Wednesday, February 01, 2023
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Sunday, January 29, 2023
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
This morning, I begin with a confession: I have sinned against God and others and violated my ordination vows, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
My sin started innocently enough. I looked at “seeker-sensitive” churches drawing huge numbers of people and commandeered their “secret sauce.” Its foremost ingredient was the preaching of its pastors.
The preachers who drew the crowds, whether they were ultraliberal, ultraconservative, or evangelical/Calvinist, focused on ethics, personal happiness, and how to get ahead in life. They preached messages people called “relevant.”
Some of them told people to be justice-seekers or peace-makers. They preached on passages of Scripture like our first lesson for today, Micah 6:1-8, and gave people step-by-step procedures to being peace-makers and justice-seekers.
Others looked at passages like our Gospel lesson, Matthew 5:1-12, and produce sermon series about nine things people could do to get God’s blessings. I heard one of these preachers give his formula for sermon creation: (1) Tell them what you want them to know; (2) Tell them what you want them to do.
God forgive me, folks, there was a time when I bought into this nonsense.
Only later did I realize that this formula was unchristian. “Do this and you’ll be right with God and others,” was my unspoken and false message.
I preached “sermons” on topics like How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage, Eight Steps to Success, Raising Faithful Children, How to Foster Friendships. My sermon titles sounded like how-to books by motivational speakers.
But the crucified and risen Jesus was getting pushed to the side.
There are big problems with this approach.
One is that almost everyone would agree about how we’re supposed to live our lives; yet none of us does live fully as we’re supposed to live. How-to preaching will lead us either to despair over our failure to live up to religious dos and don'ts or to pride in how well we think we’re doing.
A second problem with this approach is that it causes people to take confidence in the works they do rather than in the God we know in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29) Our justification in the eyes of God and our hope for this life and the next have nothing to do with the things we do. Our hope is in Jesus Christ alone!
I never completely abandoned proclaiming or teaching the truth of Christ’s Gospel. But the Word of God is an all-or-nothing proposition for Christ and His Church. I was effectively preaching a “Christ and these how-to lists” message, as if Jesus Christ wasn’t enough of a Savior.
I was beginning to realize how much I needed to repent when a crisis developed in the Lutheran denominational body of which I was (and many of you were) formerly a part. That denomination was, in its way, turning away from the Word of God, including both the Law that condemns our sin and the Gospel about Jesus that sets us free from condemnation. I was appalled by what was happening.
But as I read God’s Word and prayed, I realized that I was part of the problem.
In the quest for “relevance” and crowds (which never materialized, by the way), I was making the people who heard my weekly versions of “what do I want them to know and what do I want them to do” sermons susceptible to false gospels that tell people to rely on their works, their thoughts, or their emotions rather than on Jesus Christ only! I repented before God and told Ann that I never wanted to preach another “cute” or worldly sermon for as long as I lived.
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)
What Paul is saying is that people in the world have things they demand from the Church in order for them to consider the Christian message “relevant” to their lives. In Paul’s day, his fellow Jews demanded miraculous signs before they would listen to the Church. And the Greeks, a term Paul here uses for non-Jews, Gentiles, demanded the Church be a dispenser of wisdom. Above all, the world of Paul’s time (and our own), wants the Church to tell it exactly what it wants to hear. “Tell us we’re right on our politics, our view of what’s true and what’s not, our take on personal morality, then we might pay attention to you.” But Paul says the Church and Christians must refuse to be “relevant” dispensers of how-to worldly wisdom. “We preach Christ crucified!”
When we hear or when we proclaim the message of Christ crucified, there are two things God reveals.
First, we see the depths of our sin and the deadly consequences of them. In the eyes of the holy, righteous God of the universe, the One Who made us, every sin we commit, whether in thought, word, or action, is a capital offense, making us worthy of death. A single lie, one misuse of God’s name, a solitary fantasy of sexual immorality, a passing word of gossip: These, along with sins like idolatry, greed, murder, or the refusal to honor those in authority, warrant the same punishment from God: death, eternal separation from God, everlasting condemnation in hell. We know all of this is true because on the cross, we see Jesus, God the Son, perfect in His sinlessness, dying for our sin. Christ crucified shows us that sin–our sin–is fatal and that, unless something is done for us, Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” will be our constant cry from hell.
Second, in Christ crucified, we see what God has done to spare us the consequences of our sin. On the cross, Jesus does what we cannot do for ourselves: He offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He takes the punishment we deserve. He does everything needed to make us right with God. We are born sinners with no right to live. But the God unwilling to easily part with us because of His love for us has gone to the cross for us. As Paul writes elsewhere: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
He goes on: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:9-11) Dear friends in Christ, you are deeply loved by God. Christ crucified brings this love to you. Christ crucified and risen reconciles you to God now and forever!
Our call is simple then: To turn from our sin and turn to Christ.
So, what about passages like Micah 6?
Or Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5?
Aren’t these blueprints for our salvation, behaviors we can adopt that will make us acceptable to God and give us the good life.
No, that’s not what they are at all!
If you and I were capable of adopting them, capable of loving God and loving neighbor, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to go to the cross. But like Paul, we are bound to confess, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…” (Romans 7:18)
God’s Law is meant to cause us to see that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves and assure us that we can turn to Jesus, the One Who sets us free from our bondage and then takes up residence in our lives so that, as we trust in Him, the goodness, love, and obedience to God that is foreign to our natures, begins to be manifest.
Jesus Christ sets us free from our sin and self-absorption and lives in those who are baptized in His name and who trust in Him!
The Christian can say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The world doesn’t need wowing signs or worldly wisdom. Neither do we.
All we need is Jesus Who died and rose again.
Jesus doesn’t promise to make us popular or powerful.
He doesn’t promise to give us health or wealth in this world.
He doesn’t promise us that He’ll cause this life or this world to make sense.
He promises us forgiveness of sin, new and everlasting life with God, and the assurance that He is always with us.
No matter what a confused and dying world (or we ourselves sometimes) may think, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ–and Jesus Christ alone–is all we need.
You can trust in Him!