Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One motto of the Reformation was "by grace alone". Dr. Martin Luther asserted against the hierarchy of the church in Rome that we are saved only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Also we are justified by faith alone in Christ and Scripture is the only rule of faith.
Salvation is a gift from God. We can not 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 the third day. We can not 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, neither 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 have salvation, the promise of eternal life, as a gift of God.
So, why we do we find the subject of competition in our readings for today? Where is the competition in the kingdom of God if all receive salvation by grace?
In 1 Corinthians 9: 24-10: 5, Paul says: "Know ye not that they which run 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.
In addition, "All who compete abstain from all things: and they, in truth, to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. "
He is talking about boxing and training as a boxer. How does a boxer prepare for the fight? Does he drink beer, eat plenty of food, take it easy? No. He abstains from these things to prepare his body for the fight. So Paul says we must be prepared as an athlete for a 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 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.
Of course, those who came early murmured. "These last worked only one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us who have borne the burden and heat of the day."
But the owner replied, "Friend, I do thee no wrong: Do not you contract with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go; : I will give unto this last, as I do 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 convertedas 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 in Chapter 10: "Moreover, 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 meat; 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."
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 them all food 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 died in the desert.
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 sacrament. All believers have received the same gifts of baptism and the sacrament, but not everyone will win the prize of eternal life.
Why not? Because this things are not magic tricks. We should not think if we have received baptism and first communion, there is no more need to think of God's kingdom. We must remain in the faith, continuing to receive the strengthening of our faith by Word and sacrament. We can not 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 athletes, we are members of a team, the church. We are together in the fight to remain in the faith to eternal life. In the kingdom of God, there is no competition against other people, but to avoid the snares of the devil. It is possible to lose the promise if we despise the Word of God. But if we stay together with others in the struggle in this earthly life, and with God's help, we can remain to the end. Therefore, we hope and peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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