1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
Nothing Special, Except that We Are Saved
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Remember when New Year's Eve was exciting? Now it is more like, "Oh no, not another one. Not already." This year I will turn the same age my father was when he died. Not much in my life is as I was expecting or hoping. I am not meaning that it is not good - I mean to say it is different than I once expected. Life has become something other than what I was planning on, and I find myself always just a little off-balance because what I had prepared myself for, in the back of my mind, didn't materialize, and I am dealing with realities that look and feel different than I was expecting. From what I have heard over the years, my predicament is not unique. It seems that most people find life is something other than what they planned for - whether they like the difference or not.
I never expected to get old the way I am getting old. It feels different than I thought it would. I had no way of knowing what it felt like, but I imagined it would be different, and that I would be something more durable. I always figured I was fairly talented and that with talent and hard work, I would make something more remarkable of myself. I really had no idea what I would make of myself, I just figured it would be something special - and I would feel special. As I get older, I get more philosophical, I guess, and I notice that out of the six billion on this planet, I am a pretty unremarkable person - better than some, and not as good as others. I am the sort of person described in our text for this service: nothing special. I consider the lives of the generations before me and I realize than almost everyone is nothing special. A generation or two after they are gone, no one here remembers them, except, perhaps, their families, and not always that.
Our text seems to make a point of the fact that most of us are nothing special by the standards of this world. God's people are special for only one thing, really - they are special because they are God's people. Looking at our text tonight for New Year's Eve, our theme is, Nothing Special, Except We Are Saved.
I probably sounded a little depressed as I began the sermon, and I am not. There is simply no easy way to address the fact that the life of a child of God is a normal life, just like everyone else in this world, except that we are chosen by God. Our flesh tells us we are something special. And we are, to ourselves. There is no one else in here, in my skin, except me! I feel me like I feel no other person. I am aware of my thoughts and desires like no other person's thoughts and desires. My flesh tells me I am unique and special. The world around me tells me that it is not so. And the Word of God tells me that the world is right. I am nothing special - except that God has laid hold of me with His grace, and claimed me as His child, and connected me to Christ.
Paul said it this way, God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not. God chose us, and we are the foolish, the weak, the base things, the despised, and the things that are not. We are not the worst of the lot - but our own experience tells us that we are not the best, or the brightest, or the most successful, or the best-loved, or the most admired. We want to be, but we just have not made it. And hearing the truth can be a painful thing.
But the good news in that whole scenario - the silver lining in the difficult truth of how God sees us is the first words in that verse I quoted - God has chosen us! Instead of the condition of our lives revealing for us how God thinks about us, it simply tells the world how little worldly stature and public opinion means to God. God chose us, and we are nothing special, except for His gracious choosing of us.
We are not the wise, not the mighty, and not the noble - the royalty of this world, if you will. We are common folk, with nothing to recommend us to God. There is nothing particularly lovable about any one of us. We may love ourselves - or one another - but there is nothing in particular about us in particular to cause God to choose us or to love us. That is almost the functional definition of the grace of God. And He has chosen us, nobodies, to shame the world, to show those worldly experts that they really know nothing, to illustrate for the powerful how their power is finally meaningless, and to show everyone who thinks that they are something in and of themselves that they are nothing. God has chosen us, instead.
The heathen rage because we have been chosen and not them. They ridicule us and our faith. They make fun of us as backwards and silly and superstitious and narrow-minded. Why do they waste their time? Why can they not just get on with their lives, if they think they are so superior? Because God has ignored all of their vaunted values and chosen us in Jesus Christ. We have peace that they cannot find. We have a confidence in God and in the final outcome that they cannot manufacture in themselves. We have joy at Christmas that has nothing to do with gifts and decorations.
And when we face the New Year, we can face it in faith. We are not facing the New Year with confidence in mankind, or our political leaders, or the wisdom of our economic gurus. Actually, what we know about the wisdom of our leaders is part of what makes the New Year depressing for many. We have no confidence in the accumulating justice of man, or the upsurge in caring for one another, or the sense that the fairness of the world is increasing. We don't approach the New Year with any joy or confidence about those things because those things are not true. We face the New Year with hope and excitement and good cheer because we know God.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. By God's choice, and through His work in and through Word and Sacrament, you are a Christian, that is to say, you know Jesus Christ and trust in Him. By God's doing and choice, not your own, you have come to know how He redeemed you from sin and death. Most of you had as little to say about it as I did in my life. I was two months and five days old when they carried me to the Baptismal font at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And there and then, God claimed me. He put me to death in the waters of my baptism, and raised me together with Jesus Christ to new and everlasting life. He dragged me to church every Sunday by the hands of my parents and forced me to learn His Word and memorize and recite the story of His goodness. He brought me to the confession of His name and His grace, and finally, He compelled me to become a pastor.
I had little to say about it, right from the start. The best things anyone can say about me, and that I can find to say about my self are because God chose, and God worked, and I am in Christ Jesus by His doing - just as each one of you are. Because of Jesus' life and because Jesus willingly died on the cross in your place, your sins have been forgiven. You are righteous in the eyes of God because Jesus was righteous in the eyes of God, and He has given that righteousness to you. You are not so holy in and of yourself. God has made you righteous in Jesus Christ. In fact, every good thing you do, every God-pleasing thought you have, is Jesus at work in you. Paul said it here in our text, and he said it in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me."
We are nothing special except that Jesus is our righteousness - and our sanctification. We still want to sin, but Jesus works in us. We are nothing by ourselves, and when we tend to think that we are something in and of ourselves, bad things happen. We stumble into great sins. We get so proud we think we know more than God and begin to spout foolishness and false doctrine. We begin to do things that harm the body of Christ, or draw us away from it, or both. Only when we know that we are nothing special, except that God has saved us, do we have hope. Only when we realize that it is by God's doing and not our own in the slightest do we finally walk in Him and boast not of who or what we are, but in God alone.
This meal which we will share tonight is the perfect example. If we were to allow our senses to determine what we could understand, we would think we have just bread and wine. Many who call themselves "Christians" do just that. If we were to let our rational minds determine reality for us, we could not see how God can do what He says that He does in this Sacrament, and we would receive it as a mere memorial, and blasphemously deny Christ and receive damnation instead. Only when God is taken at His Word and we trust Him do we know what it is in truth, and only when we believe do we receive all of the blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation in this blessed Supper.
Here is Christ's body and blood. It is a medicine for the soul, and for the body. For the soul it is life and strength and forgiveness and peace and joy to all that believe. For the body is preparation for the grave and for resurrection unto life everlasting and full of glory. This is the medicine of Immortality, and the holy Supper of the Lord, and the perfect fellowship of those who believe. It is for sinners, not for those who think that they need not forgiveness. It is for the weak, not the strong. It is for those who are nothing special, but who depend on His giving and His grace and His goodness. It is for those who have nothing to boast about, except God's grace and love.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.
We are nothing special, except that we are saved - chosen by God to shame human pride and arrogance, and to hold forth the glory of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, so that, when the final day comes, no man will be able to boast of anything but of our God and of His goodness to us. The things that seem so real and so important and so impressive are swept away by what no man can see, by we have received - God's love and grace. And we, who were nothing special, are now the children of God in Christ Jesus. And it is in that confidence and that humility and that hope in God alone that we enter 2010. And no matter what happens, we cannot be disappointed, for our hope is in God and God will not let us down.
Tonight we stand on the edge of the new year. 2009 is all used up and 2010 is just about to begin. In some ways it is a big thing - and in others, it is just another day, and really nothing special, except that we mark it as special. We are, similarly, nothing special, except that God has chosen to mark us as something special, but by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
So let us end the old year with thanksgiving for His grace, and begin the new year with a prayer that God will continue to bless us and hold us in His grace and love. Let us pray for His blessing on our congregation, that it may shine brightly with His grace, and let us live this coming year in such as way, as much as it depends on us, that we live deliberately and knowingly in His grace, knowing that what makes us special is God's choice of us - and what will make the New Year special is what God does with it and with us! Then 2010 will be a happy New Year indeed.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.