March 24, 2013 Sermon


“Crowd-sourced Jesus or Soul-sourced Savior?”


March 24, 2013

The Reverend Dr. Joanne M. Swenson


1 Corinthians 2:6-9

6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—


Luke 19:28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”


Have you heard of crowd-sourcing?  Crowd-sourcing.  Using websites and apps, like Facebook and See-Saw, life’s big quandaries can be reduced to an online vote.  Just post your problem in cyberspace, and ask the crowd to choose!  Should the baby be named Trevor or Trenton or Trey?  Click!  For president, Jeb, Chris or Hillary?  Click!  Your wedding gown –the princess, the goddess, or the mermaid – just say “yes” to the dress and click!

How about this man on a donkey, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday?  Should we follow this Jesus?  Let’s crowd-source!  This man has moral power, we like his depth and compassion, we love the way he exposes religious hypocrites.  Jesus is trending!  Click “yes”!

Lots of people have “clicked” for Jesus.  When my World Religion students visited a Hindu temple, they were stunned to see images of Jesus on the altars.  Hindu’s like Jesus, the wise ascetic.  The Koran, the holy book of Islam, speaks of Jesus as a prophet of compassion.  Muslims like Jesus, the compassionate hero.[1]  Even the non-religious like Jesus, this radical who thumbs his nose at religious authorities.  And they’re sure Jesus does not like Christianity.

So, it’s easy to like Jesus!  Jesus the ascetic sage; the compassionate hero; the anti-institutional radical.  Crowd-sourcing Jesus?  It’s been viral for centuries.

But this is the week that the crowd thins out, and by Thursday the crowd drops to twelve.  And, after Judas slips away – we’re down to eleven by midnight.  By noontime on Friday even Peter, the Rock, has deserted and denied his friend, Jesus.  And there Jesus is alone, one.

Holy week is when the crowd disperses, and the events of this week can’t be crowd-sourced.  Monday is when crowd-sourcing ends, and the soul-sourcing must begin.  Holy week asks us to look in our souls.  Holy Week starts with a crowd-sourced Jesus, easy to get and to like.  But Holy Week ends with the cross of Christ, and this can only be sourced from the soul.

Who do we follow?  The crowd-sourced Jesus or the soul-sourced Savior?

Let’s pray about that question together.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, lead us to You as the Savior, the One who lays down His life for our sins.  Amen.



Theologians say that there are two ways to know God – two ways that knowledge of God is revealed. The first is through simple observation, what theologians call, “natural revelation”:  truths that can be known about God through observation of nature and our world. Psalm 19 speaks of natural revelation.


“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” 


If you observe the heavens, Psalm 19 says, you’ll gain knowledge of God.

Likewise, in Romans, Paul writes,


“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities…have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (for not knowing God).” 


Paul says here that God’s invisible features are so apparent through simple observation of our world, that there is “no excuse” for not believing.

Natural revelation provides obvious truths, easy to grasp, to like – to crowd-source.

Here, in his triumphant Palm Sunday ride, Jesus’s appeal is easy.  Simple observation leads us to praise this man, riding into Jerusalem.  He’s compassionate, brilliant, a religious reformer.  So, a crowd gathers to adore him.  The crowd hails and admires him.  And even the stones, Jesus wryly remarks, could proclaim him worthy of praise.

Palm Sunday is a moment of natural revelation.

But, theologians say, there is a second way to learn truths about God, and this is more rare, indeed – special.  Special revelation is just that: truths known only through means that are special: religious experiences, dreams and visions, and especially insight gained through Scripture.

Good Friday is a moment of special revelation.

In today’s epistle lesson, Paul says that Christ crucified is a deep mystery, apprehended only by God’s granting us His wisdom.  Here is Paul on this special revelation:


“Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery…”


Christ crucified is that mystery.  It’s a paradox, certainly not logical.  A corpse on a cross gives me life?  Blood wrongly spilled washes away my wrongs?  Frankly, many scholars reject the Cross. They consider it intellectually bogus, even morally reprehensible.  They’ve called the Cross, “divine child abuse,”[2] the “vengeful violence of a tyrannical God,” a transcendent act of “terrorism.”[3]  Among such scholars are John Dominic Crossan[4] and Marcus Borg[5], writers who have large, popular audiences.  Writers who speak to the crowd, using the hot-button words of our age: child abuse, terrorism, violence.

The cross, to them, is folly, as it was to many in the first century.  So, the apostle Paul writes, in words that speak not only to the first, but to the twenty-first century…


“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called…Christ is the power of God and God’s wisdom.”[6]


The scholars of Paul’s first century – wise rabbis and Greek philosophers – don’t get it.  The scholars of our age are well-intended and learned, but they also are uncomprehending.  There is no understanding this Cross, unless you lead with your soul, take stock of your heart – and not simply consult academic sources.

But there are other scholars who have done this, have come to the Cross, through their soul, through their soul-source.  They come to a different conclusion.  Indeed, they come to conversion!

The philosophical prodigy, St. Augustine: “I studied the books of eloquence, for it was in eloquence that I was eager to be eminent, though from a vain and reprehensible motive…(But then) I came upon a certain book …which …changed my whole attitude and turned my prayers toward thee, O Lord… Suddenly every vain hope became worthless to me, and with an incredible warmth of heart I yearned for an immortality of wisdom…”[7]

The too-proud preacher John Wesley:  “(I)… trusted to my own works, and (to) my own righteousness…I was too learned and too wise: so that (the conversion of the heart) seemed foolishness unto me.[8]

The Oxford atheist C. S. Lewis: “I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert (like me) even on such terms… kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape…”[9]

These conversion stories show the movement from masterful, too-proud knowing to a humbled moment of facing one’s soul.  First these wise ones must humble themselves and then they receive God’s special wisdom.

A more modern story belongs to Elizabeth Fox–Genovese, who teaches today at Emory University.  Dr. Fox-Genovese is a feminist American historian, who earned her Ph. D. at Harvard.  Her story is especially noteworthy, because it follows the dynamic of Holy Week.  She begins her faith journey in the Palm Sunday crowd, who admire Jesus as a moral exemplar.


“Throughout my non–churchgoing, nonbelieving adult years, I had always considered myself a Christian in the amorphous cultural sense of the word….I had…been reared with a deep respect for…the unique value of Jesus… as the preeminent exemplar of loving self–sacrifice….”[10]


But she grows beyond knowing Jesus as a great moral hero, and continues on her Holy Week walk.


“A decisive moment in my [faith] journey came when, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the thought pierced me that Jesus had died for my sins. And, immediately on its heels, came the devastating recognition that I am not worth his sacrifice. Only gradually have I come truly to understand that the determination of [my] worth belongs not to me but to Him. God’s love for us forever…challenges our understanding.”[11] 


Jesus died for her sins.  Dr. Fox-Genovese comes to know this, not through consulting the crowd, not through rational analysis, but by going deep into her own soul and examining it.

The Cross speaks to a reality that defies explanation or easy observation.  We must humble our wisdom, acknowledge our failings, and fall on our knees in need. And then, only then, does the Cross make sense!

Outside this moment, as a casual bystander, the cross simply seems strange.  But even the on-looker in the crowd, the detached observer of people, must acknowledge that something is here. Something’s at work!  Lives are transformed, hope is renewed.  Rapturous hymns flow from hearts changed at the cross.  On Thursday in chapel, after Linda Avgerinos finished playing “The Old Rugged Cross,” everyone gathered around her, and told her how powerful that hymn was.  There is power in the Cross, for those who can enter into this special reality.

So, this is our holy week task.  To learn what this Cross means for us.  It’s a walk we can’t do with the crowd.  It simply cannot be crowd-sourced.  The source is the soul, humbled, alone before the cross of Jesus.

So, stand for a bit with the crowd on this Sunday with outstretched palms and praise Jesus – Jesus, the prophet, the radical sage, Jesus the moral hero.  But, then turn down the road, and walk alone to the cross.  And find here, Jesus the Savior.


[1] Another important area of common ground …is the Muslim reverence for Jesus, whom the Quran calls, “Isa.” In almost every dialogue I have engaged in with Muslims, their respect for Jesus has surfaced. Indeed the Quran gives great attention to Jesus…Muslims revere all the prophets who went before Muhammad. I have heard many Muslims say that if they do not believe in all the prophets, they are not true Muslims. Some of the prophets are especially noteworthy. The prophet …Abraham is known as the friend of God. The prophet …Moses is special

for speaking directly to God. Jesus son of Mary is known for his miraculous acts  of compassion.

[2]  Joan Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker, “For God So Loved the World?” in Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, ed. Joan Carlson Brown and Carol R. Bohn (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989), 8,9.

[3] Rita Nakashima Brock,

[4] Rev. Dr. Paul Hull, My Views about Christianity, “I attended a workshop led by John Dominic Crossan in which he called this doctrine, of original sin and atonement through sacrifice, “transcendental child abuse.”

[5]  After a long analogy relating a firefighter’s sacrifice of his life to save a child, the authors summarize their appraisal of substitutionary atonement theology: “That theology would be a crime against divinity.” Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 2006), 38.

[6] 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 25

[7]  Augustine, Confessions, Book III, chapter 4.

[8] Diary of John Wesley

[9] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harcourt, 1955 ), 229

[10] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, “A Conversion Story,” First Things,  April of 2000

[11] ibid.

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