Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sermon for Septuagesima - 1 Cor 9:24-10:5

                                                                                                1 Cor 9:24-10:5

            Cory Booker, the Democratic Senator from New Jersey recently made news by announcing that he is seeking his party’s nomination for President in the 2020 election.  That’s news, but it really doesn’t make him unique because many politicians are going to be seeking that nomination in a crowded field.
            However, Booker is unique among the candidates in that he is a vegan.  In fact, if elected, he would be the first vegan President.  Booker recently made some news and drew a response because of an interview he did in VegNews. There he said that the world can’t sustain a move toward eating more meat. And while he was clear that he didn’t think people should be told what to eat, he argued that if they are given viable alternatives to meat and informed about the issues involved, more people will choose the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle and that would be a good thing.
            Not surprisingly, Booker’s comments drew a reaction. Ben Sasse, the Republican Senator from Nebraska commented: “Cory’s a good dude, but Tofurky is a crime against humanity.  Everybody needs real food to survive — if that food happens to be a juicy, perfectly cooked, medium rare steak from a cow raised here in Nebraska, count me in.”
            The history of the world indicates that Booker is probably going to be on the losing side of this argument.  The fact of the matter is that people have always wanted to eat meat.  When they have faced limitations in the amount of meat they could consume, it only has made them want it more.
            The eating of meat is actually the subject that prompted Paul’s words in our text this morning from his letter to the Corinthians.  The diet of the Mediterranean world in the first century included little meat.  The limitations of production in that area meant that it was just too expensive to eat on a regular basis.
            People ate little meat, and especially in cities like Corinth when they did it came from one source: animals sacrificed at pagan temples. Most of the meat from animals sacrificed was saved to be eaten.  This happened in a number of ways. The large temple complexes actually had dining rooms where the meat was served.  The meat not used there was sold to vendors who then sold it in the city.
            In chapters eight through ten of this letter, the apostle Paul is handling the question of how Christians should deal with meat sacrificed to idols. The real problem he had encountered was the way the Corinthians were approaching the Christian faith. First, they said that since they knew there is only one true God, it didn’t matter if this meat had been involved in pagan practices.  And second, the Corinthians believed that as Christians they already had salvation and so nothing could harm them.  They treated baptism and the Lord’s Supper as if they were a protection that allowed them to do what they wanted.
            Paul deals with several different aspects of this problem.  In the letter he has just been addressing the fact that the way one Christian acts can affect another.  He has cautioned, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
            The sight of a Christian eating at a temple dining room could lead another Christian to do so – but for this Christian who was weak in understanding the result could be a loss of faith.  Paul says, “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
            The apostle says that love for a fellow Christian must guide their actions.  When necessary, a Christian needs to put others first.  Paul has just described how he does this in his own life in order to share the Gospel.  He wrote, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”  Paul had willingly become like those under the law, like those outside the law, and like the weak.  He says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
            But even after doing all of this, Paul knew that he was not free to do whatever he wanted.  In our text the apostle makes this point using the metaphors drawn from athletics.  He says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
            Paul had done all of this work to share the Gospel with others.  But that didn’t mean he could just give in to what the old Adam wanted to do.  He knew all about this struggle and told the Galatians, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
            In our text, Paul compares the Christian life to that of an athlete who must be disciplined in order to win. And then he goes on to warn the Corinthians that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not magic protection.  He writes, “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.”
            Paul compares the sacraments to the miraculous experiences of Israel as she passed through the Red Sea, ate manna from heaven, and drank water from a rock.  They had received these gifts from God, yet they disobeyed and in the end they had died in the wilderness. The apostle goes on to say that these things took place as examples for us so that we do not desire evil as they did; so we do not act as idolaters as they did; so we do indulge in sexual immorality as they did.
           We are always tempted to treat Jesus Christ and the Gospel as a kind of permission to sin. It’s easy to think, “Yes, I shouldn’t do this, but …” and then go ahead and do it because after all, at the end of the day Jesus has us covered. The old Adam in us wants to abuse the Gospel in this way. The devil wants us to become comfortable abusing it because this is the way that leads to the loss of faith.
            Paul goes on to say, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”  Paul wants us to learn from the example of Israel.  We see in them that the miracles of God in our midst do not provide the freedom to engage in sin.  Instead we are called to show discipline in struggling against sin because of the amazing salvation God has given us in Christ.
            The apostle says that we are those upon whom the end of the ages has come. In the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has carried out the end time action to give you forgiveness and salvation.  We live as people who exist in a unique moment in time. We live in the last days because of what Jesus Christ has done.
            The dramatic action by God has done great things.  Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
            No matter what you have done, in Holy Baptism your sins were washed way.  You were sanctified – you were made holy because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.  You were justified – you are ready for the Last Day because of Christ.  The imperishable wreath – the crown - awaits you.
            The Holy Spirit has made you a new creation in Christ.  He is the continuing source of the life that pleases God.  He leads.  He provides the ability.  And so there are always two things happening when we live as Christians.  The first is that by the work of the Spirit we seek to live the “athletic” Christian life Paul describes.  We seek to discipline the flesh and keep it under control.  We invest effort towards the goal of living in ways that please God.  We look for ways to help our spouse or family member.  We keep our mouth shut instead of sharing gossip and hurting a person’s reputation.  We don’t go to that website and look at that pornography.
            And when we are aware of failures, we repent. We confess them as sin against God, for that is what they are. And we give thanks that baptism is not something that only applies to the past.  It didn’t only wash away some sins.  It washes away every sin that we confess as we believe in Jesus Christ.  When we believe God’s promise about what he has done in baptism, we have exactly that. We know that we are washed, sanctified, and justified.
            We rejoice in what the Spirit has done for us, and what he continues to do.  The Spirit gives us the means to run so that we may obtain the prize.  He gives the desire and ability to exercise self-control and to discipline our body. He does this because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.  He does this, because we have been baptized. 

No comments:

Post a Comment