Sermon Text: I Cor. 1:26-31
Pastor Steve Hillmer
Grace and peace are yours from Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Amen.
At age 5 he was already recognized as a prodigy artist. At age 12 he was carving in stone; and at 15 he was fully employed, drawing caricatures for a national newspaper. His calling card all across Europe, however, was his incredible ability to carve in wood. He produced over 180 Bible illustration carvings which were displayed in London in 1867, leading to the founding of his own art gallery.
His name was Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883). Mr. Dore ran into a predicament one day when traveling across Europe: he lost his passport. When he came to the border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, he presumed he would be recognized because of all his famous work and be allowed to pass. The official was no fool; he had dealt with many folks who attempted to cross the border simply by claiming to be persons they were not. Mr. Dore kept insisting that he was the man he claimed to be, so finally the official said, “All right, we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it, we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was fully convinced. His work confirmed his word!
Paul Gustave Dore could boast in his work because he was just that good of an artist; but what about us? Who of us can boast like that? Oh, to be sure, we do like to boast… about our kids or grandkids… our favorite sports teams… perhaps a business we’ve built… but in the end, will boasting in any of these get us across thee border on the Last Day? I think we know that answer already.
For these weeks in Epiphany we’re seeing the blessings of being “United in Christ.” Being United in Christ means that Christ has claimed us as his own, we’re part of God’s family. This is so important, because it helps us to realize that on our own, we have nothing to boast about… but, because we are united to Christ, we have everything to boast about.
Let’s listen as Paul sets the stage for this truth about boasting in 1 Corinthians chapter 1: 26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
- We have nothing to boast about
From all outward appearances, these Christians in Corinth had very little to boast about. They weren’t scholars, they weren’t philosophers or people of noble birth. Don’t get Paul wrong, he’s not trying to insult them, he’s reminding them of two important truths: 1) We can take no credit for our salvation… 2) God doesn’t care what the world thinks of you. In rescuing sinners from unbelief and eternal damnation, God doesn’t pick and choose or keep score the way the world does. In fact, it’s never about our accomplishments or abilities – it’s always and only about HIS accomplishment in Christ! It’s always and only about His incredible wisdom that puts to shame the collective knowledge of all mankind – yet sometimes that’s hard for us to wrap our heads around.
Normally we don’t like to be considered “the weak things;” we don’t like to be called “lowly,” we don’t like it when others despise us. That hurts our ego and we like to take pride in the work of our hands. But friends, that’s the first step, isn’t it – realizing that we are but humble beggars, and when it comes to boasting of the good things we’ve done, we have nothing to point to.
To those who realize this simple truth – Jesus has one word, a word repeated 9 times in our Gospel today: “Blessed!”“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Blessed are we, because through the power of the Holy Spirit, we see that it’s not about us, it’s not about our works, it’s not about trying to win God’s favor by doing the right things. It’s always and only about HIM; it’s always and only about CHRIST and his righteousness! Because of him, are we truly blessed.
- We have everything to boast about
The biggest words of our text are the first five words of verse 30, It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Because of HIM – because of the grace, mercy, compassion, wisdom, love and power of God Almighty that you find yourself in Christ Jesus! And what does finding yourself in Christ Jesus mean? It means when you and I are at that final border crossing, there’s no thought of pointing to our deeds or accomplishments, there’s no one final attempt to quick whip up some token or tribute to offer… It means that on that day, when God returns to judge the world, he looks at you – he sees Jesus. He sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness. He sees Jesus’ pure holiness. He sees that every one of your sins have been washed away for you have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. On that day, we will be boasting – boasting in the works of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior! That’s what Paul means when he says, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Our boasting, however, doesn’t have to wait until that day. Just think about how powerfully the God has been at work in your lives for years. For many of us, before we took our first steps, the Gospel was powerfully at work in our hearts through the waters of baptism, washing us clean, clothing us in Jesus, adopting us into God’s family. Through the years, the Gospel continued its powerful work in our hearts as God sent us teachers who shared those amazing Bible stories and we learned of God’s tender love… like how he cared for baby Moses in the Nile River… We saw his awesome power as he divided the Red Sea and crushed Pharaoh’s army in it. Through the years, God continued to send us pastors to nurture our faith and take us deeper into the Word… learning God’s 10 Commandments, learning that great summary confession of our faith… learning what it means to stand up and say, “I BELIEVE in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.” With each Bible Class we learn more of God’s love for us and how we can live for him. As we partake in Communion, the boast and praise of Jesus continues – proclaiming his life and death until he comes again, trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness and rejoicing in his gift of peace.
Even today, as we celebrate Lutheran Education Sunday, as we recognize those who have spent years serving us, we’re not boasting of buildings, we’re not singing the praises of our pastors and teachers… we’re boasting in the Lord. Who else would raise up a little girl from Stevensville, MI to spend 20 years feeding His lambs? Who would have some thought that a kid from Indianapolis would end up feeding God’s sheep for over 25 years in congregations in MN and WI? In the same way, up and down the pews, who would convince families for generations to keep coming to church week after week, to give offerings and prayers in support of Lutheran grade schools, high schools, college and seminary for nearly 100 years? Only God could accomplish this! Only God could raise up disciples who cherish the Gospel in such a way. Only God shapes and fashions hearts after his own – hearts that desire the salvation of souls through faith in Jesus. This is why we will continue to boast in the Lord!
At the same time Paul Gustove Dore was trying to cross boarders by boasting, a German philosopher started to boast in a different way. Karl Marx infamously proclaimed, “Religion is a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” God has words for people who reject his wisdom and boast in their own ideas. Paul put it this way, 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…
It really breaks our heart when we hear such worldly boasting… for we know that all such boasting will come to an end; it will be completely nullified, passing away like a mist in the morning, consumed in the flames. Hearing such boasting makes us extra grateful for the clear wisdom God has imparted to our hearts. And it also emboldens us to continue living out our confident boast in the Lord so that the simple, powerful light of God’s saving Gospel may shine through us. As our children sang, we have been blessed – to be a blessing to others – so that many more may come to boast in the Lord! Amen.