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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Trinity 9 - Summary of Sermon

The Epistle:  Brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual food; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

 “I would not that ye should be ignorant”
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Context of Epistle: Corinthians who said eating food at feasts organised by pagan acquaintances was OK even if the food was known to have been sacrificed to idols, false gods. They said that because the idol was not a real god, this meant nothing. (Of course, while the stone sculptures were nothing, demons are happy to take advantage of this fraudulent worship.)


Hence we have Paul’s comparison with the old covenant people of God, the Jews, and how they had tried to stick with paganism at the same time as worshipping Yahweh. Penalty: death, death, death.
(Bit missing from Epistle:“ We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.”) This is an example to them. They too must keep away from false gods or spiritually die.

Baptism compared to salvation through water of Exodus. (Note: getting physically immersed is not necessary here.) Manna and miraculous provision of water from rock compared to Eucharist. Note the fundamental importance of these two sacraments.

“And that rock was Christ” means Jesus as God the Son was the provider, the giver even then. The water is not called Christ as the wine is called his blood, the source is instead described. Here is evidence of both the similarity and dissimilarity between the Old and New Covenants. In the Old, Jesus bestows upon his people their needs, in the New he gives his very self. (That is why in Hebrews it is said that “Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” )

But as wonderful as the Sacraments are, St Paul makes clear that, just like those of old, they will do us no good if we partake of them while mocking God. Hebrews makes the same kind of comparison (chapters 3 and 4) and considers the ones who rebelled to have the core sin of unbelief. (Ironically, the Corinthians who were willing to compromise with other religions implied they had superior faith, since they had superior understanding. That is why Paul also says in this letter that “knowledge puffs up but love edifies”. Their faith was in their intellect, not God.)

So, we must have the living faith that actively avoids sin, otherwise the sacraments will not benefit us. However, while some people say passages like this show Paul did not think the sacraments were that important, this is nonsense. In fact, he thinks they are so important that disrespecting them by other actions is self-destructive, a point which he emphasises later in the letter when he notes the dangerous consequences of unworthy communion! Also, note that the sacraments do not become insignificant in themselves or cease to be holy because of our lack of faith, even the much-abused OT “sacraments” of manna and water are called supernatural by St Paul. The point is that despite the awesome reality of the Sacraments, our attitude determines how much of that reality can become part of us.

But there is also a beautiful promise here. When we are tempted to compromise our faith, God will not allow the trial to be beyond our strength, he will not allow us to be spiritually trapped. He will provide both the courage and any escape route we need. And this promise is for us. We may not be asked to parties where the main meal has been offered to Zeus, but this world will provide many temptations to compromise and then cover it up with clever rationalisations and excuses. So, we must have loyal faith, choosing to obey, trusting that God will give us the power to do so; and confessing and repenting when we fall.

Thus we will be able to be united to Christ in the Sacrament in our hearts and not just our mouths. +


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