I am pretty sure I had more fun preaching yesterday’s sermon than any I’ve ever preached before.
I had a title I love — “A Dirty-Minded Church.”
We sang some of my favorite songs, including “Not To Us” and “Jesus Paid It All.”
I got to follow an announcement from our Board Chair regarding a Head Scratchers Book Release Party.
I was able to lift up Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake side by side.
And I had a bottom line I really, truly believe in: Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed.
I remember that one of my very first weeks on the job in Monroe, back in 1990, one of the really nice guys at that church said to me, “You know, we’re preacher people here at Mt. Carmel. When we like the preacher, our church & attendance is UP & then when we don’t we’re down.” Intrigued by that, I went and checked the records and sure enough, that’s what they were. As an old-timey UMC, they received new preachers every few years, and their attendance records looked a roller coaster on graph paper (AV). Ascending with one pastor, descending – quickly – with the next. At the time, I was a young man and I didn’t think too much about it; I just wanted to make sure that if I was on that graph, it darn well better been on an ASCENDING plane!
But now, with the perspective of 25 years and by studying I Cor 1-3 and doing this series on BrainWashing, I realize something very different is going on with “preacher people.” Because if you’ve been with us in I Co and BrainWashing (if not, OK), we’ve seen together that the whole reason there IS a I Cor is that the church there was in crisis. It was super divided (and actually, the reason your bible has a 2nd Corinthians is that the first one didn’t work!). And the divisions in the church were not based on the carpet color, not on the music style, not even on worship times (830, 10, or 1130!) but on personality. Look at 1:12-16:
12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[a]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)
(I love the dictation evidence and the Columbo-like, “Oh yeah!” there.) So: factions, rivalries, cults of personality dominated the church at Corinth. Whereas we might be all “You might be Carolina blue but I’m NC State red,” THEY were “I love Paul’s teaching, but you go sit under Apollos.” Maybe the closest parallel here would be “Oh, I just LOVE that Chris & the music but then when Talbert stands up, I just hit snooze. I’m all about the Chris.” Or “I tolerate the music just so I can get to the Main Event: the message! I’m a Talbot guy!” So the phenomenon at Mt. Carmel – preacher people – started in Corinth & continues through the 90s and into today. We tend to identify churches/movements by the one who proclaims there.
You know how I know this is true? You say to me SO & SO’s church. Or SO & SO’s church. Like in basketball: the name on the BACK of the church jersey has become bigger than the name on the FRONT. It’s even something a lot of you have lived with or through – where your faith, your living relationship with Jesus Christ, was so heavily invested in the one who proclaimed it to you that you lost a sense of perspective about it all. And it’s not just preachers – for some of you it’s LifeGroup leaders, for others, it’s authors, for still others, it is even parents. Your faith is so tied up in the one who brings it to you that it’s almost not yours anymore.
Well, Paul says something much serious with all that than an oscillating graph. Look at 3:18:
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.
So there’s that pattern again: the wisdom of the world (the culture, these leaders) is foolishness in the eyes of God. We’ve been seeing that throughout this series, which is why in the first week we learned that when you realize the world killed God, you never trust its wisdom again and then last week some things only make sense when you make Jesus Lord. Only in Christ is there this genuine eye opening that allows you to see the world for the folly it is and the Kingdom for the beauty it is.
And then Paul – a bar mitzvahed Jew whose mind is soaked in OT imagery, quotes both Job and the Psalms in 3:19-20:
As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[a]; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
So this kind of thinking, the kind that is convinced that conventional wisdom is all that, is ultimately futile. It goes nowhere. And in light of all this you are good to ask, “well, what thoughts appear to be wise but are actually headed nowhere fast?” And Paul answers THAT question with something that makes TOTAL sense in light of the overall direction of the letter in 3:21:
21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders!
Doh! Everything thing he has said up to this point is merely to build a foundation for this one instruction: No More Boasting About Human Leaders! So the kind of thinking which divides into factions of personality and proclaimers is worldly, so common, so natural, so easy, so destructive. And as I think about it, Paul’s wisdom here makes perfect sense. The easiest and most natural way of thinking is to identify your cause with your leader and to divide up accordingly. Some of you are Duke; others Carolina. Some Ford; other Chevy. Preacher A, Preacher B. Candidate 1, Candidate 2 (Lord, I have folks I know who are so politically oriented, so dialed into political leaders, that they won’t be friends with other side!)
But Paul is telling us here that that kind of thinking and dividing – both in church & out – is not just natural or easy. He is saying it is the natural by-product of an unwashed brain. A brain not cleaned up by Christ and his spirit. You know what that means? If you are a preacher person? You’ve got a dirty mind! Yes! If you mix up proclaimer with the one proclaimed, if your faith is too wrapped up in its messenger, you have a dirty mind! Yes!
