Putting on Christ Series:  A Good Pair of Running Shoes
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

What do you think when you hear the following:  Takata, Jimmy Swaggart, Lehman Bros, Volkswagen, Priest pedophiles, FIFA, Bill Cosby, Flint Michigan. Do you think, how in the world could these people and corporations let themselves do such terrible things? What would make t hem compromise their vision, their principles?  Each of these experienced so much success, yet in the end they failed to accomplish their goals.

Former Yankees Catcher, Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Now Yogi is no theologian, but he unknowingly expressed one of the great principles of the Christian life.  It doesn’t matter how you start the race, what matter is how you finish. Victory is won at the finish line, not off the starting blocks, especially since the Christian life is, as I’ve said often in the past, not a sprint but a marathon that requires endurance and a lifelong commitment to keep running with the intent of finishing strong.

The Apostle Paul argues that there is a very real possibility that many Christians will not finish their Christian lives well.  He speaks of his own challenges to stay the course and continue to press on toward the prize.  What he considers a possibility in his own life, he presents as a history lesson to the Corinthians.

Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians that they have been blessed with the same spiritual blessings as the Israelites, “I do not want you to be unaware that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses, and all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock and the rock was Christ.”  Notice the use of the word ALL… All observed Passover, an act of faith, and All came out of Egypt, an experience of salvation.

And like Israel, he tells them, you too have received many spiritual blessings. In the same way they were “under the cloud”, you have experienced God’s protection and guidance.  In the same way Israel “Passed through the seas”, you have passed from death to life. In the same way Israel with “baptized into Moses,” you have been “Baptized into Christ”.  In the same way all ate the spiritual food and drank the spiritual drink, you celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Then, after reminding them of the spiritual blessings they share as God’s people, Paul transitions into a startling contrast. In spite of Israel’s redemption and blessings, Paul writes, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; and they were struck down in the wilderness.”

What a contrast!   It is said over 2 million came out of Egypt, yet only two adults were allowed to enter the Promised Land (Joshua and Caleb).    The blood of the Lamb, which had taken them out of Egypt, was irreversible.  They did not lose what they had, but they lost the reward God wanted to give to them.

Paul continues by drawing all of US into this lesson, “Now these things,” he writes, “occurred as examples for US”   Drawing a parallel between the Israelites redemption from Egypt and entering the Promised Land to the time between the Christians’ baptism and their resurrection, Paul wants US to be warned by these stories “so that we might desire evil as they did”.

And so the historic replay begins.

First we are taken to Mt. Sinai where we are warned, “do not become idolaters as some of them did”, referring to the golden calf the people made after growing weary waiting for Moses to return from his forty days on the mountain with God.  In their impatience and restlessness, they start to distrust God and Aaron, in his weakness, gives in and creates this idol which is celebrated with an orgy of eating and drinking.  The Corinthians, too, are guilty of idolatry through their temple feasts.

Idolatry is putting anything or anyone before God in our lives.  I confess, I do this all the time.  Whether it’s my family, my house or myself…the way I look, being right or in control. God isn’t always first, in fact is often 3rd or 4 on the list.  What about you?  What do you put before God in your life? (pause and let them think).  Falling away from Jesus isn’t just something that other people do.  The temptations and sins with which we grow comfortable – it’s really no big deal – can cause us to get distracted; even lost as we run this marathon of faith. And Paul wants us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well.  “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

After we leave Mt. Sinai, we are taken into the desert where sexual immorality is so prevalent we are told twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  I wonder how many pregnancies there are outside of wedlock; how many live together and never marry; how many abusive incestuous relationships;  how many people engage in sexual activities with one partner after another.  Like the Israelites AND the Corinthians, everywhere I look I see sexual immorality AND I see many of us…all of us, turning our heads and pretending we don’t see it; we  just accept it as common place in our society…that’s OUR sin.

