Sermon for February 27, 2011
Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Date: February 27, 2011- Epiphany 8
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The world is on fire. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Beginning with the unrest in Egypt, demonstrations against ruling governments have caught fire all throughout the Middle East, including the countries of Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Iran, just a mention a few. The unrest has even reached the state of Wisconsin, although some in that protest didn’t seem to know what they were protesting. Those in power are attempting to crack down on protestors in whatever way possible. The demonstrations or the protests have gotten very bloody, as many have lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. The jury is still out as to what will happen in the future.
Many are convinced that this will lead to gas prices going through the roof, global economic collapse and war throughout the world. Many Millennialist preachers are having a field day proclaiming that this is most certainly the beginning of Armageddon. One could certainly make a case that we are entering the “little season” spoken of in the book of Revelation. But, before I begin to hyperventilate, Jesus words in our Gospel reading this morning ring out loud and clear, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Thank you Jesus, I needed to hear that.
Not only is there great tribulation in many countries, but persecution against the church continues to be on the rise. Because of that, our text will continue to be of great importance in the years ahead. The true church has been, is and always will be hated the world. When we become friends with the world, when we begin to compromise with the world, when we begin to think that this world is all that matters, then that is when we get ourselves into trouble and the Gospel begins to be ordinary and robed of its power and glory.
St. Paul has some encouraging words for us in our epistle reading, although initially it might be a little tough to understand how these words are of comfort. Our text this morning focuses on 1 Corinthians 4, beginning at the 9th verse, ”For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.“
We are all familiar with a parade. Sitting on the side of the road in our lawn chairs, we all have enjoyed watching the bands, floats and fire trucks slowly go by. Maybe you even been in a parade walking with a civic group or sports team. The ancient Romans also enjoyed a good parade, only their version was not just for fun. It was called a Roman Triumph. Their version was to teach a very important lesson: don’t make us angry. If you’re thinking about protesting our leadership, or you are thinking about a little demonstration, well you might want to think twice. After they would conquer an enemy’s city, they would set up their triumphal parade. The Roman leader would ride in on his chariot surrounded by his other military personnel. They would wear their military attire and carry their weaponry. There would be trumpeters, carts with the spoils of war, and bulls for sacrifice. Toward the end of the parade would also be those who were captured or those who opposed them, often in chains, bloodied and bruised beyond recognition. The Christians also often found themselves at the end of these lines quite often. After the parade was over, the prisoners were often executed. I’m not sure I would be too excited about attending this parade or certainly would not want to be in it. What encouragement then was Paul giving the Corinthians and us? Why was Paul saying that we should be a spectacle to the world at the end of a parade?
For us, by nature, Jesus’s words seem to make little sense. We have no desire to be a spectacle to the world. Who wants to be the fool? We want to be at the front of the parade. We want to have the power. We want the control. This is what we deserve. We play second fiddle to no one. We are also surrounded by so much affluence, wealth and riches that it so often clouds our thinking. Our problems and struggles seem bigger than they really are.
Don’t get me wrong. We do suffer and we do have anxiety. We do have issues with our family and neighbors. We do struggle mightily with financial and health issues. We do have problems at work. We do have personal worth issues. We do have sleepless night worried sick over what is going on in our lives. I don’t downplay those issues. I have them as well. They are painful. Again, Jesus says to us, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Sir Winston Churchill once said, "When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened."
However, think about this: we have the highest standard of living in the history of the world. We have indoor plumbing. We have toilet paper. We have our own beds. We have refrigerators that keep our food cold. We have televisions in most rooms in our house. We have several cars. We throw away more food that many families in the third world live on in a month. We have the type of technology that generations before us couldn’t have ever dreamt of. And, I have no way of proving this, but I bet it is a safe assumption our anxiety, our stress and our nervousness in the 21st century is probably seem to be greater than any other generation before us. Why is that? What causes our stress and anxiety?
What Paul makes clear is exactly what Jesus makes clear: it is not possible to serve two masters. It is not possible to serve money and our possessions and serve Christ. It is not possible to be loyal to the world and loyal to our Savior. As Jesus says in our Gospel, “Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will devoted to the one and despise the other.” Our money, our possession, and our attitude have clouded our thinking. When Jesus tells us to, “take our crosses and follow him”, we have a tough idea what that really means.
Thomas Cress spent close to thirty years in a Michigan jail for killing Pat Rosansky. Recently he was released. It was determined that he was actually innocent. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to sit in jail knowing that you didn’t commit the crime for which you sentenced. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the evidence was circumstantial, but it pointed to you. But, you were innocent. You had done nothing wrong. The frustration would be overwhelming.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. He was accused of being a blasphemer, of saying that he was God when he wasn’t. He was also accused of promoting not paying taxes to Caesar. The charges were trumped up. He was indeed God’s Son. He had, in fact, said that we should pay taxes to Caesar. But, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not only innocent of the charges leveled against him, He was innocent of any charges. He was totally innocent of any sin whatsoever. There were no skeletons in His closet. An inquiry into his life would find nothing to use against Him.
But, instead of complaining, instead of running the other way, instead of wishing for a comfortable life, instead of thinking of himself, instead of putting his own needs above our own, He had us in mind. Every man, woman and child was on his mind, as He endured the punishment that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t sit in a jail for 30 years. His sentence was carried out quickly; tried, convicted, whipped, beaten, spat upon, and crucified. As the innocent Son of God was sentenced to death, he was a spectacle to the world. Very few people seemed to care, but that spectacle was also God’s triumph. For, as Jesus gave up His life for us, He proclaimed, “It is finished. Your sins are forgiven. You will spend eternity with me.” Three days, later his suffering was all worth it, as He triumphantly come forth from the grave.
Each and every week, this beautiful message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen changes the focus of our lives. St. Paul proclaims again, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.” Now, for St. Paul He knew what it meant to be a fool for Jesus, to truly suffer. He knew what it meant to be put on display or to be a spectacle. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been beaten, shipwrecked, and put in prison. He may have even seen other Christians be forced to walk in the Roman Triumphal parade to their death.
We can’t help but think to ourselves: if called upon would I be willing to be a spectacle to the world following along in a Roman Triumph? Would I be willing to confess Christ rather than promise allegiance to the emperor? Right now, it is legal to worship, but who knows for whole long. If things changed overnight, would I be found to be faithful or would I shrink away from the pain?
Later on in our text, Paul goes on to say, “We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”
Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and great persecution continue against God’s people. It will continue until Jesus comes back. I love this country. I wouldn’t trade living in this country for anything. However, I am saddened to say that material possessions have blinded us to how easy we truly have it. Let us be thankful for what we do have! Let us use what we have to help others while we still can! Let us never grow tired of what Jesus Christ did for us at the cross and empty tomb; being last so that we can be first. Let us join those at the end of the line, suffering for the sake of Christ, bloody and beaten but triumphant. We are last now so that we can be first for eternity! For we are also part of another parade; this parade is an invisible parade. It can’t be seen with our eyes, but it is a parade that leads straight to heaven. It includes all saints living and departed. We are cheered on by Jesus and by those who have gone before. They tell us, “Be strong, serve God only and know that when you do beautiful heaven awaits.” And, let us also pray for opportunities to confess Christ to the world and trust that God will use whatever is going on in our lives to his glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.