MANAGING TRUE WEALTH
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. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 1 Corinthians. 10:1-6
It is easier to go down the stairs than up, to spend money than to save it and to gain weight than to lose it. In the same way it is easier to misunderstand today’s epistle than to properly interpret it, so as we meditate on the lesson today let us avoid the errors and confess the truths that St. Paul wants us to learn from it.
First we must proclaim that the sacraments Paul speaks of here are the grace of God! That statement drives our flesh buggy, but it is none-the-less true. We have learned to call them the means of grace and to think of them as the conduits by which God’s mercy comes to us. They are all of that but not only that. They are indeed, grace personified! Personified because they do not only point to Christ but contain Him and transmit the full benefits of redeeming love to us. If we want to know the love of God we cannot fall down at the foot of the cross like the repentant centurion did, he who came to crucify but remained to glorify.
We cannot travel back in time and space to the empty tomb, and hear the Lord’s voice speak our name and banish all fear as He did for Mary. Instead if we want to be sure that we are going to heaven when we die and not hell, then we must open our ears to the preaching of the Gospel, and our minds to believe what the Bible says about the sacraments. We must not think that because they consist of humble elements they are mundane because St. Paul tells us that God loves to hide great treasures in ordinary packages. Take the computer chip as an example. In the span of a few decades it has revolutionized life on earth. It is the greatest labor saving device ever invented and were it to fail, all the means of modern production and distribution would die and so would most of us. But this humble little contrivance is not composed of valuable jewels or precious metals. Instead, like man himself, it is made from the dust of the ground (silica).
Now consider Christ. In order to redeem us God did not arrange a galactic spectacle such as you might see at the Imax theater. Instead He chose the whip, the thorns, the nails and the cross. He chose the most shameful and protracted death a man could die, and by it vanquished death forever. And when our Lord was raised to life it was not a production for stage and screen, or flashed across the globe on the internet like the BP oil leak. But rather in the stillest hour of earliest morning Christ Jesus rose from death’s strong bands – His victory witnessed by none but a few policemen who had never been so scared in their lives. This is how God works! Not to show us how clever He is, but to teach us how foolish we are, who think that we can live our lives without Him.
Neither must we think that we are the key players in the sacraments. Holy communion is not named the “church’s supper” but the “Lord’s supper” because it is Christ’s from beginning to end. He is the victim and the priest, the host and servant, the doer and the giver – and we the grateful and needy receivers. The same is true in the baptism. The pastor applies the water and the pastor says the words, but God Himself is the One who delivers us from evil by it.
Second let us be certain that the sacraments are not a license to do what we please, but instead the true and effectual cure for the deadly cancer of sin. We should not tempt God or abuse His mercy. The old man within us is conniving. He wants to see how much he can get away with and how little it will cost him. He loves to work the system. He reasons that if the sacraments are all that scripture says that they are, then he can safely enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and play his holy trump card should he get into trouble. It is to this stiff-necked, hard-headed old man who resides in each of us, that St. Paul says: God scattered their dead bodies over the face of the desert.
Does this sound as if Paul is qualifying the certainty of the sacraments in some way? That he is adding ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ to God’s promises? That some special experience or commitment is needed if we are to be REAL Christians? A person might conclude that, but only if he concludes that scripture is about us instead of Christ, but it is not. The scriptures testify of Him. They teach us who He is, and what He has done to atone for our wrongs and enable us to believe it as well. They teach us that He is the Rock that accompanied Israel in her wilderness wanderings and who accompanies us in ours. Now as then He provides us with all we need for both body and soul, and gives us victory over the sorrow of sin that would otherwise break us into pieces. He does not merely provide a way of escape for troubled souls, but He Himself is our escape; our way out from under the guilt, judgment and punishment that sin always imposes on those commit it. He does not merely enable us to endure under the trials and temptations of life but He Himself is our endurance. It’s hard to fight sin, hard to be patient, hard to crucify our insatiable sinful desires. We get tired. We become impatient and are convinced that we will not be able to hold it together for even a few minutes, much less ‘one day at a time.’ Paul’s message to us today is that the Savior who comes to us in the word and sacraments is the solid Rock on which we stand, that He is our Escape and our Endurance. And St. John tells us in His first epistle that: Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure. We are those people, made pure by baptismal water, and made eternally alive by His word, His flesh and His blood. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras