Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017
I Corinthians 1:10-18

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning we meditate upon the Epistle Lesson previously read, especially these words: “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.

I always say that our greatest inability as fallen sinners is to recognize just how sinful we are.  I am sure you’ve heard me say that, and it’s true.  We don’t recognize just how broken we are by sin.  We don’t recognize the depth of the sinfulness of others, or ourselves.  We don’t recognize just how much each and every one of us truly deserves condemnation because of sin.

But as we consider that brokenness we have Paul putting it right before us in those words: “The Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”  God’s Word is foolishness to us in our sin.  God’s Word seems literally moronic to us in our sin.  If we consider God’s Word apart from the faith of the Holy Spirit, this just seems stupid.  It seems stupid that God would create a world could even fall into sin, let alone that He would be angry enough with sin to actually send people to hell because of it.  And it seems all the more stupid that He would send His Son into the World redeeming us by the tree of a cross. It all seems stupid to our sinful world.  If you look around us in the world, you can see evidence everywhere of just how stupid this seems to people.

Ask people about their views on the Bible and see what they say.  Or this year we’re celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, see what people say when you tell them that you believe that Scripture Alone is sufficient, that Faith in Christ Alone is sufficient, that God’s Grace Alone is sufficient to get to eternal life.  See what they say when you say that you believe in eternal life, in particular eternal life received by faith in the cross of Jesus Christ alone, and not through our works or worth.  Many will tell you that these beleif are antiquated and foolish.

And it’s no different for us in the church.  Paul knew this firsthand.  As Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian Church, he wrote as one who knew their trials.  You see there were some who had come to Corinth who claimed really have the faith figured out.  From what we read, we can tell that these “super apostles” were real dynamos.  They told the Corinthians all about how they could get real spiritual growth; about how the really spiritual people would show themselves by doing amazing things like speaking in tongues and prophesying and maybe even performing great healings.  In Corinth, if you wanted to get ahead in the Church, it seems that you had to show just how spiritual you were.  You had to prove your bona fides.  Were you baptized by Paul?  Great!  More points for you.  Or baptized by Cephas, that is Peter?  Good for you, big points!  Or maybe you had spoken in tongues!  You were a real Christian.  Or maybe you wanted to show just how Christian you really were: “I am so Christian I don’t follow Cephas or Paul, I follow Jesus!”

But what’s never said here?  Think about it for yourself.  How do you know that you are Christian?  What about the fact that God promises it to you in His Word?  And you can see what’s missing from the Corinthians there.  The Word of the cross wasn’t enough for them.  They didn’t want Paul who didn’t use fancy philosophy and wisdom, or who didn’t use glorious signs.  No, they wanted the super apostles who did!

But as I say this to you, again, think about this for yourself.  Is this Word of God enough for you?  Is God’s promise enough for you or do you need more?  Do you need your faith confirmed by feeling it?  Do you need to have God prove Himself and His faithfulness to you by providing just what you want, or is His provision in Christ enough?  Or in Church, is the preaching of God’s Word enough for you, or do you wish it would be more entertaining?

Or think about it for yourself and your life.  Ask yourself, “if I really thought the Word of God was the most important thing, what would that look like?  How would that affect my life?  What would I do differently?  If I really thought that hearing God’s Word was essential to my very being, what would that effect?”  And I don’t say this so that you will begrudgingly try to do it, I just want you to think about how important it is in interpreting our lives.  And as I say that, that’s something important to note too, we like to try to bring our interpretations to God’s Word, but what it should do is interpret us – it interprets our lives for the sinful and broken mess they are, and interprets God’s love brought to those lives through the message of the Gospel.

And that’s where we see the key.  We don’t trust God’s Word sufficiently for what it is: the very power of God.  This Word that we don’t trust enough, is amazing in its ability and in its sufficiency.  This is the Word Spoken by the creator Himself.  Think about what that means.  I know say this often, but think about this.  When God spoke in the beginning, He said, “Let there be light,” and what happened?  That Word did what it said, and there was light.  Or, when God’s Word was spoken by His messenger, by His angel Gabriel, saying that the Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary and she would be with child, what happened?  Jesus was conceived in her womb.  This Word does what it says.  It is the power of God.

