When Is It Okay Not to be Smart?

1 Corinthians 1:26-30

26 Brothers and sisters, 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. 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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.

Friends of Jesus, our God-sent Savior, Wisdom, and Friend,

Good to be here to share some words with you again, this morning.  The sermon theme that I have chosen for today is: “When Is It OK Not To Be Smart? People are always trying to act smart.  They let you know how much they know.  They want to give you the impression that they are good, because of how much they know.  You young people in school are under constant pressure to stay on top of the learning curve, letting your teachers and parents know how smart you are.  That puts you under a lot of pressure to study, memorize, and do well on your tests and papers.  I remember those days.  It’s not an easy time for you.

Today, I’m going to focus on what God expects of us.  And it may surprise you to know that it’s OK Not to Be Smart in the ways others expect, when it comes to God and His plans for His church.

Now, I want to let you know that I understand that it doesn’t feel very good not to be smart.  Let me give you an example.  Trivia contests!  Have any of you ever played trivia? Raise your hands.  I have a question for you.  Is the goal to show others how much you know or how little you know?  (Responses.)  Yes, the goal is to answer as many questions as you can with the correct answers.  A couple weeks ago Diane and I attended Trinity Lutheran’s Annual Preschool Trivia Contest Fundraiser at the Cultural Society Building in Centralia.  I was amazed at how hard those questions were!  And, how little I knew!  I’m not very smart.  Some of you can probably identify with me.

The epistle lesson for today is spoken by the apostle Paul about people who aren’t very smart.  Our text is from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 1, verses 26-30,

“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.  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.”

Through the years, I’ve noticed that our presidents, senators, and representatives, when first elected, often tell us that they have good ideas to solve our country’s problems, but when they leave office, those ideas haven’t worked.  Legislators can’t even agree on what our problems are, much less how to solve them.  They aren’t as smart as they think they are.  That’s why we include them in our prayers.  They need God’s help and guidance.

I suspect that the same is true for Salem Lutheran Church and its supporters as for our nation’s leaders.  At your meetings there are probably lots of ideas on how to keep Salem Lutheran growing and strong.  My guess is that not everyone always agrees.  Am I right?  That’s why we pray for this congregation and its present and future as well as for our nation.  We all need God’s help and guidance.

Sometimes, we get into trouble if we don’t “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Let me give you a few examples of people who decided that church laws rather than prayer were a better way to deal problems.  Robert W. Pelton did some research on church laws.  He made some interesting discoveries.  No citizen in Leecreed, Arkansas is allowed to attend church in any red-colored clothing.  (Some of you ladies would have to leave, if this was Leecreed, Arkansas.  You have on red-colored clothing.)  In Studley, Virginia, swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited.  (I didn’t see any yo-yos on my way into church, or in here, so that law wouldn’t be needed.)  And finally, in Slaughter, Louisiana, turtle races are not permitted anytime within 100 yards of a church.  I didn’t see any turtles, this morning, so I don’t think this community needs that law, either.  Those church laws may seem a little strange, even somewhat funny.  It strikes me that leaders of our country, our churches, and we ourselves, aren’t the only ones who aren’t very smart.  When we have a problem, rather than make a law, I think it’s better to take it to God in prayer.  That’s why prayer is part of every worship service; and, hopefully, our personal devotions.

St. Paul was a brilliant Jewish scholar, teacher, and leader in the synagogue, but he gave it all up for Jesus and His message.  How about you?  Would you give up your knowledge for Jesus and His teachings?  In some parts of the world, including Russia, if you let it be known of your love for Jesus and His teachings, your educational opportunities will be taken away and you will lose a good-paying job.

To the person of this world a lack of human knowledge doesn’t seem smart and a lack of human strength doesn’t seem strong.  Thank God that in our country we can enjoy both divine wisdom and human wisdom; divine strength and human strength.  But God doesn’t look for human knowledge or human strength when it comes to building His church on earth.  God doesn’t usually pick Hollywood celebrities and rocket scientists, the rich and the powerful, to share His Word of salvation to support His church.  He picks every day people like you and me, whatever our backgrounds, whether we are employed, unemployed, or retired.

Think of all the jobs of Salem Lutheran Church or whatever congregation that you hold a membership.  How many of you have a job, either here or in another congregation?  Raise your hands.  Now, the rest of you who are here, put up your hand, too – yes, even you small children.  By attending worship and joining in the prayers for your family, congregation, this community, our nation, and the world, you also have a job.  You are all here, helping out in some way.  Thank God, for you!

There are still those who think it’s foolishness to belong to a Christian congregation and believe what we do.  They don’t believe anything significant is going to happen at Salem Lutheran Church or any other Christian Church.  Those people don’t understand that the church is at the heart and core of God’s plan for the world and our local communities.  When Philip told Nathaniel, that they had found the Messiah, whom Moses had written about, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”  As you know that’s where Jesus, our Savior, grew up.  Something good did come out of Nazareth, even though Nathanael had trouble believing it would.  And something good will come out of Salem Lutheran and other Christian congregations, where you attend.  Of course, you know that.  That’s why you’re here.  That’s why you have invested your time, money, and work into this congregation, the district, and the world-wide synod.

Arthur Gordon once told about a man named, Charlie, who jointed a prayer group to which Gordon belonged.  Charlie wasn’t a joiner.  So, the next time Gordon saw Charlie, he asked him why he had joined that prayer group.  “Well, Charlie said, “I had problems and I was praying about them, but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  Then, one day, I read an article about bees.  When it gets too hot in a hive, a group of worker bees all face in one direction, anchor themselves to the floor, and fan their wings rapidly.  One bee alone wouldn’t make much of a difference, but a lot of bees can produce an air current strong enough to draw fresh, cool air into the hive and blow the stale air out.  So I said to myself, ‘If a group of bees working together can activate a healing current that changes everything for the better, maybe a group of people can do the same.’” (From Daily Guideposts, http://www.our prayer.org/dailyguideposts.) 

That’s a pretty good description of what can happen in the church with God’s power.  We’re like those bees.  On our own we can’t get much done, but working together, using our gifts and doing our various jobs, we can accomplish something worthwhile for the good of the congregation.  That may be opening the doors, turning on the lights, playing organ or a piano; being: a sound tech, acolyte, communion ware server or washer, greeter, usher, nursery helper, part of Sunday School Staff, youth leaders; taking care of donuts and coffee (one of the services here that I really appreciate!), or whatever else you may do in this place out of love for God and His Gospel message.  We are in the Epiphany Season of the church year.  An epiphany is something made known, like the star in the sky and the baby Jesus to the Magi or Wise Men.  Each of you are one of those extraordinary “epiphanies,” of God!  He uses ordinary, every day, and sometimes foolish people like us, to share His saving message of salvation and love in Jesus.

St. Paul says that is the most important part of our church membership, faith, and epiphany: “He [Jesus] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).  Jesus has paid the price on the cross for your sins and mine– people who know we aren’t very smart-so that we can be free of guilt and fear to face the future confidently. Thanks be to God for His wisdom, power, and blessing to serve Jesus through this congregation, in our family, and on our jobs or in our retirement.