Sunday, August 14, 2022

Take Heed

 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.  And do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY."  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

Sermon for the 9-SAT                                                                  8/14/22

Take Heed

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I ran into a Baptist at the gas station, one day.  I didn't hit him with my car, we just happened to be gassing up at opposite sides of the pump at the same time.  He noticed my unusual attire and asked me if I were a Roman Catholic priest.  When I said, "No, I am a Lutheran Pastor," he began to tell me about a neighbor of his, now gone from this life, whose faith was such a joy to this Baptist.  "He was so certain and so confident of his salvation."

It turns out that his neighbor has been dead for many years, but his witness to his faith was so striking and powerful that this Baptist was still deeply moved.  I was struck by the fact that this man, from a denomination that teaches the doctrine of eternal security (you know, "Once saved, always saved") was still struggling with confidence in his own salvation.  Needless to say, we talked, and I was about a half-hour late for my appointment with a shut in to bring him communion.

He said that his preachers were always preaching uncertainty and the obligation to do more.  He knew better, in his head.  I discovered that as we talked.  But the effect of law preaching instead of Gospel preaching was to make this man uncertain, and he could readily identify the monster of uncertainty about which Luther spoke and wrote in his own life.  He even knew it's name, from his former neighbor.

I could turn this illustration into an example of how important, and how powerful your faithful witness to your hope in Jesus Christ can be - but the text doesn't go there, so, just preach that sermon to yourself later.  I want to talk about our text which also speaks about our security in the faith.  Our theme is, "Take Heed".

The Baptists generally teach the doctrine of eternal security.  They say that they believe that once you possess salvation, you cannot lose it.  Period.  The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians just the opposite message.  You can fall from grace.  You can be a real Christian, and then lose your faith and, therefore, your salvation.  You are secure in Christ, but you must remain ‘in Christ'.  While a Christian may be absolutely secure in Christ, as a good Lutheran is (and such as this man's neighbor was), you may never be secure in yourself.

Paul tells us in this message that not everyone makes it.  He describes the fall of many in Israel in the verses leading up to our text, and then tells us that, "these things happened as examples for us".  We can fall away, even though we have been baptized, and have been confirmed, and have attended church regularly, and have even received the Lord's Supper with some regularity.  We can all remember people who joined the church, and seemed quite excited about it for a time, who have since stopped coming, or going, to church.  We don't have much of that in this congregation yet, but we have seen it in other places.  Those people were not necessarily hypocrites.  They were probably true believers, and had salvation full and free within them, for a time, and then they turned away.

Such people are the seed that falls among the rocks, or among the thorns, in the Parable of the Sower.  They are the ones who fulfill the proverb that Peter tells us about in 2 Peter 2, "It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."  The plain truth is that it can be lost.  That is why we are exhorted to take heed.

A second thought that you want to keep in mind is that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is.  I am not speaking here about those hypocrites who know that they are not Christians, but have their own reasons for playing the part, or their own agenda which has nothing to do with the Gospel.  I am not even meaning to refer to those who think that they are Christians but know that they do not believe what they hear preached.  They are certainly among us in the visible church, and clearly present in our Synod.  They are not Christians, ofttimes, but I don't mean to address that group either.  I mean to bring to your mind the person who thinks of themselves as a Christian, accepts what is preached, to some degree, but still doesn't believe.

How can that happen?  They have what the Church has called "an historical faith".  They believe the truth of the statements.  They may even know doctrine pretty well, but they just don't have any confidence in God.  They don't actually trust God to come through for them.  They live by their own wits, strength, riches, and "luck."  They cannot see any difference between a real Christian and themselves, so they presume that they are just like the others.  Spooky eh?  That is why Paul - and God speaking through Paul, says "Take Heed."  "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

Paul gives us the example of Israel.  They were God's People, right?  They sure thought so, and no brush with reality through the mouth of the prophets seemed to shake their identity.  But they did not live like God's people.  They did not trust God.  They didn't trust Him for protection, and they did not trust Him for prosperity, and they did not trust Him for a good and enjoyable life.  They decided they had to make it happen themselves, but their own methods, by their own wits, and by their own efforts.
The results are what we see in our text.  They craved evil things.  These were sins of thought, which led to sins of action.  They desired what they knew was forbidden.  They did not care about the Lord enough to measure their desires against the rescue from slavery by God.  The simple fact that they wanted it was enough for them.  Never mind what God's will is.  The result of these "cravings" were the sins that followed.

They were idolaters.  The statement in our text about sitting down to eat and rising up to play is a description of the practice of Idolatry in the ancient world.  There was the sacrificial meal, and then the ritual sex - the play.  Israel had sacrificed to the Golden Calf, and then they indulged in the pagan debauchery of the worship of the Calf that they had observed in Egypt.  It was gross idolatry.

But what if it wasn't?  It was, but what if those words described something less overt.  It sounds innocent, doesn't it?  So also do many of our idolatries.  We worship success and people can call it ambition.  But when it gets in the way of God, and fellowship with His people, and hearing His Word, then it becomes idolatry.  The Bible says, in Colossians 3:5, that greed amounts to idolatry.  Our movies often teach us lust and adultery.  The fact that we insist that they are okay, innocent things, may speak about our heart's desires, our worship of physical pleasure, or entertainment.  Much of what we call entertainment involves what used to be called the sin of indolence.  We sit and vegetate rather than doing something useful.

