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Worship and Sermons
February 9. 2020

“God’s Hidden Wisdom: the Spirit” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, February 9, 2020, Year A / Epiphany 5 – Isaiah 58:1-9a  •  Psalm 112:1-9 (10)  •  1 Corinthians 2:1-16  •  Matthew 5:13-20

THEME:  Learning to listen for the Spirit gives us the mind of Christ to discern God’s hidden wisdom of the gospel which calls us to humility, unity and self-giving love.


The summer after I graduated from High School, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.  I was selected to be part of a jazz band that traveled to Europe.  We spent the month of July playing in various venues across France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

It was a life-changing experience, not only for the musical performances, but for the cultural exposure. We got to visit museums I had only heard about.  I’ll never forget walking through the Louvre.  It was absolutely stunning, although for the life of me, I still don’t understand why the Mona Lisa is such a big deal.

But, even more awe-inspiring was a museum I had never heard of:  the Reijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  It was there that I first saw a Rembrandt painting in person.  It was one of his masterpieces, called the Nightwatch.

I was mesmerized by the way he used light to highlight faces amid the shadows.  The people and scenes he painted were so realistic they seemed to come alive on the canvas, as if they might actually speak.  That was the moment Rembrandt became my favorite painter.

When I got home, I did some research.  I found that Rembrandt, as important as he was, was just one contributor to a broader cultural flowering known as the Dutch Golden Age.  In the 1600s, Dutch military power, commerce and culture all reached new heights.

That included the field of science.  A young Dutchman named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek almost single-handedly created the field of microbiology.  Van Leeuwenhoek ran a drapery shop.  He needed a better way to see the quality of thread, so he began experimenting with glass lenses.

He developed an ingenious method of magnification that became a new kind of microscope.  As he peered through it, he was amazed.  He could see things he had never seen before. 

Substances that appeared to the naked eye to be without any kind of living essence were actually full of microbes, what he called tiny animals.

With his microscope he now had the power to see things that were previously invisible.  That new power of perception is what Paul is urging the Corinthian Christians to embrace in the gospel message of Jesus.

Paul is ramping up his argument calling the Corinthian Christians to unity.  This time he uses his own example of proclamation to make his point.

He reminds the Corinthians he first came to them, not with eloquent words of wisdom, but in humility and weakness.  He did that on purpose, to make sure he was relying not on his own power, but on God’s power in the gospel message.  At the heart of that message is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

What Paul has squarely in his sights here are the various factions who claim superior knowledge and spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues.  They’re boasting that these gifts are the result of secret wisdom setting them above and apart from others.

But Paul’s not having any of it. He knows the only true source of power and wisdom is God, and his wisdom is conveyed in the gospel they seem to be having trouble understanding and accepting.  The reason is simple:  they lack the very spiritual maturity they’re bragging about.

Those who are spiritually mature perceive the power and wisdom in the message of the cross.  That message is “God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

Just as he planned from the very beginning, God’s wisdom is not accessible by worldly means.  It’s a mystery, the meaning of which is revealed only in Christ on the cross, and conveyed only in the gospel message. 

But that message requires translation. That’s what the Holy Spirit does.

Each of those Corinthian Christians received the gift of the Spirit in their baptism.  From that moment, the Spirit began nurturing their faith.  Over time, as their faith grows, they learn to discern the movement of the Spirit.    

When they are spiritually mature, the gospel message which was previously incomprehensible to them (and still is to all those who rely on human wisdom), suddenly becomes comprehensible.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, they come to see the gospel as the divine wisdom it truly is.

It’s like Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope.  The Spirit of God makes it possible for them to see things that are invisible without it.  When they consider the cross, they can see God’s triumphant glory and abundant life, where the unspiritual can only see failure and death.

When that happens, they’ll have the hallmarks of spiritual maturity:  humility and unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Their actions will be reflections of Christ’s self-giving love. Leaders will serve everyone else. The strong will never exploit the weak.  And love will surpass every other gift - greater than prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.

This is what Paul means by having the mind of Christ. It’s what he wants most for them.  It’s also what God wants most for you and me. 

And it’s made possible by the work of the Spirit we received at our baptism.

I tell every young couple who bring their child for baptism, in addition to everything else that happens at the baptismal font, their child will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

That doesn’t mean their child will be instantly holy.  It doesn’t even mean his or her faith journey will be a straight upward trajectory.  Faith journeys are almost never smooth.

But it does mean that, bit by bit, week-by-week and year-by-year, that child will be nurtured in the faith by parents and our church community.  That’s what happens for all of us.

And along the way, the Spirit also works within us, shaping us, molding us and moving us. That is, as long as we’re willing to listen for it and follow it.  But the truth is, we’re not always so good at that.

Along with every Christian on the planet, we confess the Nicene Creed.  We profess our belief that the Spirit is the Lord and the giver of life. But, in practice, most Christians pay precious little attention to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why theologians sometimes refer to it as the “forgotten member of the Trinity.”

It’s as if our spiritual imagination can picture God the Father and God the Son, but we can’t quite get our head around God the Spirit. 

Even in scripture, the images of the Spirit are vague.  It’s not a dove, but it’s like a dove.  It’s not fire, but it causes tongues of flame.  The definition of the word itself is ambiguous.  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for Spirit can also mean breath or wind.  Which one is it?

Well, the best way to recognize the Spirit is by training ourselves to listen for it, and when we hear it, to follow it. If we let it, it will breathe life into us and move us, the way the wind powers a sailboat.

That’s how it was with the early church.  Before Pentecost, the disciples weren’t going anywhere.  They had not yet experienced the rushing wind of the Spirit, and so they had no power or direction.  They were like a sailboat on a lake, adrift on a windless day.

Then, on Pentecost, they received the gift Jesus promised:  the gift of the Spirit.  And the wind suddenly started gusting.  The Spirit filled their sails and took them all the way across the Mediterranean world to share the gospel.  And the church blossomed.

Many of us today look back on the early church wistfully, wishing that churches today would have a similar energy and vibrancy.  We’ve all heard how congregations are shrinking in membership and Christianity itself is becoming marginalized. 

As we become the kind of church our Session envisions,  a grace-filled family of faith sharing Christ’s love with all, it may be that God is calling us to be a smaller, more faithful church. Or, God may be calling us to explosive growth in order to fulfill that vision.

No matter what God is calling us to become, we won’t know it unless we are willing to listen for the Spirit, and then follow it.

That’s not always easy.  Sometimes the Spirit shouts. More often it whispers.  Which means we have to learn to be quiet.  We have to nurture the habit of listening for the Spirit speaking to us - through scripture, the words of others, the events of our lives and, especially, prayer.

The better we get at this, the more like Christ our minds will be, and the more we will understand the power of the secret wisdom Paul commends to the Corinthians.  In the cross, we will recognize the source of our new, abundant life. 

Friends, the only thing that can limit the power of the Holy Spirit is us.  If we’re not open to it - if we are unwilling to listen for it, receive its inspiration and follow its direction – we’ll be like a single, solitary sailboat drifting with the sails down. 

But if we’re open to it, the Spirit will teach us to have the mind of Christ.  It will join us together in a regatta of faithful disciples, set on a common course of humility, unity and love. 

And that will be the sail of a lifetime – because the Spirit won’t just be with us – it will be in us.  That’s the power of God’s hidden wisdom.

May it be so.

Last Published: February 10, 2020 11:41 AM
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