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Without doubt, by grace alone

1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5

Pastor David Ernst

Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

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Sun, Jan 31, 2021 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The theme of our readings for today is the role of divine grace, God's unmerited favor for us, in our daily lives. In the Old Testament reading (Exodus 17: 1-7), the people challenged Moses, but they actually rebelled against the Lord. The substance of his complaint was his doubt as to the merciful presence of the Lord. But, the Lord in mercy gave them water from a rock.

In the parable of the vineyard, all the workers received the same pay, no matter how many hours they worked in the field. "Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with mine? Or is your eye bad because I am good?" said the owner of the vineyard. Notice: The complainers were the ones who thought they deserved more than the rest. Those who had spent most of the day without work were grateful for what they received. The vineyard symbolizes the kingdom of grace, where no one works for what he deserves, but for what he receives by the grace of the Lord, that is, eternal life. All the workers received a promise and reward. Let us receive this promise at baptism and it does not matter, then, whether we receive baptism as children or adults, or whether we live six or sixty years after baptism. Eternal life begins with baptism.

Saint Paul went deeper with this theme in the epistle. He uses the example of the Isthmian Games, which occurred every three years in Corinth, for illustration. "Don't you know that those who run in the stadium all run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way that you get it. And everyone who fights, refrains from everything; and they, indeed, to receive a corruptible crown; but we are incorruptible. " Wait. The incorruptible crown is for everyone, right? We are saved by grace, not by our own efforts. Sure you do, but to receive the crown, you must finish the race. Our career, the Christian life, is not a competition against others. As the parable of the vineyard says, we should not make comparisons between ourselves and other Christians. The athlete trains his body to persevere to the end and so do we. Sometimes this training will be physical as well as spiritual, so that we learn self-control. Earthly life for us is a fight against our nature and the devil as well. We can lose our way and the prize.

To prove this point, Paul returns to the Israelites in the desert. Of the generation of adults that left the land of Egypt, only two, Joshua and Caleb, entered the Promised Land. When the children of Israel came out of Egypt, the land of their bondage, all without exception escaped bondage. Through the cloud and the sea, God saved his people from Pharaoh's tyranny and led them to freedom. And so God, through baptism, frees us from the power of Satan and transfers us to his kingdom, to be his children free and blessed forever. By saying that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses, the apostle means that they entered into an intimate relationship or communion with Moses, as the mediator of the divine manifestations; they assumed the obligation to follow him faithfully as the leader that God had given them, just as a baptized believer in Christ makes him the great leader of his life.

But the recital of God's mercies to the Israelites is by no means exhausted: And they all ate the same spiritual food, and they all drank the same spiritual drink. That was the way his life was sustained. They all ate spiritual food, food from heaven, manna given by God for this exclusive purpose. Not once, but twice, they were given water to drink from a rock, by an obvious miracle of the Lord. However, both food and drink were not intended merely for the maintenance of physical life, but also for the sustenance of spiritual life. In this respect, the food and drink of the Eucharist are adequate and equally superior antitypes to the miraculous food and drink of Israel in the desert. Now, as then, it is the Word of God that makes the spiritual nourishment effective. The miraculous water is further explained by Moses: Because they were drinking, throughout the course of their journey through the desert, from the spiritual Rock that accompanied them; but that Rock was Christ. As their mouths participated in the water flowing at their feet, their spirits were refreshed by faith in Christ, present with them as the Rock of his salvation.

For us, the comfort of the gospel is the promise of eternal life not dependent on our merits. Even if we complain and have doubts, God is patient and merciful. But if we remain in the attitude of ingratitude and rebellion, on that day we will receive what is just, condemnation. If we do not despise the Word of God and treat it as the priceless gift that it is, we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

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