There are many ways we can abuse God's name. The ignorance of the mystery of salvation lead many Christians to commit apostasy and share heretical materials that deny, misuse and violate God's name on social media. Sacred things are no longer recognized as such by people who have lost the sense of the sacred and thus the consciousness of sin in their lives. Married people defile their marriage vows and are unfaithful to each other. Lies, false testimonies abound within families, communities and prevail everywhere. Stealing has become something to be proud of. Human dignity and inviolability means nothing to many people anymore. Freedom of expression has translated to the right to abuse God's name, hate others and desire death on those who believe and trust in him or those who have a contrary opinion from the ones we hold. Many think little or not of the responsibility they have in what the post on social media in the name of freedom of speech. God's name should not be used magically as they occur in many places today and false prophecies are destroying families and communities. One of the worse things that came befall a person is to suffer from lack of spiritual freedom. The individual is then subjected to all manners of spiritual abuse by charlatans of religious ‘commodities’.

Recently, I read about two brothers who murdered their mother. The reason for this was because a self-proclaimed prophet had said that their mother was the reason why they did not have success in life. Just a few days ago, I saw a video on social media in which once again some young men took their mother to the town square, gathered the rest of the village beat, flog, mishandled her and tore off her clothes and made her naked. What humiliation? They said that some 'pastors' had told them she was a witch that prevents their success. The command not to bear false witness does not only apply to a court, traditional conflict resolution, but also to everyday life by blackmailing and telling lies about others. It is a common experience that people connive against innocent people in many communities.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­The Ten Commandments of God can be summarized in the love of God and the love of neighbour. It is a privilege than an obligation to love. We are created by and for love. We are in debt to God and can never pay our debt to Him even if we were to live a thousand years on earth. Sin, the refusal to live in the presence of God is not just a private matter. It also has a social dimension. Children who take after their parents 'sinful ways will suffer for the parents' sin because they did not distance themselves from them. For it is the soul that sins that will die. Just as many Jews did not show appreciation and thanked God for everything he did for them and thus lost their faith and eternal life, it is also with many Christians.

The Jews ask for signs and the Greeks sought wisdom. Can we prove that God exists? No, not in such a way that we could take God to any laboratory and experiment if he exists or not. It is through life’s experience that we learn that God is. I do not just believe that God exists, I know that he exists. The joy, peace, power and freedom that the knowledge of knowing of his name has given me is more than enough proof. Scripture teaches us that everything created proves the glory of God. Jesus came and became one of us, suffered, crucified, died and resurrected from the dead. No other evidence is necessary than this, which is for all the power of the true God and the wisdom of God.

In these three short verses (1 Corinthians 1: 22-25), the Apostle Paul in his letter has given basic reasons the Jews and Greeks opposed the gospel. The Jews did not accept Jesus because he did not match their preconceived ideas about the Messiah. They expected a political Messiah, a liberation fighter who would not only throw out Roman occupation powers but also put Israel over all pagan nations. On the other hand, the Greeks looked at philosophy or human wisdom for the solution to human problems just as many people are doing today. Satan’s lies are many today and millions of people are buying them hook and sinker. The gospel continues to be folly for fools who claim in their hearts: there is no God (Ps 53: 1). Today, he is still the reason for the rise and fall of many and a sign of contradiction (Luke 2: 34-35).

Christianity does not offer human wisdom as the solution to the world's problems. It was therefore rejected it by the intelligentsia. Those Jews and Greeks had no time for such a gospel. Crucifixion was a death reserved for criminals. Why did God allow himself to die such a shamefully death? These three verses from Paul should help us pause and appreciate what honour it is that we have received the gift of the gospel. Through this, God shows his unconditional love for us. Answers to all life's questions are in Jesus but most people do not want to follow and listen to him. They seek solutions in creation instead of in the creator. Some believe themselves wiser than God. The risen Christ Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians continues to be a stumbling block and folly for many people in our world who consider themselves stronger than God and think they can handle their own problems. But only one is indeed wise and only one has real power. To deny him is to reject hope and expose oneself to darkness. He remains the same forever. The knowledge of Jesus and the power of his resurrection is more important than all of earth's gold, silver, diamonds and precious minerals put together.

­­­­­­­­­­­Many people have continued to make God's house a market hall. Everywhere in the world there are self-proclaimed prophets, evangelists, pastors, apostles who make God's house a den of robbers. They are professionals in manipulating, exploiting, misleading people with false prophecies. To these, Jesus says, "Away with all this" (John 2: 13-25). If a person fails to worship God in spirit and truth, it amounts to abuse of God's name. A hallmark of those who abuse God's name is that they often they make themselves the center of everything and whatever they do is done for self-gratification.

I'm thankful for Jesus and everything he means for my life. I'm glad to know that I have Jesus in my life. In every situation of life, God has given me blessed consolation. Jesus has shown me that I belong to him. Hardly can I find words to express my joy in knowing that God loves me. Such a life has always been a foolishness for the Gentiles and fools. Therefore, I am very happy to be here, having the opportunity to share the word of God with you. Perhaps you have tears, sorrows and pains. You may have many unanswered questions about life. You may be passing through painful and difficult challenges, through storms of life that seem to drown you. Perhaps you seem to be walking in the shadow of death. In all this, you can learn that God stands on your side and your need to trust in the word of the Lord. Life forces to bear heavy burdens we would rather avoid. We run from suffering. Nevertheless, we must go through suffering to get to our rest. If you have not had trouble, difficult situations, you cannot know and understand that God can solve it and save you. All trials come to make us stronger. They allow us to understand what faith in God's Word means and to set our eyes on him. Once you understand this, you will thank God for the mountains, storms, valleys, pains, difficulties that come your way. In my hopelessness and powerlessness, I have learned to trust in Jesus. I have learnt to trust in the word of God. I have understood that God never abandons those who hope in him. God will never allow us to abandon him. Lord, make us willing to believe in scripture and free us from temptation to make your word a commodity, from any form of commercialization of your word. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

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