Pastor Sherry’s message for February 5, 2023,
Scriptures: Isa 58:1-12; Ps 112:1-10; 1 Cor 2:1-16; Matt 5:13-20
Over my years here, you have probably realized that I don’t usually preach from the writings of Paul. I find him often difficult to understand and more often addressing theological points rather than everyday life. But this week, the Lord told me it was time for me to “Grow up!” So, today I will focus on the second chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In chapter #2, he focuses on our correct starting point with Jesus and our secure standing point.
But first, let’s look at some humorous examples of various starting points:
(1) Great grandma’s recipe for chicken and dumplings: First, catch a chicken (Aren’t we glad we don’t have to do this today?). I remember this as a little child. My grandparents had a few chickens. Saturday afternoon they would kill one; my grandmother would pluck the feathers and clean it out, and then cook it for Sunday dinner.
(2) In the 1920’s, the University of Michigan had a famous football coach named Fielding Harris Yost. One season, Michigan had been badly beaten by Notre Dame, one of their major archrivals. The atmosphere on the train trip back to Ann Arbor was silent and dismal, as players waited to be thoroughly chewed out. Eventually, Yost stood up in the aisle to address the team. In a calm manner, and with a solemn demeanor, Yost held up a football and explained, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
(3) You may have noticed that I struggle with my weight. Both of my grandmothers were plump (I always thought they were “fluffy” and provided such comfortable laps for a child), so I think I may have been genetically primed to carry extra pounds. At any rate, I have tried almost every diet plan known to humankind: Weight Watchers; The Daniel Diet (based on what Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ate in Nebuchadnezzar’s court); Jenny Craig; The Maker’s Diet (consisting of vegetables like leeks and grains like spelt found in Old Testament times); Keto; and GoLo (or as my son calls it, “NoGo.”). Even when I struggle to take the excess pounds off, I cannot seem to preserve or maintain a reduced weight. I can start, but I can’t seem to successfully stand. Here’s the truth: I know the secret of weight loss, but I just enjoy eating too much of the wrong things. The most effective weight loss strategy—the starting point and the standing place of weight loss–boils down to this truth: Eat Less, Move More.
(Ideas borrowed from the Revs. John Fairless and Delmer Cilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year A, 2013, p.51.)
Again, I believe this is where the apostle Paul is coming from as he addresses the Church in Corinth (Greece) (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). Here’s the historic situation: Paul had established this church, in about 18 months, from 49-50 AD. The city was a sea port of Greece, numbering about 400,000, and populated by sailors, soldiers, and tradespeople of many races, nationalities, and belief systems. Additionally, it offered more than 1,000 male and female prostitutes to copulate with “worshipers” of the goddess Aphrodite and the god Apollo, in fertility rites.
Needless to say, the prevailing lifestyles were carnal ones—a lot like present day Las Vegas, which panders to about every addiction know to humankind–focused on meeting all sorts of human “needs.”
Since founding the church, a number of problems had arisen, so Paul wrote this first letter to them, from Ephesus, to address the 5 most troubling dilemmas:
(1) Divisions—those who preferred Apollos, or Peter, or Paul. He made short work of this issue in chapter 1. Christianity is not a cult of personality. We are all followers of Jesus Christ. We are to keep our focus on Jesus…End of story (Starting point, standing place).
(2) A case of a man sleeping with his stepmother—YIKES! This sin was a “notorious” one because everyone in Corinth knew about it. It was a disturbing example to nonbelievers. In a later chapter Paul gives the church a choice: the man can stop having sex with his stepmother and repent, or he can be expelled from the church.
(3) Law suits between members. Paul says, “God forbid!” This is not behavior grounded in Christian love. It is also a poor witness to nonbelievers. Paul wants the Corinthians to forgive as they have been forgiven.
(4) Abuses of Christian freedom (using grace as an excuse to continue to live as though we don’t know Jesus). Again, in a later chapter, Paul says in essence, “No, we really don’t have the freedom to do wrong.”
We are to remember that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. When we fornicate or commit adultery, we bring Jesus into that illicit relationship. Again, YIKES!
(5) And, finally, he addressed the general chaos he had heard reigned during communion. People were hogging the bread and getting drunk on communion wine. Paul calls this a violation of the law of love and charity with our neighbor. It was selfish, indulgent behavior. We are to receive communion decently and in order, not taking more than our fair share.
He begins, in chapter two, to instruct (and correct) them by returning to the starting point, the basics: Remember, before you cook a chicken, you need to have one on hand. If you want to win at football, you need to know how to handle the ball (knowing the rules and having some strategic moves doesn’t hurt either). In other words, this is an “eat less, move more” moment for the Church at Corinth. The basic starting point (and standing place) for the Christian Church is (v.2) …Jesus Christ and Him crucified [and resurrected].
Paul then goes on to tell them (vv.3-4) he is not a great orator or a gifted debater, both of which were skills highly prized by Greeks I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. He spoke as an ordinary person, not caring to draw attention to himself as a great preacher. He claims he had no eloquent words, no clever arguments; just “the Word of God for the People of God.” He says he preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, so all the glory would go not to him but to the Lord.
Next, he reminds them (vv.6-8) that salvation was purchased for us by the Son, but it was planned by the Father. Paradoxically, the Gospel is both simple and exceedingly complex–simple enough for an illiterate or uneducated person to grasp; but also so profound that it challenges the most brilliant minds. He stresses that the “lost”—and even immature believers—won’t get it. Jesus Christ crucified for our sins may seem ridiculous (foolishness) to nonbelievers. Nonbelievers of that day said, He was a nobody from nowhere of importance! And, He was executed as a criminal! Even Satan thought he had defeated Jesus at the Cross. Jesus’ death on the Cross is a mystery, a sacred secret, an unveiling of God’s plan from Old Testament times. These truths were hidden in the Old Testament (hinted at by the prophets, but not explained). They were also hidden from the unsaved world, people like Pilate and Herod, and others who encountered Jesus and never suspected Who He really was: The Son of God; The Creator and Redeemer of the World.
But Paul then asserts that these truths were revealed to us, by the Holy Spirit, and through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Paul and the other apostles all devoted their lives to sharing them with anyone who wanted to understand.
This wisdom is still valid and applicable to our lives today. In verses 9-10, Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4 ’What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love Him—these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit has revealed to us God’s thoughts, God’s wisdom. After all, Deep speaks to deep (Psalm 42:7);
(V.13) —This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. God’s thoughts have been preserved for us in God’s Word (the Bible).
Paul wants the Corinthians and us to know that our standing place is secure in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to placate a group of immoral immortals, as pagans do their gods (who often act like out-of-control humans). Our God has done the work of salvation for us. We simply have to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe.” Paul also wants us and them to realize that because we love Jesus, we have the mind of Christ. Through Christ, we are redeemed or ransomed. Through Christ, we are made right with God the Father (our sin is washed away by Jesus’ blood). Through Christ, we are sanctified, set apart for God’s service as works in progress. In Christ, we come to understand the wisdom of God.
So what’s the point for us today in modern-time America? We start right and stand firm/true when we accept and believe that Jesus Christ has saved us. This is not a faith based on human wisdom, but on the wisdom of God–even if nonbelievers consider it to be far-fetched.
As a result, those of us who are in Christ can say that, “Every Day is a good day.” It might not always look like it. It might not always feel like it. But think of this: We close our service each Sunday with a portion of the Kenyan (African, Anglican) liturgy…
All our problems…we send to the Cross of Christ.
All our difficulties…we send to the Cross of Christ.
All the devil’s works…we send to the Cross of Christ.
And all of our hopes…we set on the Risen Christ.
The purpose of this is to remind us, as we leave worship to go out into the world again, that we can give every trouble we encounter to Jesus. We can stand firm on the fact that He is able to take care of it all. We can also stand firm on the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our hope.
Our starting point and our standing place is this: Jesus Christ and Him crucified…and raised from the dead. Halleluiah! Amen!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams