What Was I Thinking?

I Corinthians 2:1-16

First Baptist Church

Lynchburg, VA

February 9, 2020

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet, among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak of God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

          Several years ago, my family and I enjoyed our Christmas Eve with a few residents of the Motel Murfreesboro. The Motel Murfreesboro may have once been a nice place to stop for the night if you were traveling through central Tennessee.  By 2005, when we spent time with folks living there, it was known as a place people go when there is no where else to go.  The residents there live in the margins of life. Most of them are there due to issues with addictions and estrangement from family.

          We were there, in part, because I felt led (by what I assumed at the time) the movement of God’s Spirit. As a family, we were without a church home and family at the time. I could easily identify with the struggle to feel as if I belonged, despite having family and friends around me. The location selected was not random. Prior to that Christmas Eve, I worked with a gentleman living at the motel during his last eight months of life. I will call him, Bob.  Bob died the end of that October. and his friend and caregiver, a man everyone called “Pops,” asked for help in his grief. How could I say no?  What was I thinking?

          The idea was that we would have a Christmas Eve service and invite all the residents of this no-tell motel to participate. My friend, Patsy baked 60 loaves of homemade bread so every resident could have one. Another friend brought food left over from her husband’s company party, and the Dakin family brought more food and candles to light while we sang, “Silent Night”.  Paul brought his guitar to lead us in singing Christmas Carols, and I wrote a devotion that I just knew came from Divine Inspiration. My “proof” that it came from God was that I awoke one more with the introduction to the reflection in my head.  The opening went something like this: In almost every good story I know, there is a scandal and a jackass, but in the story of Christmas, there is a scandal and NO jackass.  So far, so good, right? I wanted to convey to these precious people living in the margins of life a sense of God showing up with them, and as one of them. I believed if they could hear that Christ arrived in no better circumstances than theirs, perhaps they could begin to see themselves as I saw them – broken, precious children of God, created with the very image of God in them.

          There was a major flaw in the plan. Well, more than one if you want to get technical.  I took away the donkey in the Christmas story.  You can check this out – and please do – don’t take my word for it – but there is no donkey in the Biblical narrative.  Jesus didn’t arrive in Bethlehem the way he would later ride into Jerusalem.  We wrote that into the story, and I just took it away from this small group of men gathered for Christmas Eve without a single thought about the downside of removing the donkey.

It would probably help if you knew that other than Patsy and the Dakin family, the only other sober person there was Pops.  Sam and Johnny were both three sheets to the wind and Barbara was stoned. Sam wanted to argue that the donkey was in the picture, Johnny threatened to beat Sam up if Sam didn’t shut up and let me speak, Barbara asked for money, and Pops looked to be in agony from having spent the day sober. What was I thinking

          How do we know when we are truly being led by God’s Spirit? The apostle Paul is trying to help the early Corinthian church learn how to be the people of God. Paul knew things.  He was an educated man, knew the law, and from his own experience, knew how to talk about knowing and following Christ. And, yet, Paul writes that he does not write with lofty words and wisdom. He claims it enough to know only Christ, and the crucified Christ at that.

          How do we know when God’s Spirit is leading us? How do we know when we are living God’s will for us? How are we to be God’s people?  I needed help with these questions. So, I asked three people to tell me how they know or sense that the choices they make are in keeping with following God’s will.  Paul (not the apostle, but the one named Dakin) shared that his theology is consistent with the four ways put forth in Hannah Whithall Smith’s classic, “The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life. Writing in 1870, Ms. Smith says “There are four ways in which He reveals His will to us – through the Scriptures, through providential circumstances, through the convictions of our own higher judgment, and through the inward impression of the Holy Spirit on our minds.  Where these four harmonize, it is safe to say that God speaks.” In other words, if the Scriptures directly address an issue, if it makes common sense, if God has opened a door, and if we feel a sense of “oughtness”, then we can be sure God is leading us and speaking through the Holy Spirit to us.

Our friend, Eden Hunter offered a wonderful perspective that faith works a lot like theories – offering just enough information to investigate them, but never enough to guarantee factual evidence. Decisions are based on faith which is built through being in close, personal relationships with God.

My dear friend Kelly, who loves me more than I deserve, says for her it is by faith in walking through the open doors, trusting God that when doors start closing, another direction is the better choice. And she applies another test to help her understand God’s will. If what she is doing uses her strengths and gifts in a way that benefits others, then she has evidence of following God’s will.

          Sometimes, I wish I had thought through the consequences of removing Sam’s Sunday School Christmas image. But then, I think, no, that story ended as it needed to end, even though it looked nothing like the rosy, glowing mental image that appeared in my mind as I prepared the devotion. People who had means met people living in the margins just as each happened to be, and somehow, in ways I still don’t understand, God was there.

          We are God’s people, trying to live with a knowledge and relationship with Christ. We try to follow God’s will – and we don’t always know how to discern if we are hearing God – or if it’s just gas.

The words of Thomas Merton encourage me as I hope they encourage you in these moments. Let us close with the words of his prayer – and may it be our prayer as well:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though,
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.