Light of the World: Guiltless in Him

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, 19 January 2020
A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 by Samuel David Zumwalt

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. The Word of the Lord.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is one Church of Jesus Christ, and He is her Lord. We are part of that one Church but only a part of that one Church, which is not limited to the local community of faith, or to a particular regional synod, district, or diocese, or even to a particular wider denomination. Today, St. Paul tells the house churches that are in Corinth that they are not the Church by themselves or for themselves. These opening verses of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians are not throwaway lines or simply pleasant social greetings. When Paul writes, every word is part of a carefully crafted argument. Let’s go deeper.

God Does the Calling

The same God who called Paul and sent Him with the Good News of Jesus Christ has called the Corinthian Christians into the one Church of Jesus Christ. Like Israel in the Old Testament, which was called by God’s grace alone, so now the people of God are set apart into the one Church of Jesus Christ by God’s gracious favor in Jesus Christ. We don’t join Christ’s Church like joining a country club or a service organization of which we choose to be part. Membership in Christ’s one Church is not our doing. It is God’s gift to be called, set apart, as His holy ones. When God calls us into the one Church of Jesus Christ, we are not the Church by ourselves.

This idea, of course, rubs up against both American individualism and churchly triumphalism. Now, what does that mean? Even those Americans who claim to be spiritual and not religious (or to be not religious at all) operate with a strongly theological belief in free will. It sounds like this: “I am free to choose to be who or what I want to be. I am only bound by the limits of my own imagination or by fear of what others will think.” Within a churchly organizational context, it sounds like this: “We are free to choose who or what we want to be as a church. We are only bound by the limits of our own imagination or by fear what others will think of us.”

The fundamental flaw in such a divisive way of thinking is this, as Paul lays out from the beginning: We are not our own creators. We are not gods. We are not able to choose to be part of the people of God. We must be called and set apart by God. Therefore, the churches of which we are a part, are not ours. They are not the whole Church. And they are not ours to do with as we desire, because, when we are called by God, it is into the one Church of Jesus Christ, who is the Church’s Lord, everywhere, always, into eternity. There is one Church of Jesus Christ.

The favor that God has shown us in His Son Jesus Christ is sheer gift. Our lives are a gift. All that we have is a gift. All that we are is a gift. We can make no claims of our own. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to Christ’s cross we cling. God has called us through His Son. And, through Christ alone, we have peace with God, which is so much more than inner calm. God’s peace in Jesus Christ is the promise of wholeness to sinners like us who know all we are not.

You are His…You are His…You are His….

Corinth was a major Roman city located on a thin strip connecting upper and lower Greece. It was, arguably, the most multicultural city ever with temples to the various gods all over town. It was a major seaport known for hellraising, prostitution, and drunkenness. Vegas on steroids.

Because many of the Corinthian Christians were Gentile converts, they had not been trained in Jewish sexual ethics or monotheism (the belief in one God), which meant that living as God’s people was new to them. When you have lived your whole life among a plurality of stories, in the midst of a wide variety of beliefs, the exclusive claims of the one true God are hard to grasp.

Last week, Paul taught us that Baptism into the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus means one has been transferred from the reign (the rule, the kingdom) of Sin and, by grace alone, has been transferred into the reign (the rule, the Kingdom) of God. It is all the Father’s work in Jesus Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit in the one Church of Jesus Christ.

Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, the Corinthian Christians are now part of the one Church of Jesus Christ that exists across space and time. They no longer belong to the old reign. They no longer belong to other gods. They belong to the one true God alone. They are His!

The Corinthian Christians, like you, me, and all living Christians, need to hear again and again what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We are no longer ours. We are His. The implications for daily living are clear. We are to die daily to ourselves, to all other stories, to all notions of freedom to do as we desire, and to all notions that grace means freedom to live as we desire.

Living in these old sinful bodies that are not made for eternity, we wrestle all the days of this earthly life with the will to pleasure, the will to separateness, and, particularly, the will to power. Grace does not mean freedom to do our own will or the will of others. Peace does not mean being contented with who I think I am or who I want to be. Likewise, one small part of the one Church of Jesus Christ must wrestle with the kind of ecclesiastical triumphalism that declares: “This church is ours!” No. No. No! You are His! You are not your own. God is not re-makeable in our image. In the washing of Holy Baptism, we are remade, recreated, as God’s dear people!

You Participate in Christ

All that we have and all that we are is a gift from God’s gracious hand. In the one Church of Jesus Christ, God has given us great gifts through His Word, through Holy Baptism, and through His Holy Supper. The vitality and indeed the integrity of Christ’s Church is not determined by the number of people who gather in one place. The smallest assembly of Christians around the Word and the Sacraments has been enriched by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Knowing who and Whose we are by our Baptism into Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection changes everything. Why? Because in Christ Jesus, we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Now, we are limited by life in these mortal, sinful bodies. We await our complete deliverance to come.

In the one Church of Jesus Christ, God has called us to participation in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Here, Paul is speaking of the eucharistic fellowship we have with our Lord Jesus Christ as we receive His true Body and His most precious Blood in the Host and the Cup. Receiving Jesus’ true Body and most precious Blood transforms us as we participate in Him and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we see God’s gifts and hear God’s gifts in the Word and Sacraments, we have what they give – the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. God is faithful. He does not lie. He gives what He promises, and we are changed, little by little, by what He gives!

Apart from Christ, we are left in bondage to sin, death, and the old evil one. For this reason, the old Adam or old Eve, the old person in us, must be drowned daily through our sorrow for sin and our returning to the promise of Holy Baptism, which is, again, that in Holy Baptism we are joined to our Lord Jesus Christ, to His saving death and glorious resurrection from the dead.

On the day of my funeral, my casket will be next to the baptismal font and covered with a white pall. For the Hymn of the Day, the assembly will sing: “When Christ shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before the throne. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand” (Edward Mote, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” LBW #293).

It is only Christ Jesus who makes us guiltless and blameless when we stand before God to give an account of our lives. We are already His, children of God through no effort or merit of our own, but we are not yet there. Now, our knowledge is partial. Now, we await our complete transformation when all that is unholy and untrue in us has been destroyed in death.

So… St. Matthew’s is not the whole Church. The North Carolina Synod is not the whole Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not the whole Church. When our constitution speaks of “this church,” it is not speaking as Christ’s one Church. It cannot. We cannot. The relevant question to be asking is this. Is St. Matthew’s believing, teaching, and confessing the Christian faith in fidelity to the one God, who is faithful? To the one God, who has called us to be His? Are the North Carolina Synod and the wider church expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America believing, teaching, and confessing the Christian faith in fidelity to the one God and in union with whole Church in heaven and on earth? There is only one Church.

As each of St. Matthew’s eligible voters prepares to vote next week, pray to be faithful to Him.

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Light of the World: Guiltless in Him


Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (The Daily Prayer of the Church, p. 610).


1 Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus….”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “From the very beginning Paul casts down the Corinthians’ pride, in that he speaks of himself as ‘called.’ ‘For what I have learned,’ says Paul, ‘I did not discover myself, but it was while I was persecuting the church that I was called. It was God who willed that you too should be saved in this way.’ We have done nothing good by ourselves, but by God’s will we have been saved. We were called because it seemed good to him, not because we were worthy” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: 1 Corinthians, 4).

1 Corinthians 1:4 “…because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,”

St. John Chrysostom: “You were saved by grace, not by works. And who gave you this grace? It was not Paul, or another apostle, but Jesus Christ himself” (6).

1 Corinthians 1:8 “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Ambrosiaster [4th century Latin commentator on Paul’s epistles]: “Paul is confident that the Corinthians will persevere in righteousness until the day of judgment. People who could not be shaken in spite of so many turmoils and disagreements proved that they would remain faithful to the end. In praising them, Paul is also challenging those who had been corrupted by errors of the false apostles, for in proclaiming the faith of the former, he is calling the latter to repentance” (8).

1 Corinthians 1:9a “God is faithful…”

St. Clement [Late 2nd – early 3rd century theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “That God is faithful means that we can trust his self-revelation. His Word reveals him. He is the God who is faithful” (8).

1 Corinthians 1:9b “…by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar and theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “Believe in Christ always, because you were called for no other purpose than to be one with us in him” (8).


1. Do I believe that I have nothing to offer God, apart from Christ, except my sin and my death?

2. Do I know that my righteousness on the day of judgment and today is through Christ alone?


The Lord’s Prayer (from Luther’s Small Catechism)

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

The Sixth Petition

And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory (Luther’s Small Catechism).


1. Pray daily for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray daily for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship with you next weekend as part of striving to “encourage spiritual growth in others.”

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the devil, the world, and our sinful nature are the source of temptation in our life. Ask how that gives focus to our striving to “pray daily.”

4. If you haven’t signed up to serve in one of the many worship ministries of our congregation, please do so as part of striving to “serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s.” God is calling you!

5. If you aren’t already attending Sunday School or Bible study at St. Matthew’s, please do so as your palpable indication that you are striving to “worship weekly; read the Bible.”

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”