Deeper into the wilderness, we are warned not to put God to the test. The history story is about complaining (none of us do that!). Complaining that God’s actions were inadequate even after God faithfully provided for them with the provisions of manna, quail and and water.   God’s response?  He sent serpents among them. Only those who listened to the Word of God and turned (repented!) and looked upon the serpent on the pole lived.  Any serpents living in your house, your community, our nation?  I got to tell you, personally, I think Donald Trump is one!  But he’s not alone and a lot of good people are getting bitten by the venom which spews forth from these serpents and they refuse to turn back and live. The Corinthians were also dissatisfied with God’s provision.  They were disgruntled with God’s servant leaders, dissatisfied with the Lord’s Supper by participating in pagan feasts, and were divided over class distinctions.  I remember the days of church fights over wine or grape juice; bread or wafers; kneeling or standing. And class distinctions? I think so when the top 50 people in the world  control $1.46 trillion; as much as 3.6 billion of the poorest people hold. Stunning and an every growing divide in our nation and the world.

Such dissatisfaction leads to complaining, doesn’t it?  We know it and Paul knew it. “ And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. “   This story is about a revolt within the camp against Aaron and Moses’ leadership.  Ironically, the revolt occurred within the tribe of Levi, those called to serve God’s tabernacle.  When the men refused to come to the Tabernacle to hear God’s word to them, God separates them, their families and those who chose to side with them from the rest of the community.  Then Moses said, “hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.  If these men die the common death of all men, then the Lord has not sent me.  But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord. (Numbers 16).  So, what do you think happened?  The ground under them opened and swallowed them up!

Complaining against God and God’s called out leaders is rampant in the church at large (BTW some of it is justifiable).  Complaining in general is also epidemic.  It’s always someone else’s fault; someone else’s problem; the government doesn’t do it right; the church doesn’t do it right; it’s the schools fault; it’s the parents fault; it’s the fault of those darned electronic devices; it’s the muslim’s fault, or the Mexicans or whoever is at fault today.  It’s so much easier to complain then to get involved and change things.  It’s so much easier to blame others than to take a good hard look in the mirror.

Paul moves us through this history lesson to instruct us, we who are called to finish the race and win the prize…to instruct us so that we don’t become arrogant in thinking we are so good, so holy, so close to God that we cannot possibly be overcome by sin, greed, immorality, complaining…

Paul begins his final thoughts, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall”.  Those who have great beginnings may still fall and ruin the latter days of their lives.  The child of God who thinks he/she has arrived is being set up the deceiver to be knocked down.

Fortunately, Paul ends with these words, “no temptation has overtake you but such is common to all people; and God is Faithful….hear that again and GOD IS FAITHFUL, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Temptation comes to everyone….no one is excluded.  But in this verse, Paul promises that God is faithful and will not allow any of us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear;   God is in the midst of temptation, providing roadsigns and people and God’s Word which point to ways to escape each temptation. Overcoming temptation is not a matter of simply sitting down on a sofa with a box of chocolates and telling God to make the way of escape from whatever sin is tempting us.  We are responsible to do our part as well.  Paul wants us to be victorious.  GOD wants us to be victorious.  God wants us to persevere; to run even when it is difficult and painful; to walk when we cannot run; and to trust that God is carrying us when we cannot walk.

Today as we put on Christ, we are putting on a mind that remembers the lessons taught and learned from our ancestors so we don’t have to repeat their mistakes. They didn’t fall away because they were more evil than we are. They didn’t fall away because God was stingy with his grace.  They fell away because they were convinced they never would.   They treated God as if he’d always stay waiting for them no matter how much they sinned, no matter how far they wandered, no matter how long they stayed away.

And so today as we put on Christ, we put on a good pair of running shoes, designed just for our feet, so that we are able to run the race of faith to the end, finishing well in obedience to God. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you begin, it only matter how you end.  And “it ain’t over til it’s over my friends.  AMEN

Lenten Season Message 3