Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 2/5/2017
5th Sunday After Epiphany
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I didn’t come preaching God’s secrets to you like I was an expert in speech or wisdom. I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified. I stood in front of you with weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking. My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God.
What we say is wisdom to people who are mature. It isn’t a wisdom that comes from the present day or from today’s leaders who are being reduced to nothing. We talk about God’s wisdom, which has been hidden as a secret. God determined this wisdom in advance, before time began, for our glory. It is a wisdom that none of the present-day rulers have understood, because if they did understand it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory! But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being. God has revealed these things to us through the Spirit. The Spirit searches everything, including the depths of God. Who knows a person’s depths except their own spirit that lives in them? In the same way, no one has known the depths of God except God’s Spirit. We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-12, CEB)
It’s been a while, hasn’t it church? It feels good to be back in the pulpit after such a long break. I do want to make sure you know what’s been going on, just in case the grapevine hasn’t reached you yet.
On Sunday, December 11, I was here at church early preparing for the service that day when I had a seizure and fell, which caused a traumatic brain injury. The doctors found out that I’d broken a bone on the right side of my skull, which cause a couple brain bleeds.
So, because of that, I was in Lima Memorial for 6 days. Now, I don’t remember any of what I just told you because the brain injury caused amnesia from the morning of the injury until about a week and a half later, something the doctors said was very normal.
Anyway, I was discharged from the hospital and lived at my parents’ house in Findlay for a little over 3 weeks as I went to therapy in Findlay. When I was discharged from therapy, I moved back home to Alger, which was about 2 weeks ago.
So the recovery continues, but I do feel good. I’ve had good reports from all the doctors as they’ve seen my body and mind progressing toward health like they want to see. I’m now back at my seminary for the spring semester, which started this past Tuesday, and I’m obviously back to work here at church. I am absolutely filled with gratitude for all of you for giving me enough time to recover and get back to health. You as a church have been an inspiring example of the body of Christ that I’ll carry with me.
When I first read our Scripture for this week, what I just read a few moments ago, I thought that Paul’s words about his own “weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking” were strangely appropriate. I didn’t choose this Scripture, it was one of the assigned texts from the lectionary. But I think it’s appropriate. Because that’s how I stand before you now.
Preaching is one of my passions in ministry, but I haven’t preached for a month and a half. You’ve been gracious enough to give me that time and I needed to take it, but it’s been a while. So I am overjoyed to be back in the pulpit today, but it’s a bit surreal to back in the same place as I was on December 11, even though I can’t remember it.
Now I know some of you might be feeling similar things. When something like this happens, it can’t not affect the church. When a church member finds their pastor lying on the ground and you have to figure out who to call and wait for the ambulance, that’s a serious and traumatic event in the life of a church. And I’m sure the effects of that will continue to be felt for a while even though I’m back, whether we acknowledge them or not
So maybe you can understand why I stand before you with “weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking.”
As you might remember, that’s exactly how the Apostle Paul described himself when he was standing before the Corinthians. Honestly, though, that’s a little weird to think about. We read all of Paul’s letters to his churches and he seems very articulate and impassioned and charismatic. So we probably normally picture as preaching the same way. We don’t picture as weak, afraid and shaking with nervousness.
But that’s exactly how Paul described himself – “weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking.” Paul sure doesn’t talk about himself like any kind of good preacher. It doesn’t sound like he’s charismatic, he’s not attractive, he’s not skilled in rhetoric or oratory.
Now that’s a big deal. Because the city of Corinth, the location of this Christian community that Paul was writing to, it was a major city in the Roman Empire. It was a big trade port with lots of docks and business, a huge town. People in Corinth had seen skilled speakers, they’d seen the great Greek philosophers debating. So they knew what skilled speakers sounded like.
But here comes Paul, with “weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking.” He said he didn’t used “convincing wise words,” and admits that he’s no “expert in speech or wisdom.” What I get from this passage is that the great Apostle Paul is really just a one-trick pony with a trick that’s not even very good. He’s an ice cream truck with only one flavor, and no one even wants that flavor.
Because Paul wrote to the Corinthians “I had made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.”
That doesn’t make any kind of sense, and if you think it does make sense, then you need to think again! Paul calls the crucifixion of Christ “God’s wisdom.” How is that wisdom? The Corinthians who Paul was writing to, and us today, worshiped Jesus as God, even though he was killed by humans. That sure looks like defeat. I mean, sure, he was resurrected, but who can believe that? And to get to resurrection, Jesus still had to die this humiliating death on the cross. And we say that we want to be like Christ. Even in his death? Are we sure?
You see what I mean – this doesn’t make any rational sense. But it seems like Paul put all his eggs into this one basket called “Christ crucified.”