Dirty minds follow proclaimers. But Paul, who has been striving with the Corinthians to abandon their old thinking and grow the “mind of Christ” wants to wash their brains of the filth that over-identifies with proclaimers. Because with that simple No more boasting about human leaders! and what follows, here’s where Paul lands us: Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed. Yes! Dirty minds are all about the messengers. People whose brains are being washed by faith zero in on the message. Dirty minds love the revealer. Washed brains love the revelation. Dirty minds take up sides based on the representative. Washed brains unite around the Represented. That’s what I want as we move into week 3 of BrainWashing: Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed.
Now: can I acknowledge the built in irony here? Here I am standing on a platform delivering a sermon . . . telling you not to identify too closely with proclaimers. With me. And I want this sermon to be good. Honestly I want it to be better than the one you can hear across down or down the street. And in my flesh, I want so many of you to come here because you just. love. me. In my flesh. But when I am operating in the spirit, there exists a much different motivation. That I would daily and weekly live out JtB’s words: I must decrease so that he might increase. That when you leave here on a Sunday the talk isn’t what a great sermon or a great song but it is what a great Savior. Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed.
And you know why this is so essential? Because proclaimers let you down! I remember talking with a pastor guy YEARS ago about the addictive nature of so much sex & porn in our culture. He dismissed the notion that it was addictive. He instead told me about his favorite preacher . . . Jimmy Swaggart, who a few months later in the famous “I have sinned” confessed to what? Sex addiction. You know JS let my preacher friend down. You know this. You’ve lived this. Some of you are here because a previous pastor let you down. Some people are there because I or another leader let them down. Some of you are waiting, suspicious, wondering when the other shoe will drop (again) and your feelings will be hurt. Face it: whenever someone starts a sentence with “did you see my preacher in the news . . .” you don’t expect a happy ending! Mug shot, plane request, mansion on a hill, something. Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed because those proclaimers let you down.
And guess what? The primary reason all those proclaimers let us down is that they’re all gonna die anyway. Every great proclaimer is either dead now or headed that way. Paul? Dead. Peter. Dead. Mother Teresa? Dead. John Wesley? Dead. Billy Graham? Gonna die. Your LifeGroup leader? Gonna die. And when they die, they will ultimately disintegrate to dirt. In fact, did you know that a decomposed body results in a pile of dirt worth, in dirt dollars, about $3.57? Whether that is St. Paul’s dirt or you crazy uncle who never went to church. All equal dirt. We’re all headed towards dirt bags! Look at your neighbor and call them a dirt bag. But NOT GOD. He. Still. Lives. Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed because the one we proclaim has never been nor will ever be a dirt bag!
But there’s more, and there’s better. I love love love how Paul concludes this section in 3:21c-3:23:
All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
You know what he is saying? Why settle?! If you become so connected to a proclaimer – whether pastor, LG leader, author – you are really just settling for a cheap imitation of the real thing! Why would you settle for the knock off when the real thing is so available? You know what he’s saying . . . ?
It’s like you could have a private concert with Led Zeppelin (we played brief clip of “and she’s buying a Stairway To Heaven.”)
and you take a date with Whitesnake (we played clip of cheesy crappy song) instead!
You’ve taken a cheap imitation of the enduringly authentic! Or it’s like you could have a Morton’s steak (AV) and you take a Salisbury steak instead (AV)! You’ve taken the cheap imitation of the delicious original. . You’ve settled for the pretend when the real is so much better. And Paul is saying that the real is YOURS. When you are his, he is yours, and all the power & truth & reliability of his kingdom is at your fingertips. Oh, don’t let your faith hinge on personality of a leader but on the Person of Christ. Dirty minds follow proclaimers. Washed brains worship the Proclaimed.
So: how? I may well have you convinced of all this, but how? Well maybe you’ve heard about how you can eat scrambled eggs without ever cracking the shell? How? By having someone else crack the shell for you. But that’s not how it goes. You’re gonna have to crack your own shell, have your own faith, and soak up the Word for yourself. But we want to help you. That’s why we have this laminated card with a selection of the best verses describing Jesus the Proclaimed One.
We want you to prop this up at your breakfast table. We want everyone in the church to recite these out loud first thing in the morning this week. Can you imagine how much Satan will hate that? 2000 people verbalizing the glories of the risen Christ! The Proclaimed One! The message! Together we’ll experience what it is like when Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King!
You know why? Because in 10 or 15 years, when a new pastor comes to GS and he’s meeting with nice folks, they’ll not need to say, “Oh, we’re preacher people because we’re Savior people.”