February 6, 2011
I Corinthians 2:1-5
"The Mystery of God"
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
Is the Apostle Paul really trying to convince the church in Corinth that he was never very smart, not very eloquent, and motivated by fear and trembling? “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom?” Is this the Apostle Paul trying to bill himself as something of a Moses? Moses who tried to convince God that he was not, never had been, and could never see himself being every eloquent. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Somewhere buried in II Corinthians Paul quotes some of his adversaries as saying “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” Or as one translation puts it; “his speech is of no account.” Is this “the awe shucks” Apostle Paul suggesting to the reader that his writing and speaking, his wisdom, his words are nothing, really, nothing?
This is Paul, of some memorable rhetorical riffs, like “We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us , because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5). This is Paul, described in the Book of Acts as arguing with Jews and devout persons and philosophers everyday in the market place in Athens. Standing there in front of the Areopagus, taking on the powers and the thinkers that be, and proclaiming, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” This is Paul, who wrote to the Philippians, telling them to “join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”
Paul and the self deprecation; “I didn’t come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.” It would be like Winton Marsalis telling you that “well, yeah, I can get a few notes out of my horn.” Like Joyce Carol Oates trying to convince you that she really isn’t a very good writer. It would be like Justin Beiber being surprised that few thousand screaming youngsters showed up again to hear him sing. It would be like when I had the chance to meet Gardner Taylor, arguably the best preacher of my life time, if he would have said, “you know, preaching was never really my thing.” Here in I Corinthians, chapter 2, and a Forrest Gump kind of reading of the Apostle Paul.
Paul’s point however, is not about Paul at all; it’s not about his elocution, or his presence, or his motivational speaking, or his smarts. It is about the mystery of God. To focus on Paul, to try to figure out the Apostle here, especially here, would be rather unfortunate, when what he is trying to do is to point to Jesus Christ and him crucified. Everyone remembers that one teacher or professor who always seemed to talk about himself rather than last night’s math homework, or the conductor at the concert who seemed to be more important than the music, or the roommate at school who had that ability to turn absolutely everything into a conversation about her or about him. “Enough about you, let’s talk about me now!” I Corinthians, chapter 2, and a “is it really all about you” reading of the Apostle Paul.
There is more than enough to talk about, to study, to argue about when it comes to the Apostle Paul. But not here in I Corinthians 2, Paul is just trying to point to Jesus Christ and him crucified. A witness. A nudge. A gesture. Whatever it takes. Words clearly aren’t enough. Classroom study isn’t enough. It’s not just a good argument. All the persuasion, convincing, or just plain brow beating you can imagine, that’s not enough either. So you point in his direction using the very best you have to offer. You point with all your weakness. You have to point with everything you are, with everything you have, with your whole life. Pointing to Jesus Christ and him crucified. The mystery of God.
The cross of Jesus is the mystery of God. God’s wisdom revealed in the foolishness of the cross. God’s strength revealed in the weakness of the cross. Power in weakness. Life through death. The kingdom revealed in the Savior’s death. God’s love for the world shown as God gave the only begotten Son. His death on the cross. Salvation. Grace. Eternal life. Victory. In the cross of Christ. It’s the mystery of God. Part of the mystery is that you just can’t talk about it. You just can’t sing about it. You just can’t use words, or pictures, or notes. You need all the help you can get. You can talk about it until the cows come home. You can study until you have nothing left to read. You can sing every note that’s ever been written. Part of the mystery of God, is that if you going to point to Christ and him crucified, really point to it, it’s going to take everything you have, all you got, your whole life, pointing to, standing for, living, dying…nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Jesus Christ and him crucified. Him crucified”, where sorrow and love come mingled down. Him crucified. As he emptied himself, humbled himself, became obedient to God, even to the point of death, even death on the cross. Him crucified. Paul in I Corinthians 2, and his call to point, to nudge, to nod with absolutely everything, not to Triumphant Christ, or Cosmic Christ, or Teaching Christ, or a walking on water Christ, or Temple Cleansing Christ, but to the Crucified Christ. or Paul decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
You can’t explain it. You can’t argue it. You can’t defend it. You can’t debate it. All you can do is let your life somehow, someway, by God’s grace, and in the power of the Holy Spirit point to the self-emptying, self-less, obedient, indescribably merciful, beyond quantifiable, Father I forgive them for they not what they do….today you will be with me in Paradise, love of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and him crucified. Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. This cup is sealed in my blood. He knew we would need all the help we could get pointing to his cross. “Every time you eat this bread and eat this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again”
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an op-ed piece written by Russell Moore, the dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The title of the op-ed was “Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone?” The only time the word “Presbyterian” appears in the piece is in this sentence. “Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion- Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal etc.” So the headline could have read “Where have all the Methodists gone” But no, it says Presbyterian. My hunch is that a headline editor for the op-ed page is a disgruntled Presbyterian and that the Southen Baptist dean had nothing to do with the headline. The on-line responses, the postings, are full of folks who did clearly didn’t take the time to read the article blasting the Presbyterian Church for everything you can imagine, and in a something other than nice, sometimes just hateful, non-loving, anonymous way. Which, of course, is exactly what that headline writer intended. Stirring the pot. The short essay that has nothing to do with Presbyterians, does include a plug for the Southern Baptist Convention, “the nation’s largest Protestant group-that has 10,000 students studying for ministry in six seminaries right now”. That should have been the headline but then you would have all that on line chat.
At the very end of the article, the seminary dean writes that “many of us believe denominations can represent fidelity to living traditions of local congregations that care about what Jesus cared about—personal conversion, discipleship, mission, and community”. We could sit down with the dean and spend the rest of a semester talking about those four things, whether they are the right four things, what on earth he means by those four things. But Paul, in II Corinthians 2, isn’t interested in gathering a church full of folks who care about what Jesus cared about. The Apostle Paul is looking for a church full of folks who know nothing other than Christ and him crucified. Folks whose lives, whose very lives, whose whole lives take the shape of the cross of Jesus. Folks whose lives, whose very lives, whose whole lives take the shape of and point to the unspeakable love of Jesus. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
To know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. It may not draw a crowd. It won’t sell tickets. It may never grow the church. It may not bring all the Presbyterians back. Maybe it won’t balance the budget or raise the stewardship pledges or steady the revenue stream. But a Church that points with absolutely everything we can muster to nothing else save the love of Jesus? A church that lives the very mystery of God.
To know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
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