January 29, 2022: 4th Sunday after Epiphany


TEXT:  I Cor. 1: 26-31

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          The word “shame” is perhaps the least used word in the English language today.  Shame is something people bring upon themselves.  It means to denigrate oneself, to dishonor oneself, do something or say something so awful that people will always look at you as a lesser human being.  Shame is the emotional response of engaging in such self- destruction of one’s good name and honor. 

          Today, nothing seems to bring shame upon another’s head.  Just this week I saw a few articles about evil, shameful things people do and then post about themselves on social media.  Hollywood people are notorious for this.  These “adults” say things publicly that would have caused any sane mother to wash their mouths out with soap when they were younger.  They celebrate their own perversity in the media.  All this in the name of tolerance and diversity.  When a person becomes impossible to shame, that’s the time that individual becomes impossible to save because it means they’ve totally hardened their heart to God and His standards of acceptable human behavior.  And much of western culture is well down that pathway…..


          St. Paul understood modern culture better than most.  In his travels around the known world he had seen and lived almost anything you can imagine.  He also knew that the congregation in Corinth that he had started was made up of similar people.  There were slaves, free, rich, poor, merchants, workers, Jews, Greeks, former idol worshippers, former sex addicts, people who had had multiple wives—and all these folks brought their former “baggage” into that church.  They all brought their emotional baggage along even though they struggled to get rid of it.  They were a diverse lot who had accepted the concept of shame over free-wheeling tolerance when they were converted.  Because they all knew first-hand how self-destructive a hardened conscience could be.

          So, now, Paul says to them: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

          Everyone naturally likes to be complimented and told how wonderful they are.  It feeds our egos.  In fact, modern social media is all about feeding one’s ego, isn’t it?  And so, the more outlandish the post on the site, the more hits it gets, and the more your ego is fed.  But, here Paul does the exact opposite!  He simply tells it like it is and the picture isn’t very flattering.  Basically, he’s saying: “You’re not all members of mensa and if you were, so what?  You’re not “movers and shakers” in society, and if you were, look at the mess you created.  You’re not nobility, but they usually have more perversions than the peasants.  No, you’re all sinners before God Almighty.  Sinners who have nothing to offer Him except dirty, empty hands!” 


          And then Paul interjects that little word: shame into the equation of discipleship.  God operates directly opposite human pride.  Pride hates shame.  It hates being exposed for what it is: a fraud.  So, God chose the “foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things to shame the strong.”  That is, He chose a simple Man named Jesus Christ to bear the sin of the world, to die on a shameful cross (the epitome of shame in those days) in order to make us right with God.  God shamed Himself in Christ so that you and I won’t have to be eternally shamed by our sins. 

          Paul goes on: “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”  Slavery was perhaps the ultimate in shamefulness at that time.  You’re status in society was almost lower than a dog.  And yet Christ, God’s Son, became our slave to save us!  Slaves were despised and used accordingly.  This was also Jesus’ lot in life—just think back to the passion and the cross at Golgotha.  That little phrase: “the things that are not” is a Hebraism.  That is, an expression used by Hebrew people.  It makes no sense to a rational mind.  A “thing” has existence and cannot “not exist” at the same time.  This is how the world views the Gospel—as though it has no existence, no reality, that it is nothing!  And yet God used the impossible to win us freedom from eternal shame.  And in the process, He reversed human thinking and shamed the world rendering what goes as human wisdom into total stupidity!    This is how opposite God’s love is vs. human love.  This is how opposite God’s ways are from our ways.  And He did it so that any semblance of human boasting about how “we earned our salvation and God owes us”  would be idiotic.   

          “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”

          In God’s Church we preach that His Law, His commandments, ultimately shame people because we cannot fulfill them on our own.  Likewise, we preach that the Gospel, the good news about what Christ has done to save us, causes us to grasp that life preserver through faith and thus jettison that baggage of shame forever.  Because of this, all Christians from those Corinthians to the people of Pinewood are to glory in receiving the honor of Christ’s shame!  Why?  Because His shame is really the essence of God’s love for us!  This, my friends is what Jesus meant when He said: “God humbles the proud, but exalts the humble.”  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

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