Admittedly, I went a little long this week… told a few stories (that are fun, but they’re not in the written out parts of the sermon, and some of them aren’t even in my notes. Apologies to the reader. If you want the good parts, you had to be there.) Below are a few thoughts on Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapters one and two:
Cultures that seek after eloquence and academic credentials seem to fall into the notion that the way to make disciples for Jesus is to get your book published, you name in lights, to be on TV, and have everyone recognize you as the Gospel-superstar of your generation. But Paul’s whole point here is that seeking those things actually robs the brutal cross of its beauty. Paul didn’t get his name in lights, he was just a work-a-day tent maker who claimed to know nothing other than the cross of Christ. He was willing to live among the people of Corinth, get himself in a little trouble with the law now and then, risk being beaten or even killed. He was willing to be ordinary to preach an extraordinary Gospel. If you’re waiting for fame and glory before being an evangelist, then you’re wasting your time.
If it’s not about us, then it’s about Jesus. And if we don’t get the liberty of waiting around to be famous then what are we waiting for? Paul says to the Corinthians, what he could easily say to us: “consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God”
If you’re not particularly rich or powerful or smart or good looking… all the better for you! God chose you, who were foolish in the eyes of the world, to shame the wise. Those who think they know better, the academy, the eloquent, are put to shame by printers, dropouts, mechanics. Famous or not, the idea that Troy Polamalu, a football player from Pittsburgh [readers, do I get points for including the local Steelers on Superbowl Sunday?], has a better understanding of Jesus Christ than most professors in the academy would surely put the PhD’s to shame. God chose you. And there are indeed some among you that do put the Ph.D’s to shame.
So what do we do about that? If the Church is to be what we say we are, then we need folks who are out there in the community who care that others hear the Gospel of Jesus and experience his healing. We need people who stop saying we need more people here and start saying we need more people to know Jesus. We need to be willing to be weak and willing set aside our own needs, so that the Cross of Christ can show forth its strength.
Crud. [For some reason, I didn’t actually say “crud” in the pulpit. but it is in my notes. Actually I had a less pulpit-worthy word in mind, but crud won.] That’s starting to sound hard. But what’s the alternative? Jesus mentions something about salt that loses its saltiness. In other words, the very essence of what it is has gone, and it is no longer good for anything but to be tossed by the wayside and trampled underfoot. If you are the salt of the earth, the cross is your saltiness. It is your essence, and if you seek after anything else, then as a church you’re tasteless salt. If you are the church, the roof over your head doesn’t matter. And if you’re not going to be the church, whatever you house between these stone walls is worthless. Those are the alternatives.
This feels like a free fall. I know it. Everything we know is at risk. Every method of church growth we want to hold onto just flew out the window. Don’t come here because you like the preaching, the liturgy, the music, smells and bells or the fellowship. Those things are great, but they’re not why you’re here and they’re not why others should come. Don’t invite friends because we need more people; a church that exists for others never needs more people. Instead invite them because God desires more people to come to him. Invite them to Jesus, not to church. And whether church is here or somewhere else, make sure its always the kind of church that is where Jesus is. All the things we think are great are suddenly not what we thought they were. But at the same time, suddenly the burden isn’t just on the preacher to preach an eloquent message, the organist to play the finest tunes, the altar guild to polish and shine. We still do those things to the glory of God, but its not our performance that holds up the church! It’s not about the building and the stuff, its not about the priest and leadership; suddenly the burden is on every one of us that wants to be something more worthwhile than unsalted salt, to be vulnerable, to be present in our communities, and to preach the Cross of Christ crucified and raised. I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at that. Its radical, it imposes on my pleasant little humdrum world. However, it is comforting to know that if we do choose to be the salt of the earth, the very hardest work has been done for us, for by his death he has indeed destroyed death, and by his rising to life he has won for us life eternal and “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him"