10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 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.
In the spring of 1518, Martin Luther was summoned to the gathering of the Augustinian order of which he was a member. This was just a few months after the nailing of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. He had become something of a celebrity as a result of those theses. His brother monks wanted to know just what he was saying, so they made him the plenary speaker at their conference in Heidelberg.
Luther said almost nothing about indulgences in his lengthy presentation. Rather, he spoke about the theology of the cross. He said that there were two sorts of theologians, those of the cross and those of glory. But he did not mean God’s glory, he meant worldly glory. With Paul today, Luther asserted that the only real power to save was found in the cross, a folly to those who are perishing, but the power of God for all who are being saved.
Luther’s lengthy presentation would go on to say that the Christian who adheres the theology of the cross should expect to look like a failure. Jesus surely looked like a failure on that day when he died on Calvary’s bitter hill. And He has urged us to take up a cross and follow Him. Paul admitted that he did not have words of great eloquence like the orators of his day. Today we would say that his presentation was not as polished as Madison Avenue’s advertisements or Hollywood’s productions. He simply was a man who had run into Jesus one day on the road, and he was going to tell you about that day and that Jesus.
My guess is that you can name none of the famous orators of Paul’s life. In their day, they would have each been counted as successful and glorious. Paul, on the other hand, would have looked like a failure. He was hounded from town to town. His movement was frequently dealing with problems (look at the first part of this reading!) Finally, he was arrested and executed as a criminal. He was not rich. He commanded no army. Yet, his message continues to change people and lives around the world, including yours. The message of the cross is not emptied of its power.