Besides that, you have to admit that at times, the idolatry of Israel sounds like fun.  They ate, and they played.  Many of our distractions are fun, too.  We have people who want worship their way.  They want fun music, and they want sermons that entertain, and they want it all wrapped up in an hour, so as not to interfere with the rest of Sunday.  They want the sermon to be short, concise, and interesting.  They are not there to hear and learn, they are there to "go to church" or to "do religion".  We have less of that here, but it is common in the church today, even within our Synod.

Today we don't think too long and hard about immorality.  Too many of our children have "shacked up" before marriage.  Too many of us, or our children have been divorced.  What used to be a scandal in the Church hardly raises an eyebrow today.  I had to set a policy in my last parish, that I would not perform the wedding for any couple from among the members of the congregation that were living together before marriage.  It was so common that I had almost no experience of marrying those who were not living together without the benefit of wedlock - even among the elderly!  Its so bad that some people are advocating for the casual acceptance of homosexuality within the church.  God, on the other hand, took it seriously.  Twenty-three thousand died in one day.  Paul means for us to understand that God's attitude toward such things hasn't changed, even if we are not being overwhelmed by plagues.

Paul mentions "Putting Christ to the test."  Whatever form it may take, it boils down to doubting God's power to save or that His will toward us is love and blessing and good.  During the Exodus, the people became impatient with the journey.  They had everything they needed, and what they had desired most - rescue from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  But now that the monkey was off their backs, it was almost like they were saying, "That was yesterday.  What have you done for me lately?".  Now that they had everything they needed, they wanted much more.

How often do we find ourselves tempted with the same thing?  What is there that we need, that we lack?  We have food in abundance.  We have clothing.  We have cars and boats.  We have toys of every description.  We have comforts the likes of which mankind had never seen until within our own lifetimes.  Do those things make us happy?  We are wealthy by history's standards, wealthy by world standards today.  We are so abundantly supplied that many people are looking to make life "simpler" and less crowded.  Does that make us feel secure in the good will of God?

So often we are tempted to seek signs.  We worry.  We look for some event, or some special blessing, or some feeling to make us sure that God loves us.  Ultimately, it means that we are doubting the Gospel - or the Word of God.  Ancient Israel doubted God's provision.  They were always afraid they were going to die.  Paul reminds us that God sent serpents to kill them.  It is like He gave them what they trusted in Him for.  They refused to trust God's expressed love for them.  They would not take Him at His Word, and trust that no matter what it seemed like, He was with them for their blessing.  Water out of solid rock and bread out of heaven did not change their attitude.  So they died.

We know that God Himself took on human form and human nature, and lived for us, and died on the cross for us.  That is how deep His love is.  He became sin who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He suffered in our place, and pours out life and forgiveness upon all, and has chosen you and me to be among those who believe and so grasp, receive, and possess those rich blessings.  How can we ask for some other sign of the love of God for us.  We have the sign of the cross.

Israel was also held accountable for grumbling.  They complained about being free.  They grumbled about free food from heaven.  At every opportunity, at each inconvenience, at every challenge or danger they saw, they grumbled.  They were unhappy with God's will and God's way.  They were irritated with the work of God and the plan of God.  So who did they grumble about?  Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of causing all of the troubles of Israel.  This would be like turning on the faithful leaders and pastors because we don't get our way, or because things aren't happening as quickly or as wonderfully as we might imagine they could.  Thank heavens, that never happens in modern times, eh?  God showed His displeasure by destroying many of them.

All these things happened to ancient Israel as examples for us and were written for our instruction.  That is what our text says.  It happened for us, who live at the very end of time.  And the message is, Take Heed - pay close attention.  Take note.  God took their lives and used them as object lessons.  He recorded their failures and their punishments for your benefit.  Learn from the example, so that you don't learn by personal experience.  Each of these failings of Israel is a species of unbelief.  Idolatry is easiest to recognize - at least gross idolatry.  And yet, our Synodical leaders seem to have some confusion about what even that might entail.

But when we don't trust God's Word, and we put Christ to the test - whether it is the protestant "laying a fleece before the Lord" - or simply looking for some sort of sign or feeling - it means that we don't believe.  If we crave evil and feel cheated by not being allowed to run after the wickedness of the world around us, we don't believe that God's will, which we find confining at times, is really for our good and blessing.  If we grumble, we are saying, in effect, that we know better than God, and we don't believe God is doing what is right and good for us.

Now, these things occur to us in the course of life.  They come into our minds both by the temptation of the devil and by our own sinful flesh.  Nonetheless, as Luther used to say, "You may not be able to keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair."  When temptation arises, take heed.  Paul reminds us, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."

God will help.  Take heed.  Make note!  God has promised help.  When we face trials, or temptations, God will help.  You never need doubt His love, or worry that He has forgotten you.  He will always provide what you need to bear up under the temptation.  And His will for you is always the same - always judged by the cross, and not by what we think is happening to us or around us.

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  Temptations and troubles will come.  If you think you will be spared, or that you will not be truly tested by what God permits to come to you, you are wrong.   Take heed.

Why does God give us this warning?  Because we are living in the end of the ages.  We stand trembling on the brink of eternity.  The battle is going to be fierce, and long.  It will go right up to the end.  And, even the Christian can stumble and fall.  There is no "once saved, always saved."  No one can snatch you out of His hand, but you need to know that the old evil Foe can deceive you and seduce you into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice if you are not alert.
Our lesson today has three main points: Trouble and temptation will come.  God will help those who trust in Him.  So, trust Him.

As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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