Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Epiphany 3 A 2020 - Presentation Of Our Lord 2020
Have you ever thought about how many significant discoveries were made by accident?
Consider Alexander Fleming, who in 1928, left out a petri dish of staphylococcus bacteria overnight, And discovered a greenish colored mold growing which inhibited the bacteria’s growth. It became penicillin, which revolutionized medicine and public health.
Or the Kellogg brothers who, as Seventh Day Adventists, were experimenting with recipes for a vegetarian diet when they left the wheat mash out too long. Instead of making a pliable dough, it splintered into dozens of flakes, that when baked, were tasty.
Introduce a staple of the breakfast table—Corn Flakes.
And there’s the famous story of chemist Spencer Silver, who was searching for a strong adhesive When he accidentally created a super-weak adhesive which could only temporarily stick things together-
The seemingly total flop is now the ubiquitous Post-It notes.
Truth is, lots of good things come out of failures.
Some of our best learning comes from mistakes.
One school of music pedagogy actually teaches students to make ‘big, juicy mistakes,’—
Because when you pay attention to the ‘why’ of the mistake,
You can isolate the cause of the error and avoid that pitfall the next time.
Much of our culture, however, repeatedly warns us to avoid making mistakes.
We are supposed to look like we know what we are doing, to be professional and competent at all times.
We value education and take note of prestigious awards,
We identify areas of weakness for remediation with SAT prep, performance improvement plans, and self help books.
We admire strength and success and have little patience for mediocrity or weakness.
It turns out we have a lot in common with the people of Corinth, for whom St Paul wrote our second lesson.
The Corinthians were in love with Greek culture:
The triumph of the human spirit, the glory and prestige of knowledge
The celebration of human wisdom and power.
At the same time, Corinth was a new city, recently rebuilt by the Romans
And many of its citizens were freed slaves who were able to get a fresh start
and do well for themselves.
They had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,
And as such they were independent, upwardly mobile, and sophisticated.
All this was fine, until they applied their high view of themselves to their spirituality.
The Corinthians were the nouveau riche, and they were also new to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But that didn’t stop some of their community from boasting about their newfound status.
They touted their spiritual gifts as if they had invented the Holy Spirit themselves,
And when Paul got a whiff of it, he wrote them this letter to set them straight.
“Not many of you were wise by human standards, he writes to the Corinthians.
Not many of you were powerful.
Not many were of noble birth.”
In a few strokes on his parchment, Paul reminded the Corinthians of their humble origins.
They all came from the same stock, even if some had gotten ahead in the world
And others had impressive spiritual experiences.
But Paul didn’t stop there.
He went on to challenge the mental framework praised human faculties as a human possession And the hierarchical system that flowed from it.
Because God did not choose parents of status for his Son
Nor did God choose to stay aloof, untouched by the vicissitudes of human life.
Instead Paul writes, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is love and despised the world… to reduce to nothings things that are
So that no one may boast in the presence of God.”
Don’t be mistaken—it isn’t that God wants to shame people who happen to be smart or in positions of influence.
God doesn’t automatically write off people who are gifted or have done well financially.
But God did have a choice in where and how to be born
And God chose Jesus, born to lowly peasants, people not even citizens in their own land
-- not prestige or power or wealth.
Paul therefore praises not human strength and triumph,
But human weakness and lowliness, because it is these qualities that correct our vision
and remind us that everything we do relies on God, and everything we have comes from God.
Frankly this is good news for us who have grown weary of the cultural expectations
That we never admit when we don’t know something or that we are wrong.
It’s good news for us who are bent under the weight of perfectionism.
It’s good news for the spirit of creativity that dwells within each one of us
That needs space to make mistakes and to learn from them.
The good news is that God chose solidarity with the things that make us human, not super human—
Our propensity for triumph and failure, for strength and weakness, for wisdom and utter foolishness.
God chose to be one of us as we truly are, not the perfect selves we are told we should be.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine was telling me about how the founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos Is committed to research and development. He told me part of the success of the online retail behemoth is a culture that gives permission for experimentation and failure. In fact, there is an expectation that the vast majority of ideas will not make the final cut. That’s ok however because Amazon’s experience shows That following your intuition and being willing to try new things generates the ideas of the next wave of innovation.
I think St Paul is trying for something similar with the Corinthians, and perhaps also with us.
Some in the community may have done well from themselves and have the markers of worldly success, But none of us has a do-it-yourself spirituality.
We know that each one of us is here solely by the grace of God
That without Jesus walking beside us as our strength that we cannot stand
That without God’s wisdom feeding our intuition and decision making that we go astray.
Knowing where our wisdom and strength come opens us up to be used by God.
We tap into a creativity and power greater than we could ever have imagined.
Brothers and sisters, we don’t need to fear weakness or shrink from our humanity.
In the end, it is God working through us through our successes and our failures.
Our call is simply to be faithful.
God will use our willing hearts, minds, and actions for God’s glory.