Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 27, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

(Zechariah 8:1-8)+Psalm 95:1-7+1 Corinthians 2:1-13+Luke 7:24-35

The Apostle Paul spent about 18 months in the city of Corinth which is located less than fifty miles west of Athens on a narrow strip of land the lies between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf that merges further east with the Aegean Sea. The Corinth Paul found was a Roman port city, bustling with activity, a hub of the Roman Empire. A few years after leaving Corinth, where he planted churches and preached Christ and him crucified, Paul was in Ephesus doing pretty much the same thing when he received a letter from some of those he left behind in Corinth detailing conflict that had arisen in the church over loyalties, behaviors, and overall disunity that had arisen in the church.

The people of Corinth considered themselves to be sophisticated, wise, and spiritual, so when Paul writes of wisdom being for the mature, he is actually being sarcastic, because if they had spiritual maturity, they would not be down in the mud pitted against each other, claiming loyalty to their teacher – whether Apollos or Paul or anyone else. Their loyalty is to Christ and him crucified, and it is clear that they missed that or there would not be so many divisions amongst them. They think themselves spiritually mature, but they are infants, Paul says.

In some ways, not much has changed in the world. The Calvinists among us would chalk that up to human depravity, that we just can’t help ourselves in thinking that we have some kind of special knowledge or understanding that those lesser than us just don’t get. Or, on the other side of that coin, we think ourselves too smart and sophisticated to actually believe all this stuff about resurrection. In the first chapter of this letter, even Paul admits that it is foolishness, at least in worldly terms. Who would even imagine taking an instrument of horrific torture – the cross – and saying that it’s Good News? But in Christ, the world is turned upside down so that the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God. It’s no wonder that Jesus says we must become as little children, because children have a guilelessness that allows them to suspend disbelief and imagine that things are not always what they seem.

Usually, this last Sunday after the Epiphany is set aside for the reading about the transfiguration, that last and greatest manifestation of who this Jesus really is, appearing in the company of Moses and Elijah with God’s voice booming like thunder, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). Throughout this season, we have seen and heard about the many signs and wonders and miracles that Jesus did, revealing to us that the baby whose birth we witnessed in Bethlehem is truly the messiah, the anointed One.

This new lectionary uses a more anticlimactic reading for this last Sunday. In fact, it’s a little baffling. In this 7th chapter of Luke, Jesus heals the Roman centurion’s servant, and raises the widow’s son from the dead, and then John the Baptist sends a couple of his guys to ask Jesus if he’s really The One. Of anyone we hear about in the life of Jesus, you would think that John would know who Jesus is. They are family. You know they sat around the dinner table at the holidays listening to their parents telling stories of the miraculous circumstances of their births. John declared himself unworthy to baptize Jesus when Jesus came to him at the Jordan. Why would he not know who Jesus is? Why would he have to ask?

This morning’s gospel picks up there. The messengers from John have gone, and Jesus is making sure that everyone knows that John is a prophet who points the way to the messiah. Just like Moses and Elijah gathering with Jesus on that mountaintop, John is one who points the way. And people complained about John for being too much about repentance and gloom and doom, and they complain about Jesus enjoying wine and food and laughing with his friends. You can almost hear the exasperation in his voice: “To what then will I compare the people of this generation?” (7:31)

When Jesus finishes with the words, “Yet Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (7:35), it’s as if to say, “you’ll see.” Like the people of Corinth who think they have some special insider knowledge, Jesus will lead the people into true wisdom, wisdom that goes straight to the cross. It makes no sense in human terms, it is foolishness. But in God’s reign, it is the way to salvation.

I wonder what Paul would say to us if he were writing a letter to All Saints? We don’t have a lot of conflict here, at least not anymore. He admonished the Corinthians for not seeing to the needs of the hungry and poor among their members. He accused some of wanting the high-profile gifts of charismatic expression instead of doing works of charity. He confronts those who were not convinced of the bodily resurrection of Christ. He exhorts them to Christian unity, loving and bearing with one another. The all-too familiar Chapter 13 from this letter calls us to love, the greatest gift we can give to one another.

I don’t know what Paul would say to us, but I pray that he would find us a community that holds together under the most difficult of circumstances, looking out for one another and the community beyond. More than anything, I think that Paul would want us to be on fire with the Good News of how we have been set free through the death and resurrection of Christ, that foolishness of God, because once that fire gets going, there is no telling where it might lead us.

ASEPSermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 27, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas