Grace For GoofBalls
Grace for Goofballs
God gives grace for goofballs and I don’t like it. In fact, reading over our text from the lectionary today I actually got angry. Because Paul is giving thanks for a bunch of goofballs. Paul is giving thanks for a church full of a bunch of immature know it all’s who have really squandered and abused the spiritual gifts they have been given by God. There are other churches that Paul ministered to, like the Thessalonians, who were faithful, who appreciated Paul’s teaching, and used God’s gifts well. If the Thessalonians had read the letter to the Corinthians they would have been like, “what gives Paul? We are the faithful ones. We have obeyed your teachings. Why are you giving thanks for a bunch of screw-ups a bunch of goofballs?
You see Corinth was a very Cosmopolitan place. It was a center of naval and land trade in the Mediterranean. It was a Roman Colony, and as thus had special rights in the Roman Empire, much like U.S territories like Puerto Rico have more privileges in our system than foreign countries do. Many of these people had not been raised in the church or in Corinth. Corinth was a naval town like Norfolk, so like Norfolk many people who settled in Corinth were not from Corinth. Most of these people had spent their lives worshiping many gods, living in a pagan culture, they didn’t know a lot about what believing in Jesus meant for their family lives or their personal lives. They didn’t have a good grasp of Christian theology. They were characterized by division and competitions for power. In other words, They were a bunch of goofballs. And yet God was doing amazing things in their church. He gave them all these miraculous gifts particular the gifts of tongues and prophecy. And they were known for getting a little too into tongues, making a little too much noise, so much so Paul had to tell them to simmer down because visitors would think they were crazy. Now you may think we may not have that issue in our church, we don’t speak in tongues in worship. But the point is making the church accessible to those who do not know Christ. And how many of us even know why we do things in worship? The question we need to ask ourselves is not how we worship but what we are saying when we worship? How do we speak in a way that is relevant, powerful, and faithful? The church in Corinth had the power down. There were a lot of amazing things happening in this church. But they still needed to work on speaking to the culture they were in and being faithful to the Truth of the Gospel that went against their culture. This church had some serious issues. But Paul says Christ was being confirmed among them. Notice that Paul doesn’t say Christ was being confirmed because of them. Instead he says Christ was being confirmed among them. Because these guys were behaving badly. But in spite of this the Holy Spirit showed up in their church in amazing ways.
Why does God give grace for goofballs? This is a perplexing question for me. I remember in seminary I always struggled learning my Biblical languages. As I have mentioned before for my Hebrew midterm I prayed that either Jesus would come back or I would get an A. Obviously, because I am here I got an A and I will never pray such a prayer again because that is certainly putting the Lord to the test. Well during seminary there was another student who was rather brilliant with languages. He didn’t even try to do his homework. He would come to class totally unprepared and still be able to answer every question asked of him. And I wondered what gives God? I worked so hard and busted my brain to pass those classes and this guy didn’t even try that hard and got straight A’s? Perhaps you know someone like that in your workplace or school and perhaps such behavior gets under your skin as well.
Perhaps the most famous story of God’s gifts being seemingly wasted on a goofball is the play and 1984 movie Amadeus. The movie tells the story of Antonio Salieri, a well respected composer, who is driven to madness by the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greatest classical composures of all time. Even Mozart’s middle name, Amadeus, is Latin for, “beloved of God”. Salieri is a pious man and sees his music career as a reward from God for his piety. But this is challenged by Mozart, who was well known as an impious and sometimes vulgar man. In the film Salieri becomes so bitter at God that he curses God. To quote Salieri, “You choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty infantile boy…and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because you are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block you. I swear it. I will hinder and harm your creature as far as I am able. I will ruin your incarnation.” We have all had that sense that talent is being wasted on someone else and if we had that talent or gift we could do far better with it. Now imagine that feeling being magnified to supernatural levels as God showed up in the church in Corinth in amazing and powerful ways despite their bad behavior.Why would God do such a thing with such goofballs? I think God did so for three reasons.
1.God is generous
2.God is glorious
3.God is gracious.
First, God is generous. God pours out gifts on those who are undeserving simply because God is generous. In Matthew 5:45 Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. His reasoning is this, “For he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.” In theology we call this common grace. God provides for the good and the bad for the just and the unjust. God gives gifts not because He doesn’t care about justice, fairness, and consequences, but because he loves us even in our deep sinfulness, in our deep wickedness. One of my favorite parables that illustrates this is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew Chapter 20. In this parable an owner of a vineyard goes out to get workers for his vineyard. The owner goes out early in the day and gets some workers and agrees to pay them a day’s wage. The third hour of the day he goes out again and sees some laborers just standing idly. So he recruits them and tells them he will pay them what is right. He did this on the sixth hour and the ninth hour of the day as well. Finally, he goes out on the eleventh hour and does the same thing. At the end of the day he arranges the laborers from those he called last to those he called first. He then pays everyone the same wage regardless of when they started working. He even forces those who came first to watch by placing them at the end of the line. Those who came first are understandably upset that those who only worked for an hour are getting paid the same amount. But the owner of the vineyard replies, “ Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity.” Here God is not giving grace to immoral people but to people who have been overlooked. And still people get angry. God’s response is summed up as this; nothing truly belongs to us it all belongs to God. And we should not envy God’s generosity. Instead, we should learn from it and be generous ourselves.
Second, God is glorious. God is primarily concerned about glorifying Himself. We were made to worship and glorify God. Now if a person were concerned only with glorifying themselves we would call that narcissism, at least we used to, because no one is perfect, and life isn’t about you or me. But what if you were perfect, and you created everything, and everything was sustained by you? Don’t you deserve to have everything be about you if everything depends upon you? And when God does amazing things with profoundly flawed individuals then people have no other explanation than to say, well that must be God, because these guys are a bunch of goofballs. It seems God worked among the Corinthians in such a powerful way to show them and those who visited their church that He was real, it was about Him, and not the people. Paul’s response to the Corinthians was to give thanks for what God was doing in their midst but then to spend an entire letter counseling them on godly behavior and correcting their mistaken theology. But he began the letter by glorifying God and giving thanks for what God was doing. With our family, our friends, our church, our city, our state, or nation, our world, if the first thing we do is say, “God look at how awful so and so is at least I am not like them,” then we are already starting off on the wrong foot. God has not left himself without a witness even in the worst of situations. Our responsibility is to find something to be thankful for and to highlight that. Once we have built a bridge of thanksgiving we can begin healing and correcting what is broken.
Finally, God is gracious. Paul does says in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that if the Corinthian church continues along in their ways they shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. But God is far more patient than most of us because He has all the time in the world because He created time and the world and everything in it. In the book of Romans Paul opens up his letter by telling the Romans that God is preparing a day where He will release wrath upon the unrighteous. He lists of this entire lists of sins that God will judge. And for those of us who were “raised right” so to speak we might be thinking, “ that’s right God. Get those ungrateful sinners. Get those goofballs.” Then Paul turns the table on his readers by saying, “therefore you have no excuse oh man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you the judge, practice the very same thing. We know the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. Do you suppose oh man that you who judge such things yet do them yourselves will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”
There are those who are ungrateful. Those who misuse their talent, their money, their gifts, and we look down upon them. Thing is we have done so as well. If not in the same way then in a different way even if no one knows about it God knows about it. God pours out his gifts and his kindness on those who are ungrateful to lead them to repentance, because the thing is we are all ungrateful, and we all need repent. Many of us are talented and intelligent. But I am also betting for many of you there was someone, a family member, a mentor, a first employer who hired you over someone else for no other reason than they liked you better or you were better connected. Sure you had talent and a work ethic, a lot of people do, but a lot of the time there is an element of grace, fortune, and fate, that we cannot control, and we do not deserve. Perhaps God gives grace to goofballs to remind us that reward isn’t always connected to effort. Gifts are not always given because we worked for it or deserve it. Perhaps God gives grace to goofballs to remind us that if it were not for grace things could have gone very differently and thus we are really not in control of our lives .Perhaps God gives grace to goofballs to remind us that we are goofballs as well. And perhaps when we realize that we are goofballs we can give thanks as Paul gave thanks for goofballs. And when we do that, when we do that, oh when we do that, well my friends that is when real ministry can start.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.