Fr. Philip Sang: Foolishness or Wisdom?

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple or Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 29, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts:  Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24.1-10; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Christian message is foolishness to our world. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Christians can only boast in God, and not in ourselves.

Imagine yourself a member of God’s heavenly selection committee. God has given us the job of putting together a pro?le of the sort of person that Heaven is looking for.

What sort of person should we be keen to select?

Smart people? — God knows everything (Omniscient). Surely he’ll want to surround himself with intelligence.

Good looking people? — God is beautiful in his holiness, so it makes sense to select attractive people.

Powerful people? —  God is Omnipotent, so Go-getters! Movers and shakers sounds good. People who know what they want and how to get it. People who know how to get things done.

Wealthy people‘? — Power comes from wealth doesn’t it? Better get some rich folk in.

Noble people? — You know — people of impeccable breeding; upper class. You just can’t surround God with low class you know.

We submit the list to God’s office, only to get it back. Ripped to shreds.

So what sort of person is God looking for?

The problem in the Corinthian church is that they thought God was using that sort of list.

They were a very talented, spiritually gifted church, but they’ve become proud of themselves and they’Ve lost sight of the importance of Jesus.

They’ve displaced Christ with wisdom. Replacing the cross, with their human ability. They have been patting or slapping themselves on the back for their own wisdom. But as we heard from the epistle, Paul’s pulled the rug out from under them. He’s turned their world upside down.

For the word/message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. —1 Corinthians 1.18-25

Paul wants to tell the Corinthians and us today two things.

Firstly, he wants to demonstrate the truth of the gospel being foolish to the world, and that God chooses and uses weak foolish people by the world’s standards to show himself as wise and powerful.

And secondly, he Wants to tell them about real Christian wisdom, a wisdom that comes from God, and not from humans.

Paul starts by reminding them of what God has done in and with them.

For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. —1 Corinthians 1.26

Paul is holding up a mirror to the Corinthians. You’re proud of your new wisdom and gifts from God — but don’t forget where you started from. Remember — you weren’t wise by human standards. You weren’t powerful. You didn’t have noble origins.

Paul is saying God chose a bunch of nobodies. The overlooked, the ignored, the unwanted.

God doesn’t choose how we would. “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” (1 Corinthians 1.27-28).

Why does God do this? Is he just perverse in his selection criteria?

The reason God chooses the people he does is so that his people are on the same footing: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1.29).

That no human being might boast before God. God is the rescuer. God is the wise one. The mighty one. God chooses people to show to them, and the whole universe, that he is God. He owes nothing to anyone. He’s not won over by human wisdom or power.

God wants the world to know he’s God, and the one who saves. “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1.30-31).

God has made Jesus life for the dead. Wisdom for the unwise. Righteous for the Unrighteous. Sancti?cation for the Unholy. Redemption for captives.

We contribute nothing. God chooses who he wants on his own terms — not ours. And he loves to surprise the world by choosing the people the world overlooks.

Think with me for a moment the our old Testament lesson for today, in a nation that was required by law to care for its prophets, it is ironic that God turned to ravens (unclean birds) and a widow (a foreigner from Jezebel’s home territory) to care for Elijah. God has help where we least expect it. He provides for us in ways that go beyond our narrow de?nitions or expectations. No matter how bitter our trials or how seemingly hopeless our situations, we should look for God’s caring touch. we may ?nd his providence in some strange places!

When the widow of Zeraphath met Elijah, she thought she was preparing her last meal, but a simple act of faith produced a miracle. she trusted Elijah and gave all she had to eat to him. faith is the step between promise and assurance. miracles seem so out of reach for our feeble faith. but every miracle, large or small, begins with an act of obedience. we may not see the solution until we take the first step of faith.

Todays gospel is about the first miracle Jesus perfomed. it seemed foolish to be told to fill the jars with water. as if that is not enough when they are full they are told to draw some and take it to the chief servant.

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sancti?cation and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1.30-31).

The Corinthians have been boasting in all the wrong things. They think they are mature, but Paul is telling them to grow up. To boast in God and not themselves. And Paul also wants to remind them of when he first proclaimed the Gospel in Corinth. “Remember how I came to you. In weakness and fear. In much trembling.”

Sometimes God is merciful to the wise, and powerful of our age. But that’s the exception, not the rule. And for them to become a Christian actually means denying that God chooses them on the basis of their wisdom, power or position. For both the Corinthian Christians, and in Paul’s ministry, God wanted people to boast in him, not themselves. To acknowledge and respond on the basis of his power, and not their own.

The Christian message is foolishness to our world. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Christians can only boast in God, and not in ourselves. And Christians maturity is about having God’s Spirit, not our own wisdom. It’s about having the mind of Christ.

Let me ask these questions:

What are you taking pride in? Maybe you don’t admire secular wisdom, but is there something you boast in other than God? For me, there’s the temptation that I’ll look to my theological training. That what I learn about God becomes more important than knowing God himself. Or that I trust in my work with chaplaincy rather than in Christ.

What are you boasting in? How long you have been a Christian? Coming to St Agustine‘s Anglican Church? How much you give?

What are you trusting in? We need to hear Paul again: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sancti?cation and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. —Jeremiah 9.23-24

Let us sing prayerfully, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, The Christian Life Hymnal, 157

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Psalm 36

Your love, 0 Lord, reaches to the heavens –
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; –
you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.
How precious is your loving mercy, O God! °
All mortal ?esh shall take refuge
under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be satis?ed with the abundance of your house; –
they shall drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life –
and in your light shall we see light.
O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you –
and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen