Sunday, April 20, 2008

Audio from April 20

Hopefully a little "cleaner" than last week's audio...

Sermon from Sunday, April 20

Based on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16...

For those of you who missed last week, we started a sermon series on 1 Corinthians that will be twelve weeks long. Now, that might sound like a long time for those of you who are not used to sermon series. But before you begin to complain, I would urge you to think about the Dallas congregation of Southern Baptist pastor W.A. Criswell. Between 1945 and 1963, Criswell preached a very long sermon series to the First Baptist Church of Dallas; Criswell preached through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, over the course of 17 years and eight months. By comparison, twelve weeks is a drop in the bucket.
The main reason I want to take these twelve weeks to focus on Corinth was discussed last week. Those of you who were here remember that the city of Corinth, the people that Paul addresses in this letter, was located at the crossroads. Corinth was located at the intersection of two major trade routes: one was a sea trade route, going east and west, and one was a land trade route, going north and south. Consequently, many people would come into town to do their business for a couple of weeks, or a few months over the winter, and then they would leave Corinth and return to their homes.
We noticed last week that the same thing was true of our little church at the crossroads. Exton is a modern crossroads, a town and area that people are constantly moving in and out of. Especially in our very transient culture, Exton—and central Chester County as a whole—attracts people who come here and live for a short period of time before moving on to some other stage of their life.
Now the consequences of this for the church at Corinth and the church at Exton are enormous. People are constantly coming into Exton and leaving Exton, so that it can be very difficult for a church to build momentum. Last week, I mentioned that in the course of the last 5 ½ years our church has had 74 new people who have regularly attended for a time. Some of those folks were here for a few months, and some are still here. In fact, 27 of those folks have already moved on; and maybe 30 or 35 of the folks who were here before me have since left or moved. The end result is that attendance is probably 10 or 15 more than before I came here, but an incredible amount of turnover in the church.
We tend to think of this as a weakness, as something that makes it difficult to build momentum. But Paul saw it as a strength. He knew that if the church was strong in Corinth, it would strengthen the church around the world. He knew that if people met God in a vibrant, meaningful way in Corinth, that message was going to go around the world in a powerful way to all the places these people called home all around the world. And so I have started thinking about it as a strength of our church, or maybe I should say a calling of our church. I recognize the potential we have for being a Corinthian-type church at the crossroads, that we have the potential to send God’s grace and love and truth around the world because we are located at the crossroads too.
Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul draws a distinction between human wisdom and divine wisdom. By human wisdom, he means a certain scholarly impressiveness. As I am in graduate school, I certainly get to see a lot of this kind of human wisdom on display. We’ll be sitting there discussing the reading we were supposed to do that week, and someone will pipe up and say something like “Semiotically speaking, the Eucharistic liturgy draws us into the dialectical relationship between the verum corpus and the typical sitz im leben.” And they’ll straighten their bow tie, and sit up straight, and look at everyone, and I just want to strangle him and say, “Why don’t you just say what you mean? Why don’t you just say, “At communion, I think about Jesus’ death and my life? But you just have nothing important to say so you dress it up to sound impressive.” This is what Paul means by human wisdom—something that sounds impressive, but deep down it is empty. It sounds impressive but it is all window dressing. It is like that cruelest Easter tradition—the hollow chocolate bunny. Looks great on the outside, sounds great, but inside, there’s nothing.
But divine wisdom is different; divine wisdom is knowing that you have something to say that is so profound, so life-changing, that you don’t need to dress it up in fancy terms or fancy language to make it have power, because divine wisdom has its own power. In fact, not only does it not need fancy language, you dare not dress it up in fancy language; if you dress it in fancy language, you might distract from the pure, sweet, divine wisdom that people need to hear. And so Paul says, when I came to you in Corinth, I was determined not to speak human wisdom, but to know nothing except Christ crucified. I was determined not to dress up this beautiful truth in fancy clothes because I didn’t want you seeing the fancy clothes of human wisdom. I wanted you to see this beautiful life with Jesus at the center.
Paul describes it this way in this passage: “We speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” God’s wisdom is different than human wisdom, isn’t it? And not everybody can see God’s wisdom. It’s subversive, it flies below the radar. Think about the ways God worked throughout the Bible, and you will see that God’s ways are not usually wise by human standards.
God wants to demonstrate his love for the world, so he chooses a special people, the chosen people, to reflect his love to the world. They’re going to disappoint you, God, don’t you know that? They’re only human; they’ll fail; they’ll fall; they’ll make mistakes; don’t put your eggs in that basket. Ahh, but God does it anyway, perhaps because he wants the world to know how patient and how loving he is even when people fail him.
God wants to get his word to his people, and so he chooses prophets and sends them, full
of his word, to the people. God, don’t you know they’re going to kill people who speak your word? Don’t you know that not everyone is going to hear it? Ahh, but God does it this way anyway, perhaps because the people’s sinfulness amplifies the prophet’s message. It’s one thing if a prophet comes bearing the message that a people are wicked; you might believe him, and you might not. But if the people kill that prophet, then the message sinks in—there’s something wrong. These people are not living up to what God wants them to be.
God wants to show his love to all people, and so he sends—what? A message written across the sky, saying “I love you, you know. Signed, God?” No—he sends a baby, a baby in a little tiny manger in a little tiny corner of the world to a little tiny ethnic group in a little tiny corner of human history. And the baby grows up and becomes a self-taught teacher who told people to follow him, and then he died a painful death and then rose again—this is how God says, “I love you?” Not very wise by human standards.
But it is not meant to be human wisdom—it is divine wisdom, which sometimes appears to be foolish to us. It doesn’t make sense to the graduate student concerned with making a good impression; it doesn’t make sense to anyone who respects only human wisdom. So Paul says, “None of the rulers of the age understood this;” in this political campaign, we can understand this. Political campaigns are all about cultivating a certain image, and those who are successful in it to the point of becoming president have to be worldly wise. But many of them then have a hard time seeing divine wisdom, because their whole livelihood depends on human wisdom.
But there is a group that sees it; there is a group that “gets” it, for lack of a better word. There is a group of people who perceive divine wisdom in a humanly wise world. Paul wants the church to be this group of people. And he says it is the Holy Spirit that helps us with that. “These things”—this divine wisdom—“God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” Paul says that no one can see these things without God’s help. “No one comprehends what is truly God’s except by the Spirit of God.” And Paul continues, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” God gives the Spirit to those who believe on him, and that Spirit gives us the divine wisdom that just doesn’t come naturally in this world. Paul closes this with a rather remarkable statement that we sometimes just skip right by: “But we have the mind of Christ.” In other words, Paul says that because God has put his spirit in us Christians, we no longer look at the world with the same mind as everyone else, but we look at the world like Jesus did, with the mind of Christ. Where the world sees a hopeless situation, and wonders how we can abandon it, Christ sees hope and so we see hope. Where the world sees danger, we see opportunity. Where the world sees a cross, we see salvation. Paul uses the term “spiritual” to draw his distinction between these two groups—those who are “unspiritual” simply cannot see it, while those who are “spiritual” can see it.
Paul writes this to a church at the crossroads because he knows how important it is for a church at the crossroads to be spiritual. And by this, of course, he does not mean detached from the world. He doesn’t mean someone who sits up in the attic by themselves reading the Bible and praying all the time. He means people who look at problems—real-world problems, problems like war, poverty, abortion, racism, broken relationships, and fragmented communities—with the mind of Christ, people who can see them like Christ sees them.
We talked last week extensively about the fact that we are a church at the crossroads, that I believe part of our calling is to touch people with God’s love. In this way, our church has the potential to have a global impact—we can literally touch people around the world by simply being the people God has called us to be here. But this is not something that happens automatically. Instead, this comes when we as a people renew our focus on being a spiritual people; it comes when we renew our focus on seeing the world with Jesus’ eyes, when we renew our focus on viewing the world with the mind of Christ, that very mind which Paul says is in us! If people come to our church—even for a short time—and see people thinking with the mind of Christ, seeing with the eyes of Christ, this will give our ministry its power around the world.
This is all well and good, but how do we do it exactly? How do we learn to think with the mind of Christ? How do we start to see with the eyes of Christ? Well, how do you learn to play ping-pong? I’m a pretty good ping-pong player. Back in college, I was really good. Now, ping-pong was not exactly the kind of sport that gets the girls usually; in my experience it was more of an alpha-male kind of thing, the kind of thing where twelve or fourteen of us guys would get together around the table and take turns. We’d be sweating, diving for balls, slamming and defending, all this great ping-pong. We’d get really hot; I remember one guy used to play in his underwear in order to distract his opponents. But every so often a girl would happen by (by the way, the guy would put his clothes on); and when a girl happened by, one of two things happened. Some guys would get flustered, and not play as well as they could. But some guys would step up their game and play even better, with better focus. I was one of those guys. And every so often, a girl would even compliment me if I had disposed of my opponent in particularly convincing fashion. (I believe even Jill complimented me once after a resounding victory.) And I of course love compliments—who doesn’t?
But when I would receive the compliments I would often think, “You know what? I’m really a loser. I mean, sure, I’m good at ping-pong. But you know why I’m good at ping-pong? Because I spend my whole life playing it. I’m in college—I’m not going on dates. I’m not studying enough. I’m not staying up late discussing philosophy or even partying. I play ping-pong a lot—maybe too much—and that’s why I’m good at it. Of course, I have a certain natural aptitude for the sport, but most of it is just the fact I’m a loser and play ping-pong too much!
If you want to be good at anything, ping-pong or thinking with the mind of Christ, it is a combination of divine initiative and human effort. God puts a spark in our hearts and some people may have a stronger spark than others. Yet no matter how strong the spark is that God places in our hearts, it will not amount to anything if we do not lend our effort to fan that spark into flame. And so if we hope to be good at ping-pong, we practice. If we hope to think with the mind of Christ, we practice. It starts by getting to know the mind of Christ; if we want to think like Jesus, we have to know how Jesus thought. So we spend time with Jesus; we prioritize time for worship, we prioritize time for study and spiritual growth; we prioritize time for this community, where we live out the mind of Christ with each other; and we prioritize time for service, because we see Jesus’ face most clearly in those we serve. Our church gives these opportunities, opportunities for worship, opportunities for study, for prayer, for community, for service. Are you taking advantage of them? If you are willing to prioritize those things in your life, I promise you that the spark that God has put in your life will be fanned into flame; I have seen it time and again here. If you are not willing to prioritize those things in your life, then you can’t expect that spark to become a fire; you can’t expect to think with the mind of Christ if you do not put a priority on learning about the mind of Christ in your life. I don’t mean that to sound harsh, just reality. I’ll still love you, I’ll still think you’re cool—I’ll even play you in ping-pong—but you can’t squeeze water from a stone. Growth simply will not happen if we do not use the tools God has given us to grow.
We are a church at the crossroads. People will leave here and they will touch the world with whatever we touched them with. They will impact the world with whatever we impact them with. And so we must be aware that our decision to invest ourselves in this Christianity thing—or not to invest ourselves in this Christianity thing—will have impact all over the world. If we would touch the world with the love of Christ, it starts with pursuing the mind of Christ in our lives, here and now. Let’s commit ourselves to that task.