Sunday the 5th of February 2017
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
During the week as I was thinking about what I was going to preach on today, I happened to be reading the news and they were talking about Donald Trump. What struck me was that people see Donald Trump through many different lenses. Many people have different opinions about him. It is clear that there is much conflict in the US at the moment over his behaviour, but how they deal with this is the key question. And it does not have an easy answer, because it depends upon which lens, or angle people are looking through.
I have been wearing glasses since I was two years old, as I have what is known as two lazy eyes. If I did not have glasses I would continually be cross-eyed. I have had surgery on them when I was younger, but I still have to wear high prescription glasses in order to see properly. As you can imagine I have been through many eye tests. The optometrist usually tells me that: “Things are going to get very blurry for a minute.” Then they put all these different lenses in front of my eyes and then they click them over. In an instant, where I had been able to read the letters on the wall chart, they become just grey-black blobs in front me. At this point there is nothing I can do on my part to bring the wall chart back into focus. I simply cannot see what was there a moment before. But then as they keep changing the lenses, things begin to change. It changes from not being able to see, to things becoming blurry, and finally, usually after some time, when the right lens is found everything comes into focus again.
At the beginning of today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians chapter 2, the apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v 2). At the end of the chapter, he says this: “We have the mind of Christ.”
The apostle is writing to a church with many conflicts in it, as I indicated in my sermon last week. He had a very hard task to attempt to sort things out.
In Paul’s experience and in his preaching to them, and to us, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is not just a statement of fact, or something to believe in. It is very centre of how he interprets life. To put it another way, it is the interpretive lens, for which he, and you and I, are to view events through. Jesus Christ and his death on that cross, is not the wall chart to look at, but it is the small piece of glass that we look through to see so that things come into focus.
Things in the world we live in are so often out of focus. We live in an age where we are bombarded with constant information, differing opinions and people’s puffed up egos come to the fore. Trying to decipher what is true, from what is false in this world for many is becoming more difficult. As a church we are not immune from this either. Congregations are full of people from all walks of life, with different personalities and different backgrounds, and different opinions about things, even the way churches should be run in this day and age and often things can be confusing at times. I remember a conversation a retired pastor had with me when I was studying at ALC, where he said: “Being a pastor would be so much easier, if we did not have to work with people” Often there is so much going on in life in the world and in the church that sometimes it is hard to focus and we can easily become distracted.
The church at Corinth was in a place where they were distracted, where the church had become about how powerful and influential people were; where the preaching had been about how eloquent the preacher was, rather than about the actual content of the preaching. In my opinion, this still occurs among some of our brothers and sisters in Christ today. The church had become about how intelligent and wise people were, rather than about following Jesus example in humility. This congregation had come to a point where it had lost its focus; they were not focusing on Jesus, but on their own strengths and abilities.
So the Apostle reminds the congregation that when he was with them, everything he knew — from the meaning of the Jewish Scriptures to the wisdom of their best thinkers to the status of various individuals within the community — he perceived through the lens of Jesus Christ crucified. That is how he saw them then, and how he now sees them with their conflicts and questions about leaders, worship, spiritual gifts, table fellowship, the resurrection, and all the rest of the messy issues he had to deal with. The point is that Jesus Christ and his death on the cross is not what he sees, but it is how he sees. And how does he see? Through the role the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the church.
It says in 2: 4-5: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power”. In 9-10 it says: “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 him10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit”.
And finally, it says in verses 12-13: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 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.”
The Corinthians had forgotten that it was the Holy Spirit who helped them to believe and have faith in Christ. They had drifted away and were relying on themselves. The same is true for you and me today. We are a congregation of believers in Jesus Christ, because the Holy Spirit has drawn us together here to this congregation. The fact that we do believe, is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work among every one of us, pointing us back to Jesus. This fact should give us all encouragement. Too often we forget that He is the one who has called us here, and He has called us here for a purpose.
The reality is that because of our sinful natures it is very easy for us to become distracted, to let other things get in the way of the reality of who we are as God’s children. The temptation to look at the world and the church through lenses other than Jesus’ death on the cross is all around us, and we often fail to put Jesus at the centre of our thinking. But the reality also is that this is Jesus’ Church and He does not give up on us, even when we do stray. Our Triune God is at work drawing us together as His body, which includes all types of people, personalities, gifting and the like. At the bible study last Thursday I spoke of how one of the strengths of this congregation is that God has called so many diverse people here. This is a strength I believe that God can and will use in His purpose of building this congregation up.
My encouragement to you all is that you keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for your sins. I encourage you to pray that the Holy Spirit will help you in your life to view the things of this world through this lens, so that you may see God at work. And I encourage you to pray that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those we know that have drifted away from this congregation, so that they may join in worship with us again. Finally I say to you be encouraged and have hope, because God is at work in this place.