So how can we possibly believe this? I think it’s really only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can come to a true, saving belief in Jesus Christ crucified.
Think of when you visit an optometrist’s office, the eye doctor. They always put that big thing in front of your face and tell you to look at the chart with all those letters, right? Then they start flipping through all the lenses to see which one works best. And there are always a few that make everything go blurry where you can’t see any of the letters, right?
Like I said, Paul really only had one message – “Christ crucified.” That was his one trick, his one ice cream flavor. Think of that as one of the lenses that they eye doctor flips in front of Paul’s eyes as Paul sits in the chair.
And think of that chart that Paul’s supposed to look at as “the world.” When the eye doctor flips the lens to “Christ crucified,” all of a sudden it’s like the chart is blurry to Paul.
Paul looks at the world through the lens of “Christ crucified” and sees the world’s wisdom as a sham. And he sees the Holy Spirit like the eye doctor who flipped the lens of “Christ crucified” in front of his eyes.
You see, as Christians, we believe in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, but we also believe in the Holy Spirit who’s been given to us. It’s funny – so often, we leave the Holy Spirit to the Pentecostals and charismatics, but we have to remember that we believe in the Holy Spirit too.
The Holy Spirit is just as central to the Christian life as Jesus Christ is. The Holy Spirit is the life of Christ within us.
This Spirit inside us and all around us and the world is the same Spirit who knows the very depths of God, the same God who created the furthest galaxy and the smallest atom. Paul proclaims that this is the same Spirit who knows every mystery of God. The whole will and plan of God is known by this Holy Spirit.
And it’s crazy – Paul’s saying that this same Spirit was at work in him when he was among the Corinthian believers, and it’s still at work within us.
And when we’re truly working in and with the Spirit, it’s like we get new eyes through which we can view the world, just like Paul did.
When we see the world through the lens of “Christ crucified,” it’s just like what happened with Paul. The world’s standards of beauty, standards for success, standards for wealth – looking through that lens of “Christ crucified,” we see that it’s all a sham, it’s all empty and worthless.
This is huge. The death of the Son of God – what the world would call an abysmal failure – is actually the victory that God had been preparing for. And through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, if we listen to the voice and are open to the movement and activity of the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to respond to it, we too can see that victory and look at the world through that lens of “Christ crucified.”
Here’s the whole point – the Holy Spirit can give us new eyes through which we can view the world. But we have to ask – why does the Holy Spirit do that? Well, here’s what I think – the Holy Spirit gives us new eyes through which we can view the world SO THAT we can be in mission to the world.
But the Holy Spirit doesn’t do that just so we can be in any kind of mission. The Holy Spirit gives us those new eyes to see a whole different world so that we can participate in God’s mission to the world, the mission that God has been carrying out since the beginning of time.
God is, right now, at work in the world and in our own community, the Village of Alger, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can participate in that mission if we are open to the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to see the world through the lens of “Christ crucified.”
You see, here’s the deal. Paul talked a lot about God’s wisdom in that passage. But you see, God’s wisdom might be higher than the world’s wisdom – that’s an important truth – but God’s wisdom is still engaged with the world. Just because God’s wisdom is higher in some way does not mean God’s wisdom, to which the Holy Spirit calls us, is in any way separated from the world.
When we see the world through the lens of “Christ crucified,” the world’s wisdom and values get blurry so that we can see them for the sham and fake that they are, but we also see the world more clearly for what it is. We see clearly a hurting, broken, scared, and worried world that is in desperate need of the good news of the Gospel.
Let’s be honest here, because we’ve probably thought it. The world’s wisdom would see the Village of Alger as just a teeny little village that’s declining and has nothing to offer. But when we see the Village of Alger through that lens of “Christ crucified,” the Holy Spirit shows us the real community that’s right outside our walls, surrounding us, that is in desperate need of the Gospel through this church. And God sees Alger First UMC as beloved people who are capable of changing the world and their community. There are lonely people who need community, there are sick people who need healing, and there are hungry people who need food.
Could you all get out the insert in your bulletins that says “Daily Scripture Readings?” On the back of that insert, it should say “Prayer to the Holy Spirit” at the top. Could we say that together right now?
O Holy Spirit
Who knows the mysteries of God
And communicates them to us:
Give us new eyes through which we can view the world.
Help us to see the world through the lens
Of “Christ crucified,”
So that we may see the world as You see the world,
And love the world as You love the world.
In your power, O Holy, Loving Spirit,
This is a prayer that I want each of us to say each day this week. Read the Daily Scripture Readings and pray this prayer each day this week so that our eyes may be opened to how the Holy Spirit is moving inside of us and how the Holy Spirit is at work in our community.