Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany                                                                  Rev Mark Duer 

1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5                                                                            February 17, 2019

The motto of the Reformation was Sola scriptura, Sola gratia, Sola fide. Martin Luther asserted against the hierarchy of the church in Rome that we are justified only by Scripture by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ Jesus

Salvation is a gift from God. We cannot do anything to earn salvation because Christ has done everything for us. He fulfilled the Law in our place, died on the cross and rose again on the third day. We cannot cooperate in our salvation. Christ satisfied all the righteousness of God and our own works are worth nothing. 

We do not deserve anything good from the hands of God, nor the blessings of this life, like food, clothing, home and family, nor eternal life. We deserve only the wrath of God, the punishment of eternal death. We receive as a free gift—the gift of salvation, and life everlasting. 

So, why we do we find the subject of competition in our readings for today? Where is the competition for the kingdom of God if all receive salvation by grace through faith as a free gift? 

1 Corinthians 9:24 4Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. He speaks of running in a stadium, because the Greeks and Romans liked sports, and competing for a prize. 

1 Corinthians 9:25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Paul is talking about living the Christian life, while being faithful to God’s Word, and not getting consumed by worldly ways and desires.     

So, Paul says in living a Christian life, we must be prepared as an athlete to competition for a prize. The prize is eternal life and the struggle is to remain in the faith. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord speaks of an owner of a vineyard. His harvest of grapes was ready and he did not have much time to gather it in. 

He looked in the town square early in the day for workers and there were not enough for the harvest, so he went out an hour later, and again and again, all day. He hired all for the same pay, the latter equal to the first. 

Those who came early murmured. Matthew 20:12-14 These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.

The owner promised to pay all the same, no matter the hour. Therefore, all received the same payment. 

As the owner of the vineyard was generous because of the urgency of the harvest, our heavenly Father is generous because of His desire to save all nations. 

Payment for work in the vineyard of the Lord is the same for all, eternal life. No matter if one of you grew up in the faith since childhood and another converted as an adult. Everything is by the grace of God. 

Also, when Paul speaks of an athletic competition, the point is to pay attention and focus on the goal of this life, which is eternal life with Christ. Eternal life is a gift from God, but in this earthly life we are in a struggle to stay on track. 

We must prepare for this fight. As the athlete abstains from the things which are distractions and barriers to competition, we should avoid the things of this world which are distractions and obstacles to eternal life. 

Paul explains more 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  5Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

This is again the story of the Exodus, when the Lord brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They followed God in the form of a cloud across the Red Sea. So, all were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. 

God also provided food for in the desert in the form of manna and water from the rock. So, all ate the same food and drank the same spiritual drink. Yet many of them still died in the desert. 

You too are in need of repentance for all the times you put your own desires as more important than living as God’s children, and living to serve your neighbor, and serving one another.

Jesus was the ultimate example as he died so you can live. He rose after three days to and won for you forgiveness and eternal life, and transform your lives so you don’t seek your own good, but the good of others.

All of us have passed from the slavery of sin to spiritual freedom by the water of baptism. For us the spiritual food and drink in the wilderness of this world is the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. 

All Israelites ate spiritual food, food from heaven, manna given by God for this sole purpose. Not once, but twice, they drank water from a rock, a miracle of the Lord. 

Both food and drink, however, were not intended only for the maintenance of physical life, but also to sustain the spiritual life. 

For they were drinking, throughout the course of their journey through the desert, from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, but the rock was Christ. “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” 

While their mouths drank of the water flowing at their feet, they were refreshed through faith in Christ, present in them as the Rock of their salvation. 

In this sense, the food and drink of the Eucharist surpasses the miraculous food and drink of Israel in the wilderness. We eat and drink of the bread and wine at the altar while receiving the true body and blood of Christ physically and spiritually.

Salvation is by grace alone, ie, it is a free gift of the Holy Spirit. So, we have to focus on the hope of eternal life, as the athlete focuses on the competition prize. Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 10:6-14   6Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  7Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  11Now 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.  12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

With baptism eternal life begins. But our life in this world is always like a race or fight. There are always obstacles and traps, because the devil and the world want rob us of the hope of eternal life with Christ. Keep the focus on Christ, avoid temptations and idolatry, and faithfully attend services of the Word and the sacraments. 

We must remain in the faith, continuing to receive the strengthening of our faith by Word and sacrament. We cannot do this by our own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit Who is active in the Word and the sacraments. We conform our lives to the will of God with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

Because as spiritual athletes, we are members of a team, the church (the body of Christ). We are together in the fight to remain in the faith to eternal life. 

Revelation 2:10 Jesus says: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Therefore, we have hope and the peace of the Lord that passes all understanding. Amen.