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Secret and Hidden

A sermon by the Rev. Elsa A. Peters

February 6, 2011

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Nineteen people were shot in a supermarket in Arizona.  A man has been charged with the crime.  A young unemployed man douses himself with gasoline in front of a local government office setting off riots across Tunisia.  Millions have taken to the streets in Egypt.  Middle Eastern governments struggle to reply to the protesters’ demands against poverty, unemployment and corruption.  The riots continue.  Why?  Why are these things happening?  Why must these things happen in this way?  Why?

That is our question.  We want to understand.   We want the wisdom and maturity to makes sense of these events.  We want to find meaning in them so that we can fully understand where God is in these headlines.  But, that’s not the way.  That’s not how we’ll come to understand.  Not with our own human wisdom.  Not according to Paul.

Brothers and sisters, Paul writes, this isn’t about wisdom.  Nothing is.  Your faith shouldn’t rest on human wisdom.  You should rely only on the power of God.  You must find yourselves with the mind of Christ.

This may sound fantastically smug to you.  You know, the way you genuinely ask for insight and instead the reply comes: “Well, honey, God does work in mysterious ways.”  It’s OK to mutter profanities as you walk away.  That’s human wisdom.  That’s all we’ve got.  We have no idea how to explain the secret and hidden wisdom of God.  So, we tell each other that God works in mysterious ways as if that can explain everything there is to know about God.

But, Paul doesn’t mean to be smug.  He says so.  He doesn’t think that he has any better way to explain this – except that he has had this experience of Jesus Christ that has changed him.  It’s changed him completely.  Forever.  It makes him weak and fearful, but this is the truest thing that he knows.[1] And so, he can’t find comfort and strength in human logic.  Only in the power of God.  So, he’s trying to find the right words to explain it.  They’re not lofty words.  He admits that that’s a huge challenge, so we must try to listen between the words to find what is secret and hidden.

This isn’t just challenging for us.  It was challenging to the people of Corinth.  Like us, they had their own experience of that power of God.  They got it.  They got the power.  They got the mystery.  They felt it, but it led them beyond what Paul had preached.  They began to try new things.  That might be good.  That might be very good.  They’re innovating.  They’re making this faith their own as surely you are.[2] But, it hasn’t worked out that way.  Not for them.  Not according to Chloe’s people.  Instead, this innovation somehow led to division in the Christian community in Corinth.[3]

But, Paul doesn’t take to the streets.  He doesn’t demand for the leaders to be ousted.  He doesn’t use harsh rhetoric.  He doesn’t blame or demonize this community.   He doesn’t make them a target.  He sends a letter.  He offers hope-filled words to remind the community in Corinth of that power that first captured their imaginations. He doesn’t give them an answer.  He doesn’t solve their problem.  Instead, Paul reminds them of when they first started to speak of God’s wisdom.  How it was secret and hidden.  How it was mysterious.  How it gave them a new mindset.  How it changed the way that they saw the world around them.

He reminds this early church how that felt because the power of God can’t be seen or heard or created in the human heart.[4] It can’t be found in human wisdom.  It can’t be explained by the ways of the world, no matter how much we try.  No.  It’s something else.  Something totally different. Paul’s words are awkward and clumsy – but this is it.  This is what really matters and he’s concerned that they’ve missed it.  For some reason, they’re not relying on the power of God.  In Corinth, they’re placing their strength in the rulers of their inhabited world.  They’re gazing at the stars.  They’re looking at the forces of nature.  They’re insisting that that there are reasons for these things, but it can’t just be the power of God.[5] There are other ways to explain it.  There must be because it’s too hard to explain it only this way.  It’s too secret.  It’s too hidden.  There must be another way to explain how these things are the way that they are.

Maybe.  Maybe there are no words.  Maybe there are no adequate words to convey the power of God to your neighbor or the gun salesperson or the mental health professional or the protestor or the government official. But, Paul assures us that we don’t need lofty words.  We just need to be able to find the Spirit of God – which is not seen, not heard or even conceived in the human heart.  It is revealed.  It is discovered.  It is felt.

That doesn’t mean you get to sit around and wait for that feeling.  No.  Not at all.  You’ve gotta look for it.  Paul tells us that the Spirit of God searches everything, even the depths of God.  So we must do the same. We must search all around this wide world for that revelation, for that discovery, for that feeling.

Look in the headlines.  Look in the eyes of Jared Lee Loughner.  Look in the grief of the parents of a nine-year-old girl whose life began and ended in tragedy.  Look at the demands of the protestors.  Look to notice when the question “Why?” escapes from your own lips.  Look at the Christians joined hand-in-hand to surround and protect their Muslim sisters and brothers praying in an Egyptian square.  Look at who listens to the people’s pleas.  Look how the world responds.  Look into the depths of God.  Some of the things we see will reveal human wisdom, but some will reveal that feeling. That power of God.  To see it.  To feel it.  To know it’s depths.

Paul doesn’t offer one answer to the community in Corinth. Just as there was no obvious answer for Corinth, there is no one clear way to heal the divisions in Egypt, Tunisia or even in the United States of America.  But, Paul doesn’t attempt to heal that division in this letter.  Instead, he reminds this early Christian community in Corinth what it means to live within the power of God.  To look at what is secret.  To feel what is hidden.  Paul never says that it will explain all of the world’s events, but it won’t be secret and hidden with us.  No.  God will be revealed, discovered and felt in the ways that we treat this whole world.

We might not have lofty words to explain it.  We might feel weak and close to trembling, but we will find the power of God in the ways that we choose to see this world.  In every moment that we want to ask “Why?”…  In each instant that we want to rely on our own explanations… Look.  Feel.  Know the depths of God that will look even when we want to avert our eyes.  Know the depths of God that will care even when it seems they are wrong.  Know the depths of God that will listen even when we don’t understand.  God will not be secret and hidden because we have chosen to reveal our God in the ways that we love this world.  And in doing so, we will find the power of God.  Again and again.


[1] I Corinthians 2:1-4, NRSV.

 

[2] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 69-70.

[3] I Corinthians 1:11, NRSV.

[4] I Corinthians 2:9, NRSV.

[5] Malina and Rohrbaugh, 70-71.

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