St. Paul writes, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
Most of my life and in most of my time as an ordained minister, I have tried to do the exact opposite of what St. Paul says in these opening words of the second chapter of 1 Corinthians. I hate to admit this. I really do. I hate to admit that for most of my career, I have tried diligently to learn as much as I can and then show how learned I am. I have tried using lofty words of wisdom in my sermons, on my blog, in Bible study, and in conversation. I have oftentimes been convinced that such lofty words of wisdom will convince many in today’s society of the reasonableness of Christianity. I have oftentimes been convinced that Christianity has all the answers to all the questions that exist and that if I just learn them and articulate them, well, then I can have a tremendous impact in the lives of others. I have oftentimes been convinced that our churches simply need to get with the right train of theological thought–the right train of wisdom, and then all will be well.
I don’t think I am alone in what I have done and to some extent continue to do. It’s the way the world works. I mean, just browse through the comments section on any particular political article. Jump onto an internet message board and read through any particularly controversial thread. Look at what stands out when people engage in dialogue about such subjects. Well, first filter through the comments which are simply baseless attacks. Then, read the more serious ones. See what they do. Time and again, they list: point by point; reason by reason why their “side” is correct. Time and again, they will provide links to studies, articles, and citations to bolster their particular point of view. Time and again, they will show statistics and numbers to prove their particular position. All of the facts must be shown, and once the facts are presented, then one shouldn’t be able to argue with my position. After all, I am right! I have the facts on my side. I have thoroughly researched this issue, and by God, I know what I am talking about.
Oftentimes, the rebuttals are swift, and one of my favorite ones is, “So, you have a degree in whatever subject matter is at hand, I suppose? You are a climate scientist, a social scientist, a biologist, a biblical scholar, a doctor, a political science major, a lawyer, or what have you. The rebuttal is that unless you have studied the subject matter and have a degree in it, then you are not qualified to speak with any kind of authority on the matter.
It’s part and parcel in the way the world works. We love appealing to our experts. We love appealing to those who have numerous letters behind their names. Of course, if certain experts disagree with us, then we will find other experts, but hey, that’s the game, isn’t it? Lofty titles. Large degrees. Plenty of status. That’s what awes people into believing what you have to say.
I am reminded at this point of a joke I love to tell. It’s about a church congregation president who decided to call on several members who hadn’t been in church for some time. He goes to see Farmer Joe.
Farmer Joe is out in the field chopping cotton. Bob parks his car down in the turning row and walks up to Joe.
“Hey Joe! How’ve you been?”
“Aiiight,” Joe replies.
Bob continues, “Haven’t seen you in church in a while, Joe. Thought you might like to come back.”
Joe wipes the sweat off his brow, spits in the dirt and says, “Well, why should I come back to church?”
Bob says, “Joe, you have got to come and hear the new preacher we got! He’s fantastic!”
Joe slowly says, “Well, what makes this here preacher so special?”
Bob replies enthusiastically, “Joe, he’s got a B.S. an M.S. and a PhD!”
Joe shakes his head and says, “Well, that settles it. I ain’t a comin’ to church as long as that preacher’s there.”
Bob is taken aback. He can hardly believe his ears. “W-w-w-why?” he stammers.
Joe spits in the dirt and says, “Well, we all know what B.S. is. M.S. is just more of the same. And PhD is piled high and deep.”
Don’t laugh too hard now. I personally have a master’s degree.
But there is something to be said here. There is something to be said regarding those who try to proclaim the message of God based in wisdom and lofty words. There is something to be said about those who claim to have special knowledge of God and how God operates. There is something to be said for those like myself and others who have tried time and again to use knowledge and reason and other such things to talk about God–to try and convince everyone that we’ve got it down pat when it comes to knowing and understanding God and His ways.
And that something is not necessarily pretty. You see Paul was onto something when he proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles. “I didn’t come with words of wisdom. I chose only to know Christ crucified that your faith may not rest on worldly wisdom but on the power of God.”
You see, Paul knew it wasn’t what he knew that counted. Paul knew it wasn’t about what he had accomplished. Paul knew his resume wasn’t the important part of the equation. Paul knew very well that it wasn’t about anything he had done that mattered. If people were resting their faith on what Paul had done, there would be problems. But if they rested their faith on what God had done, well, then that was quite a different story. And now we must ask: what has God done?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.
On the cross, Jesus died–God died–to reconcile the world unto Himself. God died to pay the price of forgiveness–to take away our shame, our guilt, our debt to Him. It was on the cross that the world’s redemption took place. “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
I am beginning to change, my brothers and sisters. I am trying to leave behind this notion that I must be filled with lofty wisdom and knowledge and understanding. I am trying to leave behind the notion that I have to be super-knowledgeable about Christianity, the Bible, all sorts of theology. I am working to focus on the main thing: Christ crucified and the grace that flows from the cross. It’s all about that grace. It’s all about what God has done. None of us need a degree to proclaim it. All of us can do it, and when we do, we live God’s Word daily. Amen.