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The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
Kenyan Eucharistic Liturgy
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, February 9, 2020

Faith in the Power of God

Text: 1 Corinthians 2:1–5

Some of you may have already heard the details of the experience that my wife, Teresa, had when she recently passed out and landed on the floor. She doesn’t remember anything about the fall but remembers a woman’s soft voice saying, “You need to sit up. It’s important that you sit up.” She remembers that the tone was not one of panic, but of calm encouragement. When she woke up, she was sitting on the floor in our kitchen and it’s from that position that she called me. As it ended up she had a “subdural hematoma” or bleeding on the brain. When she fell backward and hit the back of her head on the floor, it caused her brain to be propelled forward and the bleeding was on the front of it. She had a golf ball-sized knot on the back of the head.

Upon reflection about the incident, I wondered if the angelic voice (and I think that is exactly what it was) protected Teresa from a more serious injury from laying on the floor thereby letting the bleeding on her brain to become more acute. It’s not unusual when something like this happens to wonder why it did or how God’s plan for us is being worked out through the suffering. In this case it seems to be apparent that God was letting her know that he was with her in the midst of her fall, in a very real and loving way. At no point was she without the loving care of her heavenly Father. It has changed her sense of God’s love and care for her in a very tangible way.

Those in the world would likely scoff at that mindset. It’s very common for the unbeliever to remark, “if God was really a God of love this or that wouldn’t have happened.” The truth is that God uses everything that happens both good and bad to teach us to trust him to such an extent that we stop questioning why this or that had to happen. Instead, we turn to him for strength, comfort and healing and then continue our journey of faith.

This past Wednesday I went to the surgeon and she told me that everything was healing well. I have no more pain (at least not there, I’m still 65) and my energy level is returning. Praise God. Throughout the 1½ years of pain and suffering I didn’t ask, “Why me?” I mean why not me. What I did ask is that God would be with me even in the pain, and would teach me to trust in his loving grace and fatherly tenderness.

This past week as I considered our scripture readings I found this theme of God’s loving wisdom and care to be running throughout each passage. Time won’t allow us to develop each one, so I want to focus primarily on 1 Corinthians 2:2–5,

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

This is the first recorded letter of Paul to the Corinthian church. The way he wrote it indicates that he is referring to an earlier time when he planted and discipled the church there, probably during his second missionary journey. He came to Corinth after spending some time in Athens, a city full of idols. In Athens, Paul had debated the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who found his teaching interesting enough to evoke conversation, but basically thought that he was simply a “babbler.” The Apostle didn’t engage the philosophers but to preach the simple yet powerful message of the cross, even though he knew many would find it foolish and even offensive.

When in Corinth he first preached in the synagogue before being forced out by Jewish opposition. He then turned and focused his ministry on the Gentiles there. He stayed more than 18 months and started a church comprised of Jews and Gentiles. When he left there, he had every reason to expect them to continue to grow in maturity and passion and to spread the gospel to the lost. This letter reveals that after he left Corinth, the church began to go astray and developed some serious problems. A few weeks ago, we saw how divisions had started—some were following Apollos, some Cephas, some Paul and some Jesus Christ. Through false teachers the Corinthians developed a misunderstanding of the sacraments, disorder during the worship service, theological heresy, extremes of ungodly moral and sexual behavior and unhealthy asceticism.

Corinth was one of the largest cities in the Roman world, and also one of the most corrupt. Corinth was a strategic commercial center, and they sought to provide international pleasure for those who came there. Cities like Las Vegas and Atlantic City come to mind as examples in our country today. Corinth was a pagan culture that continually tempted the young believers and often caused confusion between them. In response they developed differing views on how they should respond to unbelievers around them. Some felt that if they were going to grow they would need to associate with sinners of all types, as Jesus did. Others felt they should isolate themselves to preserve holiness. This caused great divisions within the church.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul referred to an earlier letter (no longer available) encouraging the members to separate themselves from immoral people who claimed to be believers,

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of this world. But now I am writing to you to not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not to even eat with such a one….purge the evil person from among you.”

He encourages the church to not be harsh and unloving towards unbelievers, who were simply living out the sinful nature as those who did not know Jesus. On the other hand, they were to also not allow the church to turn a blind eye to those who professed to be believers but still lived as unbelievers. Paul reminded them that he had originally come to them preaching without eloquence or superior wisdom. Even in Athens while debating with the philosophers there, he had used every opportunity to proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Most had thought him foolish and some found this new teaching interesting but in Acts 17:34 we read,

but some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Paul was a brilliant scholar and could have debated them on most any topic and come away well respected but he knew that playing mental gymnastics with them would not lead to transformed lives. Those who ended up following him did so because of the power of the gospel that he preached. This is what he wanted the Corinthians to understand. He reminds them that he didn’t come to them as a powerful orator or polished public speaker. He came to them determined that he would not get sidetracked with meaningless banter about the wisdom of men but would “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Again, it wasn’t because he was intellectually unable to debate them, he most likely could have done so and they would possibly have followed after him and his brilliance. He wanted them to be moved by the supernatural power of the word he preached. After that he would have the opportunity to engage them in conversations concerning the truths found in scripture that backed up his initial testimony. Contrary to those who had divided the Corinthian church on the basis of human arrogance and eloquence, Paul had simply told them about what God had done through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Paul was presenting the good news of the Gospel in its simplicity, but that wasn’t because he thought the Corinthians were simpletons. He knew that if he tried to sway them with his rhetoric and arguments, some converts might be swayed, but it wouldn’t be by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul knew the importance of Jesus being the center of his preaching while at Corinth. The crucifixion as the way to salvation was the most offensive part of the gospel message and it would have been seen as shameful in both the Jewish and Gentile minds. Nevertheless, Paul calls it the power of God for salvation. In verse 1 Paul personalized his memory of the first visit by the phrase, “And I, when I came to you.” The Corinthians were encouraged to remember that they had not come to Christ through a gospel that employed human wisdom.

Paul reminds them of the physical condition he was in when he had first come to them. He came to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” It is likely that Paul came to them with many physical ailments that were a result of the abuse he received because of his faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:7). Apparently, he also had problems with his eyes (Galatians 6:11) and perhaps other ailments (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).

There is a somewhat famous description of Paul, but it does not come from the Bible. It is found in an early Christian document entitled, Acts of Paul. It is impossible to know whether or not this description is simply a complete fiction or if it is based in part of some other unknown and unpreserved tradition. Tradition has it that the writing was widely read in the early church. The description in the Acts of Paul is as follows:

A man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.

Paul had not come to them as a strong person physically but as weak, yet in his weakness he brought the wisdom of God. He had not come with wise and persuasive words as was common in the Greek cities of that time because he wanted them to see Jesus as their hope.

He came in weakness but in that weakness God moved in “demonstrations of the Spirit and of power.” The word that Paul uses for demonstration is apodeixis, which speaks of manifesting or showing forth or proving. Even though Paul himself was not physically strong or impressive, his preaching came in the power of the Holy Spirit that transformed the lives of the Corinthians. When the Corinthians came to faith in Jesus Christ they received many demonstrations of the Spirit’s power among them.

Paul was asking them to remember when he had first come to them it was different from what was normal in their culture. Paul was not depending on his intellect or personal strength but came relying on the Spirit to speak through him into their hearts. The whole time he spent with them he imparted to them “a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

It was not a wisdom that the unregenerate mind could understand because it could only be seen and understood through the Holy Spirit. The power of the gospel through the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be the foundation that the church would be built upon. The Corinthian church had fallen in the trap of arrogance and pride. Because they had experienced the power of God and physical demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, they seemed to forget that their wisdom came through the relationship with Jesus Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If they were to grow as a Christian community it would not happen through human wisdom but through the Spirit’s leading and power.

In our gospel reading this morning from Matthew 5:13–20, Jesus taught that his followers were to be “salt” and “light”. There are some differing views as to what Jesus meant by the believers being salt. One thing is certain, Jesus did not say that they could be or might someday consider being salt, but that if they are his followers, they ARE salt. This would have had a big impact in the ancient world because each culture highly valued salt. The Roman soldiers received their pay in salt. Salt was also a preservative that kept food from decaying. Bacteria couldn’t form on salt. The Mosaic law required that all offerings presented by the Israelites contain salt (Leviticus 2:13). Jesus was likely telling the disciples that they are the salt that would be able to counteract the corruption in the world and to slow or stop sin’s power to destroy lives. This would be done through the power of the gospel message.

To be light was to expose the darkness all around them and to illumine the reality of Christ’s presence through their lives. To be salt and light would prove to be difficult.

In 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth to turn back to being a witness to the world of the power of the gospel message. They should invite all who will listen to see the move of God’s spirit in their midst. Like Jesus, Paul is inviting them to be the vessels that God uses to illumine the darkness and the salt that brings preservation to all who will come by faith to Jesus.

It is clear that Paul and the disciples of Jesus were willing to give their lives up to follow him and to even die because of their relationship with him. As I considered them this past week, there were a couple of questions that I pondered.

First, what were their reasons for being so focused on proclaiming the gospel? Each had encountered Jesus and that brought about a deep love and devotion to him. What was important to Jesus became of first importance to them. So they embraced his mission to restore all things. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit and understood why he had come and were grateful to be a part of his restoring. Acts 3:19–21, Peter is preaching from Solomon’s Colonnade to those who are amazed at the healing of the lame beggar,

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Second, they longed for the return of Christ and knew that he wouldn’t return until the work he left them to accomplish was done. Paul was a Jewish scholar and had been a Pharisee. In his writings he made it clear that he grieved for his people to turn and follow after Jesus Christ. He wrote in Romans 11:25, concerning the return of Israel to faith in God through Christ,

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Jesus sent Paul to the Gentiles that they may be saved. He revealed to Paul that a partial hardening of Israel would remain intact until all the number of the Gentiles had come to faith in Christ. He didn’t know how many that would be, but he did realize that his Jewish brothers and sisters needed Jesus in order to be saved. So he gave his life in pursuit of the Gentiles, even though he was beaten repeatedly, betrayed by friend and foe, imprisoned, went without food or comfort time and again, shipwrecked and finally beheaded. Why would he do that? Because Jesus asked him to and his love for him and the people of Israel whom he was born into, compelled him to pursue the calling that had been given him. Do you think that Paul and the disciples always felt that they were winning? Do you think that sometimes they wanted to give up?

Paul again wrote to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

I think a lot about Christians around the world who press on even under terrible circumstances. I know some of them and I’m always amazing at their joy even in the midst of sorrow. I want to read a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I felt was worth sharing,

It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

I believe that everyone who has gone before us persevering in their faith have found it worth every trial, pain or suffering because they have seen the Lord face to face. If they could speak to us I believe they would exhort us to press on in faith doing all that we can to bring as many as we can to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Things will happen to us here. We will experience trials, pain and suffering and there will be times where we feel that we can hardly go on. When those times come don’t feel that you are alone, it is the plight of everyone to experience times of struggle. We have the blessing of each other and of a God who is always with us, even in the pain. Also, we know that Jesus is returning, and we will behold him face to face.

I want to close with Psalm 27:14,

O wait for the Lord; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart. O put your trust in the Lord.

Let’s pray.

©2020 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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