The Things That Are Not
4th Sunday after the Epiphany – A Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Text – 1 Corinthians 1:28-29
God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.
THE THINGS THAT ARE NOT
There was a philosopher in the 2nd century who was not real fond of Christians. In his writings he summarized what he viewed as the Christian message: “Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. These abilities are thought by us to be evil. But as for anyone ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone uneducated, anyone who is a child, let him come boldly.”
The philosopher then makes this comment: “By the fact that Christians themselves admit that these people are worthy of their God, they show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, only slaves, women and children.” This man had a rather low opinion of the Christian religion, didn’t he?
In more recent times, Ted Turner and the former governor of Minnesota – Jesse Ventura – have made similar comments. Their general opinion is that Christianity is for those who are too weak to fend for themselves. It’s for people who need a crutch to get through life.
If you care about your faith it stings to hear words like that. Few of us enjoy being exposed as the fool, or being publicly accused of associating with them. And even Christians like to think that they are able to take care of themselves, at least in all the normal matters.
The average person doesn’t willingly join the team of losers, walking around with their finger and their thumb in the shape of an L on their forehead. And yet, reading the very 1st chapter of Paul’s letter to Corinth we get the impression that Christians are meant, by God, to be losers. We read:
“God chose the foolish things of the world, the weak things, the lowly things and the
despised things – the things that are not.” That doesn’t sound much more flattering than the comments of that 2nd century philosopher, or Misters Turner and Ventura. What’s ironic is that Jesse Ventura was a member of a Missouri Synod congregation. I don’t suppose he’s a very “active” member though, not if religion is simply a crutch for losers.
So how do we as Christians react to Paul’s message in 1st Corinthians? It’s one thing to be offended by an unbeliever like Ted Turner, but how about being offended by the Apostle Paul? He was a very active member of his church. And for that matter, how do we react to Jesus’ words in the so-called beatitudes?
I remember as a child I wasn’t real impressed with the concept of receiving blessings for being poor, meek, hungry, insulted and persecuted. Those sounded like bad things to me, like being a loser. I preferred the summer of 1968 when the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in my very 1st season of being one of their fans. Winning is a lot more fun than losing.
So even if our personal opinion of Christianity is much higher than the philosopher quoted above, are we willing to accept the part of the fool, the weak, the hungry or the mourning, if that is God’s will for us? It can be flattering to hear that God chose us to be His children, as long as we think of it in terms of how good or how respectable we are.
But the Word of God that we read earlier tears that theory apart. If you want to take comfort in the fact that God chose you, then we must also accept the fact that God chose you because you are foolish, because you are weak, because you are lowly and despised, in summary, because you are the things that are not! God chose us because we are nothing.
Once we accept, once we believe that truth, then, we’re on our way to growing in faith. Until we accept that truth, our wisdom, our self-sufficiency, our pride in our accomplishments, even our wealth, will always get in the way of our spiritual growth. That isn’t to say you can’t be a Christian as such, but you’ll always be a weak one whenever you depend even the least bit upon yourself and your own abilities. For good reason the Apostle Paul wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s normally when we’re too weak to fend for ourselves that we finally turn to Yahweh, and when He takes over tremendous things happen and strength appears.
As a result, we should not resent being stereotyped as weak, foolish and nothing. In fact, we should welcome such a classification because those are the people whom God chooses.
So, how do we measure if we are weak, foolish and nothing? What standard do we use to make comparisons? Who do we measure ourselves up against? We’re commonly tempted to measure ourselves against friends and family, the people we associate with most frequently. However, that tends to cause friction in those relationships.
Another way we’re tempted to measure ourselves is against those who are less fortunate than we are, but that makes the standard too easy. The last sentence of today’s Epistle reading hints at whom we are to measure ourselves against:
“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” Jesus Christ is our true and only standard. If you struggle with seeing yourself as ignorant, stupid, uneducated, then compare yourself to the Son of God. And remember, He’s a human being just like you are.
Measured against that standard, all of us fall so far short as to be entirely equal in our failure. There are no second-class people of God. Neither are there any 1st class people. There are only people “in Christ.” In Jesus all believers are radically equal: black, white, rich, poor, educated or uneducated, Democrat or Republican.
Our heavenly Father shows zero favoritism and He cuts off any attempt to attach our self-worth to our own accomplishments or status. We read about Zebulun and Naphtali last Sunday. They were two tribes that had been cut off for 700 years. They were a perfect example of the things that are not, but finally God blessed them by having Jesus spend His childhood in their region and conducting the majority of His earthly ministry there.
And didn’t Jesus appear on earth as one of the things that are not? He was born as a mere baby and cradled in a feeding stall for cattle on the night of that birth. To normal human eyesight He looked to be nothing: lowly, uneducated; a mere infant. Yet which of us would not gladly be numbered with the One risen from the dead on Easter morning?
It is by the preaching of the cross that people come to regard themselves as ignorant, stupid, uneducated, and childlike. For all God’s children recognize that none of us can measure up to the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on Mt. Calvary. It’s in His only begotten Son that God reverses the standards and the expectations of this world, and of our own sinful hearts.
The Epistle lesson shares the simple truth that the ways of the world are not God’s ways. He chooses weakness when we would not. He chooses ways that seem powerless and foolish to accomplish His mission. We have to admit sometimes we get angry at God for choosing such weakness.
In our congregations, we’d rather have strong, motivated, faithful pastors and members, Peters and Pauls storming the gates of hell in the name of Christ Jesus. Instead, our Lord sends us people who are foolish, weak, lowly and despised. He sends us members who are mourning and poor in spirit; members who are hungry, meek, insulted and persecuted.
Then, Yahweh tells us that we are blessed. That can be a difficult word to accept. Our sinful nature and our pride rebel against such weakness. To our sinful nature the cross is merely another example of foolishness and death. No wonder His disciples couldn’t understand any of His death predictions until after the resurrection was accomplished.
It’s in the resurrection that we finally see how Jesus has achieved His mission. From
death the true God brings life. From weakness the true God brings strength. From foolishness the true God brings wisdom. Whenever you have reason to doubt God’s love or His Wisdom, the cross and the empty tomb are the sure and certain signs of His love and His power.
No matter what else does not make sense to our feeble and foolish minds, the cross and the empty tomb demonstrate a love that knows no limits, no weaknesses and no failures. Christ did not stop until His mission was completed, and now by faith, it makes sense even to us. By His grace we are saved, by His gift, not by our doing, not even by our strength or wisdom.
What the cross and the empty tomb so powerfully represent is that our weakness does not matter. Yes, we do need a crutch to get through life, but the sooner we learn that, the sooner we appreciate the good news that we have been set free to be fools for Christ, because it is through His Wisdom and His Power that we are saved unto life everlasting.
We once were the things that are not, like a bag of dust, but our heavenly Father delights in creating out of nothing. He speaks His Word and then there is light. God said, “Let the dry land appear,” and it was so. Out of that which was foolish, weak, lowly and despised, the God of all creation makes that which is wise, strong, honorable and blessed. Declares the Lord:
“Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” (Jeremiah 9:24) But as for anyone who is called ignorant, stupid, uneducated, or a child, let him “Rejoice and be glad, because great is his reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:12) Amen.
I am weak but Thou art strong Jesus, keep me from all wrong; I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk, dear Lord, close to Thee. Thru this world of toil and snares, if I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee. When my feeble life is o’er, time for me will be no more; on that bright eternal shore I will walk, dear Lord, close to Thee. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet