Sermon for Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Sermon Theme: “God’s Spirit Connecting with Our Spirit”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Believer’s Commentary; original ideas; Online Articles about Tripartite or Trichotomy Versus Dichotomy Theology)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Like all Pharisees, the ex-Pharisee, St. Paul, was well educated. I think it would be safe to say he was an intellectual. Unlike some intellectuals who do not make good parish pastors, Paul did not allow his erudition get in the way of his preaching and teaching.
Pastor Bob Ove tells the story about the son of one of his friends. The young man had just finished his PhD in Theology at the Seminary, and he was called to be a pastor in a small farming community.
Here’s how he began his first sermon to his rural congregation: “Of course all of you have read the play by Moliere.” Then he looked out and saw the blank looks on the farmer’s faces, and he started again, “Perhaps some of you have read the play by Moliere.” He still got blank looks from his audience.
Finally he said, “There is a play by a writer named Moliere.”
He then went on to mention the plays by Moliere and to summarize the one he was going to talk about. Like this young man, as a college teacher, I have actually taught plays by Moliere, but I have come to realize that some folks have never encountered French drama, and they will tune you out if you serve it to them.
There are members of almost every church who can reach out to others through the power of the Spirit of Christ, and sometimes they have more success than a pastor. They might win people without a single word – just by acts of kindness and love.
Although our sermon text was a letter written to the Corinthians, Paul’s letters were passed among the various congregations, so that all could learn from their Circuit Counselor. And we, too, learn from him. Here’s what he said in our text, listen carefully: “For I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He decided. In other words, he is going to hold in check all of his philosophies and pedantic ideas, and focus only on Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
He says to the Corinthians, “I didn’t come to you proclaiming the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” In other words, when he came and preached to them, he didn’t use a bunch of ‘highfalutin’ language. There were some men in the congregation atCorinthwho did do that, so this is sort of a put down to them, and to us if we’re guilty of that sort of thing.
Paul was not an exciting “preacher,” (not the best public speaker around), but he was one of the best pastors in the history of Christianity.
I love the story in the Book of Acts, when Paul was preaching atTroas, a young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window, probably because it was so hot. Eutychus dozed off to sleep in the middle of Paul’s sermon and fell out of the three-story window. No doubt it was not just that Paul was a boring speaker, but that it was midnight and Paul was still preaching.
Here’s what Paul says in our text: “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, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
Paul himself was an example of how God uses weak things to confound the mighty. According to the standards of this world, he might never have won an oratorical contest. In spite of this, the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) used his messages to produce conviction of sin and conversion to God. He was with the Corinthians in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. Yet look at what God did through him!
Paul talks about this aspect of himself to give the Corinthians, and all of us, the hope and courage to know that God can work through us in such a way, too. These letters, these epistles, from the Bible are not just about those folks in the Bible, but they are about us, too.
It makes me think about a young man named Tommy, and his true story. Tommy had a pronounced speech impediment, but he wanted to sing, maybe even major in voice in college, and sing in the choir and maybe even solos in the church. But his family told him to forget about it, his stuttering would never allow him to do that. His desire to sing was so deep within him, he just couldn’t let it rest.
He listened to the choir and the soloists in the church, the lyrics and the melodies so uplifting to him. He watched movies about singers. He dreamed about being a singer. He went to hear any singer who performed in the area. But because of his stuttering, no one would encourage him to go for it.
So he gave up his dream, stopped watching those who could sing, stopped going to concerts, and even stopped going to church. He majored in computers, and went on to become a very successful computer analyst, a job that didn’t require him to even speak much less sing.
One day as he was walking by a great cathedral, he could hear the most incredible music coming from inside. The music enthralled him and touched him as never before. Something made him go inside.
The song was almost over, but Tommy heard a woman singing with the voice of an angel. She hit the notes with confidence and the notes soared to the cathedral ceiling. He was entranced. Her singing ended and the worship service ended, too. As other people were leaving the church, he stood in the aisle and just stared at the soloist in great awe.
Seeing how moved Tommy was with her singing, she walked up to him, and said, “Hi, m-mm-m-m-m-y n-n-n-name is S-S-S-arah.”
Number 40. Totally deaf. Played in the Super Bowl. And won.
Paul wanted us to understand about the power of God. We have available to us a “secret wisdom” Paul tells us, a wisdom of the Holy Spirit that the world does not understand. It gives us a different kind of hope and an expectation that changes the way we live. We have this secret wisdom available to each of us that empowers us to do and to be all the things that God has prepared for us.
Here’s what Paul says in our text: “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit [the Holy Spirit]. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
In this connection of our “spirit” with the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to know how it works, we only have to have faith that it works.
However, this is one text among many texts that use the word “spirit” to refer to our spirit, and this is puzzling to many folks, and it calls for an explanation. To explain, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to use a couple of highfalutin’ words, because denominations disagree on this issue. “Dichotomy” means we believe that a human being is made up of only two parts, body and soul. “Trichotomy” means we believe a human being is made up of three parts, — body, soul, and spirit.
Those who believe we are made up of two parts, body and soul, argue that soul and spirit refer to the same thing. But Holy Scripture supports the idea of three parts, body, soul, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your SPIRIT and SOUL and BODY be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because we don’t want to be here until midnight, let me give you just one more text, this one from Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow [body]; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
It would take an entire sermon to fully explain the trichotomy, but suffice it for me to say that our “spirit” is the eternal element, the entity that many folks refer to as our “soul.” You see, before the Reformation, most theologians believed we were made up of body, soul, and spirit (trichotomy). After the Reformation, most Protestants believed we were simply body and soul (dichotomy). However, I must point out that Martin Luther, the Father of our Church, championed the trichotomy, because of numerous Scriptural passages. So the concept of body, soul, and spirit is not un-Lutheran.
The reason for going into that explanation is to understand Paul’s message about God’s Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, connecting with our spirit, and thus enabling us, who stutter, who are deaf, who, like Paul and Moses, are not good public speakers, who, unlike Paul, but like Peter, are not well-educated, can witness to the world, Christ and Him crucified.
You see, the secret of God’s plan in Christ is revealed to the disciples whose mission it is, not to keep the secret, but to make it known. In a verse that comes after our sermon text, the closing verse of Chapter 2, Paul concludes, “But we have the mind of Christ.” That’s got to be one of the most incredible statements in the Bible. What it means is that God has given us a piece of His mind, not in anger, but in love. The Holy Spirit connects with our spirit and enables us to take part in God’s plan for the world.
Not being a good speaker won’t stop us. Stuttering won’t stop us. Being deaf won’t stop us. Being black, Hispanic, or Asian won’t stop us. Being from the slums of the city or the cotton patches of the country won’t stop us. As Paul says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.