3rd Sunday in Lent (B)
I Corinthians 1:18-31
March 4, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
In July of 1939, the New York Yankees honored Lou Gehrig who was retiring due to complications of ALS, what would become known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” During the ceremony he was repeatedly praised for his accomplishments as a player and human being. When it was finally time for his speech, he could’ve bragged about winning six World Series, playing in 2,130 games in a row, or his Most Valuable Player awards. Instead he said, “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He didn’t boast about what he had done because he knew he had been blessed to have the career that he did. His speech endeared him to the public even more than he already was, where if he had bragged it might have turned people off. We generally don’t like those who brag, so when I tell you to go ahead and boast it may sound contradictory. But it’s okay! Boast all you want, just know there’s a right way and a wrong way to boast.
When you think about what we boast about, what is usually on the list? Our great jobs? Our wealth? Our looks? Our brains? Our family connections? Our family’s successes? Our talents? Our possessions? There’s nothing wrong with being blessed with these things. The problem arises when we give the impression that it’s all about what we’ve done and what we’ve accumulated. We may not say it explicitly, but the impression we give is that it’s all about us. Bragging certainly isn’t new. The Jews bragged about their Temple and their position as God’s chosen people. They thought they were better than others because God has smiled on them. The Greeks instead boasted about their wisdom and the intellectual achievements of their great philosophers.
But in the end what does boasting really get you? Maybe some respect from others. Some who stand in awe of you. Maybe jealousy from others as they covet what you have. Maybe even resentment. King Solomon said in a familiar proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This doesn’t mean that those who brag are destined for punishment. We can be happy we have them, we can share our joys, but they’re not the end all and be all of our lives. These things aren’t what’s important and they’re really not worth boasting about.
So, if this is boasting in the wrong way, what’s boasting in the right way? How do we boast without people thinking we’re braggarts? Saint Paul gives us the answer at the very end of the Epistle. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Paul thinks so highly of this idea, that he repeats it in his second letter to the Corinthian church. To boast in Christ isn’t bragging that we’re so great and that’s why He chose us to be his disciples. It’s not boasting that we’re so much holier than others or that we sin less than others do or that we’re better Christians. Rather to boast in the Lord means that we brag about what He has done for us. We boast that in spite of sins and failures, God brought us to faith and saved us. This doesn’t make sense. Sinners and failures aren’t chosen for anything. Success defines greatness. The more you succeed, the more you accomplish the more people will know you and want to be your friends. However, that doesn’t work when it comes to our spiritual lives.
Paul says, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world.” Saint Paul isn’t exactly puffing up the Corinthians, nor is he making us feel good about ourselves. He’s reminding us that God works in ways that we don’t always understand and He calls people to faith who the world would usually considered unworthy.
This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t call the wise, the good looking, or powerful to faith, He does. I mean, look at me. Okay, I take that back. But the Church has traditionally drawn those who aren’t considered popular or wise. And Paul tells us why. He says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” The Jews wanted Jesus to do more signs, to prove that He was who He said He was. He’d done plenty, they just refused to believe. They couldn’t see that He was the Savior, because He wasn’t the right kind of Savior. To the Greeks, and many today, Jesus is unnecessary or illogical. King Festus was a great example of this. As Paul is telling him about Jesus, Festus cuts him off, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Jesus doesn’t make sense. His life, His words, His actions don’t make sense. So like Festus, and so many others, the thought comes down to who needs God? Who needs to be saved?
Yes, to the unbelievers, Jesus is foolish and the cross is stupid. But we boast in foolish things. We boast in Christ. We boast in the rugged cross, the glorious resurrection, the bloody sacrifice for our sins. We brag that God has elevated the things despised in the world, you and me to a state of exaltation and glory. Boast all you want! Boast that Christ’s death on the cross was for you! Boast that God’s love is so great that if you were the only person to have ever lived or sinned, Jesus still would’ve died for you. Boast in the realization that you’re forgiven. Boast that God has chosen you despite your sins and failures and made you His child. Paul says in Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We can’t boast about what we’ve done, but we can boast proudly and loudly about what Jesus has done for us.
We can boast about Jesus all we want and we do so despite the rejection and contempt of this world. We boast so that others would know what we know. Paul says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” We boast to praise Christ and the forgiveness that is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, smart, uneducated, male, female, popular or hated, Christ died for you. We boast in Christ and in God’s great love for us, because even when it looks stupid to everyone else, we know it’s not. For God’s way is infinitely wiser than anything anyone can imagine.
In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” This is what we boast in. That God knows us and we know God. We boast as we focus on Him and all that He has done for us. We don’t boast that we’re so great but that God’s so great. We boast in Christ Jesus our Lord, for the foolishness of His death, is the power of God which saves us from all our sins.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen