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Christ! Not Human Greatness.

January 22, 2017


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Epiphany 3                                              Trinity Lutheran Church

22 January 2017                                    Murdock, NE


+ Jesu Juva +

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

I’ll never forget one pastor brag about himself this way: “I’m a people magnet.”  Seriously, he said that! Why? Well, sadly, to push … himself, his personality, his person! As if the survival and growth of the church depended on him and his people-magnetic-persona. That’s worldly wisdom. And it’s deadly. Why? Because worldly wisdom advances human greatness. “I’m a people magnet,” meant, “I’m better than you are. Bow down to me. I’m THE missional millennial pastor. Better than all of you maintenance ministry flunky loser rural dimwits. I will make the church great again! A power player in my community and the world! I have charismatic authority!” There’s nothing worse than a pastor blowing his own horn like that … AND DOUBLY SO WHEN CONGREGATIONS, ENTIRE DISTRICTS OR A SYNOD FALL FOR SUCH FOLLY!

Pressing human greatness – pushing the self at the expense of others — in the church never edifies. It does not build up. It tears down. It does not unify. It alienates and divides. It causes quarreling, dissension, disunity, and conflict. The Corinthian congregation is a classic example. Divisions galore! Members at each other’s throats! Why? Well, they pushed worldly wisdom. Human greatness. Self. Check it out.

There was the factional fracturing of the congregation by playing MY PASTOR IS BETTER THAN YOUR PASTOR! There was the Pastor Paul party. And why not? Who could blame them? After all, he was the founding pastor of the congregation in Corinth! He was the father of these spiritual children. “I follow Paul!” Others pushed the eloquent and passionate Alexandrian Pastor Apollos – scholarly and powerful in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). Apollos is probably the pastor that won Corinth’s synagogue ruler Sosthenes to the Christian faith. “I follow Apollos!” Then there was another clique in the congregation. They professed special allegiance to another clergyman, Pastor Peter. If you noticed they used Peter’s Aramaic name, “Cephas.” This seems to indicate that these folks most likely came to Corinth from eastern Jewish Christian congregations that Cephas/Peter founded. And they would claim that Peter was the “first” of the apostles. “I follow Cephas!” Still others, holding pocket Aces go all in, flip over the river card – another Ace — — three of a kind — and start collecting the chips by smugly bragging: “I follow Christ!” — when translated means: “You’re all a bunch of deadbeat, low life losers!” Who could top that?

Each clique in the congregation pushed a person. Personal greatness. A cult of celebrity! The way the world pushes church leadership. Everything depended on the man – like the foolish pastor I mentioned at the beginning who bragged about his people magneticism. So instead of the congregation being enriched the members were at each other’s throats. “Quarrelling” Paul says. Can you imagine this congregation’s quarterly voters or congregational meetings? They were probably knockdown drag outs not to mention all the bickering and backbiting that was going on behind the scenes. What folly! What foolishness!

But that doesn’t happen here at Trinity! Trinity is the exception right? Not hardly. We’re no better. No different. We too push human greatness or the satisfaction of the self. So, we just like Corinth, need to be repented. Confess our sin against each other and be turned to the truth. And the truth is this: the gospel of the crucified Christ Jesus is the opposite of worldly wisdom that fosters human greatness and creates factions centering in men. The Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus puts an end to all human greatness or calling attention to the self.

Pastor Paul gives us at Trinity and Corinth high pastoral care. He seeks unity of the church by subjecting all people to the Crucified self-sacrificial servant hood of Jesus. St. Paul deplores all parties including the one called after himself. He declares:  “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

 Notice that Paul’s appeal is done “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When proper pastoral care is done in Jesus’ Name then it’s being done by Jesus Himself. Paul’s not pushing himself. He’s pushing the Lord’s agenda for the church. The Lord’s teaching. The Lord’s doctrine. Remember Matthew 28? “Make disciples of all nations by baptizing and by teaching EVERYTHING I have commanded you.” The church is not gathered around the person of the pastor but rather around the teaching of Jesus. His Word. That’s a “fellowship” that all believers are called into. A communion with Jesus Christ. He gathers the church around Himself. So that He can enrich and enliven her with His Good Friday gifts of the gospel, baptism, absolution and Supper.

All baptized members of the church both at Corinth and at Trinity are subject to … Christ! He is the Savior. You are baptized in His name, not Paul’s or Kuhlman’s. Even the greatest, brilliant and most gifted leaders in the church are simply servants of Jesus. They must decrease in order that Jesus may increase. Not the preaching of the self but the preaching of Jesus unites, enriches and edifies the church.

When you make church leaders or pastors to be like little gods: “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, “I follow Cephas” you diminish and detract from the unique self-sacrificial Lordship of Jesus who hangs on the cross FOR YOU, who puts His name on you in baptism, who bespeaks you righteous in the absolution, the sermon and supper.  You DIVIDE Christ!

The last thing in the world that you would want to do is to empty the cross of Christ of its power. Right? Of course. So die to the worldly wisdom that pushes human greatness.

Here’s the truth. The gospel of the crucified Jesus Christ is “the power of God,” intended FOR YOU! The short little sermon that “Jesus died FOR YOU” is God’s power to save you. The apparently foolish looking washing of water with God’s Word is God’s wisdom of salvation delivered for Christ’s sake done in the Triune Name. Jesus Himself promises: “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The seemingly silly eating a bit of bread and sipping a little wine is actually the delivery of Christ’s salvific Good Friday Body and Blood with His promissory word: “given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins.”

In baptism, absolution, preaching and supper you are gathered not around human greatness – people magnets – BUT THE LORD JESUS HIMSELF! All attention is on Him! What He says. What He gives. Paul, Kuhlman, Apollos or Cephas were not crucified for you. Only Jesus died FOR YOU. You are not baptized in the name of Paul or any other pastor. Jesus put His name on you. Pastors don’t give themselves and their stories, BUT CHRIST – HIS STORY! JESUS as Savior for you! Pastors must decrease. Jesus must increase. Again, what Jesus says and gives is what saves. Best to hear what He has to say. Let Him have the say so. He’s gets the first and final word.   Like in the holy gospel for today where Jesus categorically proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Indeed.

Happy following Him. Happy listening to Him. Happy receiving from Him! After all, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The great Light is Jesus! He alone is your salvation!

In the Name of Jesus.

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