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Worship and Sermons
January 26, 2020

“God’s Gospel Wisdom: Christ” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, January 26, 2020, Year A / Epiphany 3 – Isaiah 9:1-4  •  Psalm 27:1, 4-9  •  1 Corinthians 1:10-18  •  Matthew 4:12-23

THEME:  Keep Christ in the center of our lives and serve him by putting others first.


        Have any of you ever had a really long commute to work?  If you have, you’ll appreciate the utter jubilation I felt when I was called here to SSPC. 

I exchanged an hour and 45-minute commute into Manhattan, for a 3-minute commute from the manse to my office here.  The most difficult part of my daily commute these days is stepping around walnuts and dodging aggressive squirrels.

        Having said that, there were a few redeeming aspects of the 3 ½ hours a day I spent commuting into New York.  At the very top of that list was a daily walk through Central Park, especially the paved promenade known as the Mall. 

The Mall is the only portion of Central Park intentionally designed as a straight line.  On either side are statues of famous figures:  Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and William Shakespeare.  At the end of my walk to work, as I left the Park onto East 72nd Street, the very last statue I passed was the statue of Samuel Morse.

You’ll remember that Samuel Morse was the inventor of the telegraph, as well as what became known as Morse Code, which is still used today.  His invention of this ingenious means of instantaneous electronic communication revolutionized life in America and the world.

Rapid communication over long distances transformed how trains were routed and news was transmitted.  It changed the way wars were fought.  It had a profound economic impact as well, allowing money to be “wired” across great distances. 

The telegraph was a major factor in the settlement of the American West. It was the basis for companies like Western Union and pointed the way to future inventions like the telephone, the fax machine, the internet, and mass media.

It’s fair to say Samuel Morse’s invention was a turning point in world history. You would think such a stupendous achievement would make him a proud and boastful man. But, in fact, the exact opposite was true.

He was a pastor’s kid.  Despite the fame, accolades and honors he received during his lifetime, Samuel Morse never deviated from a humble, almost child-like faith in God. 

In a letter to his wife as his fame was exploding he write, “The more I contemplate this great undertaking, the more I feel my own littleness, and the more I perceive the hand of God in it.”  Samuel Morse trusted the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he followed Jesus’ example of humility and self-sacrificing service to others.

That is a lesson Paul is eager for the Corinthian congregation to learn.

Paul founded the church in Corinth several years before.  He knows them well.  He’s familiar with their faithfulness and he’s familiar with their faults.

But he’s been gone for awhile, ministering and evangelizing in Ephesus, 180 miles across the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey. 

While he’s been gone, other evangelists have spent time ministering, teaching and baptizing in the Corinthian congregation.  Recently Paul’s gotten disturbing reports that the Corinthian church has become divided over a number of issues.

Foremost among them is the competitive boasting by some that they are superior to others based on which evangelist they “belong to”.

Some say, “I belong to Paul.”  Others say “I belong to Peter, or Apollos”.  Each faction is using their particular evangelist to claim spiritual superiority over the others.

Somewhere along the line, they’ve gotten the idea that evangelists are simply another kind of wisdom teacher.  Wisdom was a big deal in Corinth, just as it was throughout the Greco-Roman world.

Corinthians would follow a particular philosopher, literally walking with him through the city streets.  He would make observations on the goings on around them. To his followers, his eloquent speech was proof he possessed enlightenment.

The closer their connection with this wisdom teacher, the better their chances of absorbing his wisdom.  For the Corinthian Christians, possessing wisdom had become synonymous with salvation.

Paul knows they certainly didn’t get this idea from him.  As he writes later on in this letter, their behavior is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

What disturbs him most is they have forgotten the one to whom they all truly belong: Christ, and Christ alone.  As a result, they’re behaving in ways that are very un-Christlike. The result is not the peace of Christ – far from it!  The result is quarreling and division.

Paul’s point is they have utterly misunderstood the gospel of Christ.  Because of what Christ has already done for them – dying and rising so they might have life – they are called to be united in him.

That’s what baptism is all about.  Through baptism, they have a shared connection to Christ and, through him they’re connected to one another.  Jesus is the source of their unity.

"Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” he asks.  The obvious answer is, "Of course not. We were baptized in the name of Jesus."

So, then, we might ask, what exactly is it that has gotten in the way of their unity?

The answer is the same thing that gets in the way of church unity everywhere: egotism and excessive pride.

Pride is not a bad thing. In fact, authentic pride goes hand in hand with a realistic and healthy self-image.

The problem comes when our self-image is distorted, and our self-esteem is low.  There are any number of causes of this, from unsupportive and overly critical parents to unrealistic social expectations.

That last one was the issue for the Corinthians.  In a culture that valued status, wealth and power, most of them came from lower social strata.  To compensate, they competed with one another to achieve status in the church. 

But they forgot something.  They already have all the status they’ll ever need.  Paul reminds them, by God’s grace, in Jesus they’ve been enriched in speech, knowledge and every spiritual gift. 

They received all these when they embraced the gospel testimony of Christ.  That’s the source of their wisdom: God’s wisdom.  It’s superior to any human wisdom.  And it doesn’t rest on pretty words – it rests on the cross. 

The proof that they possess this divine wisdom is not eloquence; it’s unity. Being in Christ means having the same mind and same purpose he had:  to give themselves in loving obedience to God and service to their neighbor.

Friends, that is every bit as true for us here today as it was for them 2,000 years ago.

You and I are called to lead Christ-centered lives.  That requires that we make Jesus Christ Lord of our lives. Our actions and decisions are motivated by the commitment to serve him.

But there are lots of other things we can serve.  Money, status and pleasure are probably the most popular ones. These things are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves.  The problem comes when we move them to the center of our lives, when we make them the object of our heart’s desire.

The human heart is an extraordinary thing. It was made to worship. And whatever we worship becomes our god.  But our heart only has room for one god. If we don’t worship the God of the Bible by serving Jesus Christ, we will inevitably worship and serve something or someone else.

You may not regard the folk-rock star Bob Dylan as a theologian, but he certainly got his theology right when he famously sang:

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance;
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls,

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

What about you and me?  Who do we serve? 

A better way to ask that question is this:  what does the way we spend our energy, time and money say about who we serve?  

The popular wisdom of the culture around us encourages us to serve ourselves by worshiping the same things the Corinthians did: self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.  That’s what passes for wisdom in the world.

But Samuel Morse has some better advice for us. It comes from one of his favorite verses in the gospel of Luke: “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.”  Or, as Proverbs puts it, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”


Does that surprise you?  It really shouldn’t.  That’s exactly what we should expect from an authentic humble Christian like him.

Samuel Morse was never afraid to contradict popular wisdom with Gospel wisdom.  He understood that keeping his pride in check and putting the needs of others first was the only way to accomplish anything of real and lasting value in this world.  And that’s what he did.

Friends, that’s true for you and me, too.  Let’s follow his example.  Let’s make sure we’re keeping our egos in check by keeping Jesus at the center of our lives.  Let’s serve him by serving others. 

We probably won’t end up with a statue in Central Park.  But I guarantee we will make a world of difference in somebody’s life – in this life, and maybe the next one, too.

That’s God’s gospel wisdom.  And it’s all the wisdom we will ever need.

Last Published: January 27, 2020 11:58 AM
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