Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 20 January 2008
[Sermons for Epiphany 2A: 20 January 2008 1 Corinthians 1:1-19 â€“ & John 1: 29 - 42]
What we heard today in the epistle is really just the introduction of Paulâ€™s letter to the people of Corinth. In the next three weeks we will continue on with this story, but let me just give you a couple of insights.
Today's text tells us about the early church in Corinth which was caught up in the "wisdom wars." Wisdom, not faith, was what concerned them most. The term philosopher really means to be a true lover of wisdom, or a philosopher, literally, philo means lover of, and sophia means wisdom. At that time there was a struggle for preeminence between the wisdom of the East and the West. Christianity declared a truce to these "wisdom wars" for all time, by bringing together the wisdom of the East and the wisdom of the West. The Eastern, or Hebrew mind, is more about â€śboth-andâ€ť, while the Western, Hellenistic or Greek mind, is more about â€śeither-orâ€ť. Christianity for the first time brought both minds together, East and West, and subjected them to the integrative mind
The so-called "modern," Western mindset typically focuses on the logical, sequential, deductive, either-or thinking, on "lines of reasoning" as evidence of clear-headed minds. You can feel our Western bias against two contradictory ideas coming together in both-and fashion by the silly-sounding names we give these contradictory combinations: names like "paradox" or "oxymoron" (with an accent on the "moron"). Classic examples like "jumbo shrimp" or "minor disaster" make us smile and assure us that when opposites attract the result is rarely attractive.
Still, there has always been a certain intrigue connected with "round-about," as opposed to "head-on" thinking. Everyone likes to think they are smart. If you're not "book smart" then you're "street smart" or "people smart" or "mechanically smart." No one wants to look foolish.
However, Paul knew that the desire not to look foolish was the biggest problem, the most serious malady, causing the "wisdom wars" of the Corinthian church. Here were disciples of Jesus who wanted to look "smart," or as they put it, "wise" (sophia). Various groups within the community were defining sophia differently and dividing the church. Paul's diagnosis of the problem was brilliant. All this rampant sloganeering-("I am Paul's," "I am Apollos's," "I am Cephas'")--was a symptom, Paul said, not the disease. And so we shall see as the readings progress in the next couple of weeks.
Now when it comes to todayâ€™s gospel reading, we have the tail-end of last weekâ€™s story about the baptism of Jesus, and into it comes the imagery of Jesus, the lamb of God. Let me share a little story with you.
A tourist visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church's tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold.
His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.
To commemorate that miraculous escape, someone carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the workman fell. Jesus, the lamb of God.
The second part of the gospel is about how the first apostles came to be chosen.
One of the great celebrative hymns that comes to us from the African-American culture is the powerful spiritual "Ain't Got Time To Die." It was written by Hall Johnson and it has these joyfully dramatic words:
"Been so busy praising my Jesus,
Been so busy working for the Kingdom,
Been so busy serving my Master
Ain't got time to die.
If I don't praise him,
If I don't serve him,
The rocks gonna cry out
Glory and honor, glory and honor
Ain't got time to die."
In this inspiring spiritual, the composer is underscoring and celebrating the joy and excitement of being a Christian, the joy and excitement of serving our Lord in gratitude for what he has done for us. The point that this spiritual is trying to drive home to us with great enthusiasm is that when we really become Christians, when we really commit our lives to Christ; then, we can't sit still. We become so excited, so grateful for our new life in Christ that we can't help but love him, praise him, serve him, and share him with others.
This is precisely what happened to Andrew. He found the Messiah, he encountered Jesus - and he was so excited he couldn't sit still. Immediately, he ran to share the good news with his brother Simon. It reads like this in the first chapter of John's Gospel:
"(Andrew) first found his brother, Simon and said to him: 'We have found the Messiah'" Then Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus. This was the greatness of Andrew. He was the man who was always introducing others to Jesus. Three different times in the Bible, Andrew comes to centre stage and each time he is bringing someone to meet Jesus.
Here in John 1, he brings his brother Simon Peter. In John 6, Andrew brings to Jesus the boy with the five loaves and two fish. And in John 12, we find Andrew bringing to Jesus the enquiring Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus and visit with him. Andrew's greatest joy was sharing the good news of Christ and bringing others into the presence of Christ. Having found Jesus, he could not sit still, he could not help it. He had to share Christ with others.
You have all heard about the Billy Graham crusades I am sure. Now one of the most important things about Billy Graham is that he has no desire to bring people into his own church. He has no church of his own. Long before the crusade is scheduled to come into town, the advance people come and visit all the churches and seek participation. They get a whole batch of folk who will bring people to the crusades, particularly the unchurched. This is called Operation Andrew. And if and when these people make a decision to turn to Christ, those same folk are taught how to deliver them to their neighbouring church and get them welcomed into the flock.
Let me end with one more story.
About forty years ago there used to be an automobile named the Packard. Packard was the last car manufacturer to get into advertising. It didn't happen until old man Packard died, because whenever he was approached to buy some advertising for his cars he always said, "Don't need any; just ask the man who owns one." After his death, "Ask the man who owns one" became the Packard slogan. They began to advertise, and now there are no new Packards.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is also known through word-of-mouth advertising. That's how the word about him gets out. Only the shepherds at the first Christmas heard the good news from angels. Only the Wise Men were led by a Star. Just a comparative few were touched by miracles. Almost everybody came to know Jesus Christ by the words of a person who knew the Lord first.
Bringing people to Christ goes with being a Christian. All research shows that when a regular member of a church invites a friend or neighbour or a new person to town to come to church with them, it is far more effective than anything I can do as a priest or any advertising, or any sales pitch. This is simply word of mouth evangelism and it is what Jesus asked us to do when he said to go to the four corners of the earth teaching people about the good news of Jesus Christ, and bring them close to God. May you all be very successful in this important mission.