Sunday, February 08, 2015

Straw men and empty vessels

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Sexagesima 2015

Have you ever wondered why there are two letters to the Corinthians from St Paul?

You’ll remember that in the first letter, St Paul writes about the divisions within the Church in Corinth. He writes telling them about why it is good to recognise the different gifts that God has given each of us to us and express, but that these gifts can only ever be used in love. We’ll hear that famous extract from his letter next week. What is missing from history is the reply that St Paul receives from Corinth to the first letter. It seems that it went along the lines of:

“Dear Paul, Please don’t lecture us on what we ought to do. We’re suffering a lot for Our Lord, all kinds of persecutions. See how we are oppressed by the Romans! We are noble Hebrews, born of the seed of Abraham, ministers of Christ. We know what we are doing and we’re not going to be told what to do by you. Yours sincerely. Church in Corinth.”

It’s a bit like someone going to the doctor and saying, “I’ve got a heavy cold, please prescribe me some antibiotics.” The doctor will say, “but antibiotics don’t work on viruses.” “I think I know what I’m talking about. I do have three doctorates and a knighthood. Prescribe me some antibiotics!”

You see the problem.

Doctorates and knighthoods are only pieces of paper which say that you have successfully undertaken work in particular areas. They are nothing in themselves and they don’t really possess any authority.

This is why St Paul replies in the way he does. It’s as if he thinks, “right, if that’s the game you want to play, I can play it too AND I’ll show you how silly it is.”

And so we get from St Paul:

“Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”

But, says St Paul, “I speak as a fool!” This is how silly people speak trying to evade the issue by pretending to be too big or clever for it. Yet these big and clever people miss the very vital message that they need to hear in order to know God.

The fact of the matter is, when our lives end, our credentials, our education, our work will lose any relevance or meaning.

On the Day of Judgment, we will stand quite naked before God. We will be able to hide behind nothing. The only thing that we will rely on then is how much love there is in us. How much love we have for Our Lord and God and can boast honestly in what He has done in our lives. To God and God alone belongs the glory, but we are allowed to bask in it.

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