Boast Not for the Glory

Boast Not for the Glory
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
January 29, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one[c] might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in[d] the Lord.”

Christmas was great, wasn’t it? A great time of worship experiences, laughter, joy, and the sense that Jesus had come into our lives and was present in such an abundant way. As most American Protestant Christians, we are happy with that picture and content with moving on toward our church seasons of Lent and then Easter. We want to do this all in good time, with enough space and allowance for our flowers to get planted and start blooming, baseball to get underway, and the beauty of a warm spring afternoon to settle around us. We truly are people of comfort. We want things to go our way, to be patterned in such a way that there is minimal if any, disruption in our livelihood.   

So why in the world are reading a text from the Epistles that mentions the cross and the death of Jesus Christ, just five weeks after Christmas day? Isn’t this a little early to move toward the cross? I love what T.S. Elliott in his “Journey of the Magi” says as he depicts a conversation of the Magi one asks the others, “were we led all that way for birth or death?” That is an interesting question when we join Paul this morning in asking the question, rather abruptly, “How do we see God working in our lives?” How do we understand God? Better yet, how do we understand God being active in our lives?  

Paul’s understanding is that fellowship with God is the product of God’s decision to come to us! Ultimately, God’s act of reconciliation on the cross.   

In this text this morning we see frankly that human wisdom will only get us “so far” in the adventure, in the stealth work of daily living. You see, we often quarrel over the amount of knowledge we possess! Competition runs rampant when we want to be “more knowledgable.” We have this uncanny nature of humanness that pushes us to be right.

Let me offer some comfort as your preacher… this is not a new thing! In Paul’s proclamation this morning to the church in Corinth, he begins to delineate and speak of the differences between the Jews and the Gentiles. The difference between the relative “mundane” knowledge known as the gnostic knowledge (head smarts!) that the Gentile’s claimed to possess and what the Jewish people claimed to possess in that the signs, symbols, of God being present in their lives was what solidified the knowledge of God. 

For Paul, both lack the understanding of God’s salvation on the cross. Jew and Gentile fail to see the “foolishness”- the utter, un-anticipated salvation found in Christ’s death on a cross. 

Paul is not the “go-between” or the “referee” between the two sides; he refuses to do that! But what he does is remain heavy on the simple proclamation of God’s redemption, humbling power by death on the cross. 

Paul, in the midst of his confusion and discord over the Corinthian church, was adamant, in his own way, that the division of thought and specific religious schooling was absolutely un-necessary!    

P. Mark Achtemier calls this “a bold historical claim about what God has done on a hill outside of Jerusalem during the reign of Pontius Pilate.” This was the extended motive of what a radical faith and a radical move of love truly was! 

It was not a shameful move to understand religious correctness; it was an act that defined history and the state of living as a follower of Christ. How many times are we caught up in the dilemma that marks a “right way” or a “wrong way” based upon the knowledge an individual brings to the church? 

It is amazing how we, as 21st Century Christians, are in the same mode of operation that the Church of Corinth was in, struggling mightily with the questions surrounding what must God be like? How does God work in our lives, and how do we understand God working in our daily lives? The search for wisdom, for that practical knowledge of having God knowledge has consumed us as a culture and a faith for centuries. It has caused us division within the church, within politics, and within personal spirituality. We struggle to understand the very action of the God who created us, sustains us, and redeems us! We often find ourselves right back to where the Jews and Gentiles were in Corinth! 

What we must continually seek is to understand that this crucifixion and resurrection that Paul talks about is the answer to many of our surface questions and the start of detailed discussions in order to grow as the church. One commentator puts it this way, “The power of God is revealed wherever the Love of God becomes flesh. There we behold that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

It is interesting that when we think of where the nature of God tends to dwell, it is with the weak. Dr. Willie Jennings of Duke Divinity School, offered to me a quote one day when he said, “God tabernacles in weakness. God chooses the foolish, weak, lowly poor, mourning and meek, as agents of God’s Kingdom work in the world.” My friends, this has to overshadow our usual human way of thinking and acting! It is only through God’s choice of dwelling with the weak that God’s weakness becomes our strength.  

As convoluted as this way of thinking seems to be, it is and must remain authentically Christ like. We don’t have a choice! It is the understanding that God’s foolishness is stronger than our weakness, and it is through that we are moved to grow and become stronger.    

Flannery O’Connor, the 21st Century Catholic writer puts it this way, “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the Cross.” 

My friends, my challenge and my prayer for all of us this day, is that we continue to seek God alive in our life; foolish where we thought we were strong, and wise where we thought we were stumped. For God continues to work through all us as we laugh, question, beg, and search for the ever present God of love who is active in our lives! 

May the peace of Christ be present with you now and forever.