The Author of the Hebrews said it this way: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This Word works to cut into even our deepest thoughts and intentions revealing them for what they are, and bringing the salve of the Gospel to our sin.

As I say this though, I hope you’ll indulge me for a minute as I speak about how I came to understand this even more in my own life.  I say this because as I speak of this Gospel, as I speak of this verse from Hebrews, my understanding of this verse has changed vastly over the course of time.  As, I think most of you know, I was raised Roman Catholic and became Lutheran via general American Evangelicalism.  It was during this time in Evangelicalism that I really became studious in reading the Bible.  Something many Evangelicals are far better at than we Lutherans, sadly.  But as I read, I came upon this passage in its beauty: these words speaking about this living nature of the Word of God.  At that time, though, as I talked about this verse with people I knew from Bible Studies and the like, we would always speak of this verse in relation to the depth that is in the Bible.  And this is true.  The Bible has incredible depth.  Some of you relate your experiences of this to me.  You speak of how even into your 80’s and older you find that these words of God found in Scripture still strike you in new found ways.  And this is true.  If you don’t read your Bible start doing it.  Start doing it this year for the celebration of the Reformation.  Read it daily.  The more you read it and pray those words, the more you’ll see it’s depths.  But hopefully, the more you’ll see how it is also living and active.  Working as the power of God.

You see, I bring up this interpretation of that passage because when I became Lutheran, I began to find that Lutherans spoke of Jesus, spoke of the Gospel, spoke of the Word differently.  I found this true and I loved it.  However, I can’t say I understood it until later.  You see when I became Lutheran, I certainly got that we were different.  That we really believe in salvation by grace through faith alone – over and against the Roman Catholics.  And I got that we believe that Baptism does something, and that Jesus is really present in the Lord’s Supper – over and against those to the protestant side of us.  But I didn’t get this Gospel being the power of God until later, until seminary.

The first instance where I began to understand was at my first symposia at the seminary.  A speaker was there by the name of Philip Cary, an Anglican (Church of England) Luther Scholar.  He talked about how Luther and John Calvin understood faith differently.  He said that Calvin would talk about faith by saying this:  God’s Word says, “All who believe will be saved.”  I believe.  Therefore, I am saved.  But Luther would say:  Jesus says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Jesus doesn’t lie.  Therefore, I am saved.  Now, I believe I’ve mentioned that before, but hopefully you can see the difference.  One points to myself for certainty.  The other points to God.  To what God says.  To the fact that God is the God who speaks and His Words carry the weight of flowing from the mouth of the One who is so utterly trustworthy that if we are in any way in our right mind we can’t help but cling to them and believe them.

This understanding was finally pounded out on my vicarage when I read a work by Luther called “Concerning Rebaptism.”  You see, the Reformation was the time when you began to have widespread groups of people opposing the baptism of infants.  Luther addressed that and made the point that in baptism it isn’t our faith that “does the doing” so to speak.  No, it doesn’t depend on us, it depends on God, on His Word, on the One who is trustworthy.  He made the point that what God does by His Word is to bring the cross of Jesus from Jerusalem in 30 AD to you here and now today.  That blood shed for you and for your sins, comes to you now by the promise of His very Word.  Again, the promise of the One who is utterly trustworthy.

Again, hopefully you can see what this means then, that this is the power of God for us who are saved.  Think about what this Word does.  It is so powerfully capable, so sufficient that even though we think that we need to fancy it up it still does it’s work in us despite that.  It is so amazing that as it is spoken, God’s Spirit promises to work in it, with it, under it to bring Jesus and His fruits to you.  It means that sinful as you are to the core of your being – so sinful you don’t even recognize it – that this Word brings the forgiveness of Jesus to that sin, even when you don’t get just how amazing that Word is, even when you find so many things so much more pressing, so much more interesting, so much more worthwhile.  This Word is utterly powerful.  Yes, the world thinks its moronic.  But for you it is the very power of God to save you.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler