Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

The Sacrifice

March 11, 2012:

The True Wisdom
Call:   Exodus 20: 1-17
Text:   1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
Read:   Psalm 19        (750)

                                The True Wisdom

I thought I had things all figured out.

At the beginning of February
        When I planned the services through March 25 - the last Sunday before Palm Sunday
                I thought I had the season's Sunday services all figured out.

I would use John Grisham like sermon titles.
I would use the OT suggested scriptures to call us to worship
I would use the suggested epistle readings as our texts.

I was quite pleased with myself
        Not from a truly prideful or egotistical standpoint
        But rather because the OT and epistle lessons are the best way
                To obtain a deeper understanding of the stories of Christ set forth in the gospels.

On the first Sunday in Lent
        The OT story of God's covenant with Noah and the words from Peter's first letter combined to speak me - and I think/hope to you.
        And I felt my planning choices had been affirmed.
On the second Sunday in Lent
        The OT story of God's covenant with Abraham and the words from Paul's letter to the Romans combined to speak to me - and I think and hope to you
        Again, I felt my planning choices had been affirmed.

I smiled a heartfelt smile after worship that first Sunday.
My smile became even broader and even more heartfelt
after worship that second Sunday.

I suspect that a little bit of pride sneaked into my heart as well
        "Good job, Jim, you did have it all figured out."

And then came this weekend.

Once again the OT story of the Ten Commandments
A part of the covenant with Moses -
And the text from 1 Corinthians combined to speak to me

But this time they didn't say, "Good job, Jim!"
Instead they said,      "Ha, ha!"
        "So, Jim, do you still think you have it all figured out?"

For I struggled
to understand what Paul had written to the Corinthian church
And I struggled
to see how that scripture related to the Ten Commandments.

Now, before you lose all respect for me
        I was not without some understanding
But I found the wording complicated
        I understood it well enough to pass a short answer test
        But I could not grasp it well enough to write an essay about it.
                Especially if I had to defend it or be cross examined on it
In short, my understanding was not sufficient to preach a sermon on it

Having now noted my difficulties with it,
let me share the scripture that challenged me
        [1 Corinthians 1: 18-25]

So, I proceeded to reread Paul's letter and if anything,
I found even more in it that I did not understand.
And the scriptures still combined to say, "Ha, ha!      Ha, ha!"

I turned to the scholars and their commentaries
I read the scripture itself through again and again
I was learning, but I continued to hear "Ha, ha!"

I read it aloud
        Which almost always helps me to better understand scripture
        Because         reading aloud effectively,
                Requires me to figure out the meaning of the writing
        It's not simply good and correct "ciations"
pronunciation and annunciation

And yet, even reading aloud I again heard the haunting sound of,
"Ha, ha!                Ha, ha! Ha, ha!"

It was as if Poe's raven had changed from "Nevermore" to "Ha, ha!"

Any sense that I had it all figured out and
Any amount of pride I may have acquired the first two Sundays
        Evaporated, dissipated, and vanished.

And then I turned to prayer.
I told God that I needed some help.
I admitted to God that my own gifts and my own work were not enough.

And God began to answer me
        First by Trish Lewis' suggestion that I look at other translations.

The light bulb appeared above my head - for this made sense.

I have used this approach before - several times
        But this weekend as I chose
                To rely on my own gifts
And the wisdom of the scholars who wrote the commentaries
        It had not even occurred to me.

However, immediately after Trish made the suggestion
        I knew exactly where to look.
I went home and picked up my copy "The Message"
        Not strictly speaking a translation
        But rather Eugene H. Peterson's
"contemporary rendering of the Bible ... crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday language."

Peterson's approach was to sit down with the original language
        And type in English
        How he thought it must have sounded to the original readers.
And that helped me gain a greater understanding
of what Paul was telling the Corinthians

Dismissing as "pretentious nonsense"
the intellectual arguments which earned the debaters of Paul's day significant status in their society,

Noting that the Jews of that day
        Clamored for miraculous demonstrations
        And saw our proclaiming Christ crucified as an "anti-miracle"
And that the Greeks of that day
        Went in for philosophical wisdom
        And saw our claim to salvation in the cross as absurd,

Peterson's Paul, asserts that the world in all its fancy wisdom
never had a clue when it came to knowing God

and concludes that
        "Christ is God's        ultimate miracle and wisdom
all wrapped up in one
that    Human wisdom is so tiny, so impotent,
                Next to the seeming absurdity of God
And that
        Human strength can't begin to compete with God's weakness."

In other words, reason, education, wisdom, and hard work
gifts though they are -
are not sufficient to make our power and wisdom equal to
God's power and God's wisdom.

To understand and appreciate God's power and wisdom
        We must look to the gift of the cross
        And experience and feel God's love and God's presence

This gift was a gift to all - even the least intellectual among us

Paul could proclaim this        because Paul had experienced Christ

He had been a Pharisee who had tried to live the letter of the law
The law given to Moses on the two tablets that called us to worship
and the sometimes strained interpretations/explanations of them

Paul's experience had taught him that that law,
like the arguments of the Greeks and the Jews -
        Was not sufficient

Paul's experience had taught him that the cross of Christ
was not foolishness, but rather the power and wisdom of God

For Paul to understand this, it took
        His humbling, transforming experience on the road to Damascus
        His nurturing by Barnabas and others who had experienced Christ
And     His own nurturing of others
                Greek and Jew   educated and uneducated

Paul's story,
the persecutor of Christ's followers
        Being called to leadership in Christ's church.
Must have seemed as foolish to the Greeks and Jews of his day
        As it would to us today
There may be no better example of how inferior our wisdom is to God's

But our own stories can demonstrate this as well.
In fact, you've just heard such a story.

For in my struggle with the scripture,
Peterson's rendering was only the key which unlocked
my heart, my soul, and my mind  to the fact that
Christ and the cross are the true wisdom and the great miracle.
And are much more powerful than the wisest men and women

For me the message of the scripture was to be found in my struggle itself

For like the Jews and Greeks of Paul's day my approach had been
to use my own intellectual gifts        and those of the scholars
        the very approach that Paul was warning me would be inadequate
                in the scripture I was trying to understand and explain.

Is it any wonder that the message I got was "Ha, ha!"?
Is it any wonder that I began to grasp the lesson
        Only after my prayer through the one who died on that not so foolish cross?

My suggestion to you today is that to understand this scripture
Just think of your well educated and generally quite logical pastor
Struggling with it blind to the explanation in the struggle itself
        And then avoid falling into the same foolish trap

If you do that, I think the scripture will speak to you
        And I don't think it will be saying, "Ha, ha!"