Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

For February 5, 2017

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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  1 Corinthians 2:1-2

I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life. I frequently launch a new plan to create a thinner, healthier me – especially around New Year’s, or after Thanksgiving, or after Christmas, or after the Super Bowl – well, actually, pretty much all the time. I have read a lot of diet books and have gone on a lot of web sites. As my young nephew used to say – “Here’s the deal!” – ninety percent of what they say about fitness and diet can be summed up in four words: “Eat less. Move more.”

There is a scene in the movie Bull Durham where the manager goes on a locker room rant, screaming at his losing minor league baseball team.  After he calls them a series of unprintable names, he says “This is a simple game.  Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Throw the ball.”

In our second lesson, Paul has come to an “eat less, move more” moment. He tells the church in Corinth that his message is simple – “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  To me this sounds a lot like, “Eat less. Move more.” Or “Hit the ball.  Catch the ball.  Throw the ball.”

I have now been a pastor for almost forty years. In that time I have been inundated, year after year, with new programs guaranteed to make the church grow, or expand the Christian Education program, or revitalize the worship service, or get people to give a lot more money, or grow a vital youth group, or, or, or . . . .  While I am sure that one or two of these ideas worked somewhere else, some other time, for someone else – none of them has ever worked anywhere for me. I don’t know; maybe my heart wasn’t in it.

What I have learned is this: if the gospel of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is at the heart and core of a church’s life within the walls; and is the motivation and content of its proclamation and service outside the walls – the church will be a happening place full of joyful and motivated people.

And if some other agenda takes center place in a church’s life together, and forms its mission and message to the world; it won’t matter what programs they try; the church will be somewhat unhappy and struggling.  “Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” is the “Eat Less. Move more,” the “simple game,” of the church.

What gets us off base is the fact that we do not trust the simplicity of the gospel. We think we need to jazz it up and make it more appealing and, in the process, we risk hiding the truth in the barrage of hype. This is what Paul warns us about in First Corinthians. We have to be careful about adding things to the basics of the gospel in an attempt to dress it up and make it more exciting.  What is there is exciting enough.

English mystery writer and lay theologian Dorothy Sayers said it best in her book Creed or Chaos: “We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination…and the dogma IS the drama.”

(Sayers, Sophia Institute Press, 1949, p.3)

The very words “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” say to us that the God who made us has not abandoned us, the God who made us loves us and wants to be in relationship with us; indeed, wants it so badly that this Holy One, this divine Creator of all that is, came to be with us as one of us, a human being who ate and slept and learned and worked and talked and listened and healed and loved just as we do. We had to learn how much we are loved and how we are invited and inspired to go about loving each other.  Telling us was not enough; we had to be shown.

And so, this humble holy one, in a mystery that it is impossible to unravel, with a wisdom too deep for words, died upon the cross for us – in the place of us, because of us – to show us how to live and how to die, and how to live and die for each other – how to love one another.

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is the “eat less and move more” of the church. It is the story with which we will catch the attention, and the hearts, of the world. It is the simple game at the center of our faith, our life together, and our life together in the world.

Amen and amen.

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