1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
You Are In God's Hands
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
When I went to college, it was fashionable to sing the song, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands", in Christian gatherings. It is a nice song. It is useful in a mixed group of so-called Christians because everyone can insert their own theology into it and think that the song means something real. As I consider it today, I am not so certain that it does. Sure, it means that God has everything in His hands and under His care. It just doesn't actually say anything about who God is, or what He thinks of us, or why that should be comforting.
Actually, the song is a little deceptive. We think it is a song of faith, but it is merely a statement that someone is in control, and it is not us. Everyone and everything is in His hands equally and without distinction. There appears to be no grace in Jesus Christ, no church, no distinction between Jew and Moslem and Christian. "He's got everybody here in His hands" without regard for who is there, or what He has us in His hands to do. Christians simply imbue the "He" of the song with their own faith-ideas and go happily on without thinking what the song is saying - or not saying.
I only bring that up because our text says something similar. It indicates that God has you in His hands, but it also indicates who He is and what we might expect "in His hands". Our theme, this morning, is You Are In God's Hands.
In the last verse of our Epistle, Paul writes that "God is faithful". In the light of my critique of the familiar campfire song, you might be asking - in fact, you should be asking - what does that mean? My answer would be: this text doesn't say, but when we consider the rest of what Scriptures has taught us, it tells us that God will do what God has promised to do. The rest of the Epistle lessons tells us what God has promised to do, toward which the Apostle was pointing. Basically, in this context, "God is faithful" means that you are in God's hands.
Paul tells us that we have everything we need. "In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift." Among the Corinthians, this meant that God had provided them with people who understood the Gospel and the Scriptures, and were able to teach them clearly what God's Word said. For you, today, it means the same thing, although God has arranged the provision of these gifts in a different way. They had people who were possibly gifted by God with special knowledge and understanding - directly. Paul was one such person. He had knowledge when God called him. God merely gave Paul understanding about all that he knew that was from a different, divine perspective. Then Saul of Tarsus became the great Apostle Paul.
You have everything you need, by God's gift, too. God simply used The Bible - which didn't exist in its present form back then, and schools and church bodies to prepare men to teach you, and preach to you. Then He gave you His Holy Spirit, that you might believe. Every blessing of your life is God-given, so that you will be prepared to live in the Gospel and serve Him with your life and your possessions, whatever they may be.
Now Paul says that the Corinthians were awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. That should be our posture too. We should be eagerly awaiting His return. I suspect, however, that most of us are quite content to wait. We want to see our grandchildren grow up, or we have travel plans we would just as soon fulfill. I suspect that we may be waiting but somewhat less than eagerly. Salvation seems to be our fall-back position rather than our goal.
Mind you, I know that it is easy to get comfortable in a world of wealth and privilege, with excellent medical resources abounding for our health, and food of every sort available for our appetites, and transportation so easy that we can contemplate travel to almost anywhere on the earth that we might desire, and comfortable homes, and abundant clothing. God has so richly blessed us that we cannot imagine why anyone would want to leave this and go to heaven.
But, leave it all we must. Sooner or later, death will come a'calling. More to the point, we assume that what we want is what God wants for us. Our Synod does that when it touts every program as being blessed by God and assures us that if we only follow their plans, we will see unbridled success. But what if God doesn't want us to have that kind of success? What if His will for us is something more sublime and less agreeable to our flesh for a time? Do you, then, want what God wants?
God has given us everything that we need, so that we are not lacking in any gift. First of all, that means Jesus, and the Gospel. He has given us life everlasting, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He has rescued us from dangers about which we were barely conscious and not often terrified. The warning signs of the consequences of sin have been muted and pushed to the edges of our awareness by modern technology and medical science, and the abundant comforts of our country. God has given us everything we need, but we often don't pay much attention to needing those things because life is so good, and we tend to take God's gifts for granted.
But if we cannot see the need or sense the needs which Christ has fulfilled, we are simply being blinded by the world around us. Temptation still tempts us, and sin still threatens us, and death is still coming. Perhaps the disturbing news on the daily news programs is not the fault of the Republicans, or the Democrats, or even the crazy Islamists, but is the finger of God tapping on our shoulders, trying to awaken us to the immanent dangers which gather round us to threaten us, that we might find our peace and shelter in His salvation. Sometimes what we need is not another bit of comfort to lull us into sleep about spiritual things, but a sharp jolt to awaken us to the dangers of the world around us which have been masked by wealth and comfort. After all, God says that we are not lacking in any gift.
We have everything we need. We simply may not understand our need, or be willing to use what God has given us to meet our needs for His purposes instead of our own. We don't need another amusement, more time for frivolity, or another escape from the pressures of reality. We want those things, and we may want the next piece of technology that titillates us, or another visit with the kids or grandchildren. We want those things, and who can blame us? But what is it that we need?
We need to give thanks - heart-felt and honestly recognized thanks for the abundance with which God has filled our lives. We eat regularly. We dress well. We enjoy the finest health system in the world. Our families are large and generally healthy. We have time enough to get bored now and then. We need to find our connections with one another, so that we don't feel so alone at times. We need to learn to share our faith with confidence so that we can confess Christ to God's glory and to the blessing of those around us. We need to discover the truth of our corruption in sin so that we can be conscious of the honest value of the forgiveness which is ours in Christ.
Note that we have what we need to answer those needs in each of those situations I have mentioned. We have one another to be connected to. We have faith, and we have the knowledge of that faith to practice putting into our words with one another, so that it doesn't seem so strange when the opportunity comes to speak our faith to someone outside of the family. We have God's Word to read, and we can listen to our own consciences and see what we do that we ought not, and what we fail to do or say that we should - to be fully conscious of who we are and how precious the forgiveness of sins is. We even have the aches and pains of aging to remind us of the swift approach of death, and the delightful promise of resurrection to a life without pain or sorrow, sickness or death, forever!
We simply need to put the things we have been given to use to meet the needs we have. Paul tells us that God will confirm us to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. As long as we depend on God, and trust Him to do what He has promised to do, He will confirm us - that is cause us to stand firm in the faith and salvation which we have been given. He will cause you to stand forgiven - blameless - because that is the heart of the promise of the Gospel: forgiveness of sins. The secret is to keep your attention fixed on Him.
That's the problem with the comforts of modern life; they distract us. The flashing colors of the world around us draw our attention. The pleasures offered entice us. The comforts try to confuse us and convince us that there is no urgency to the faith, and no real dangers to be rescued from. Our eyes are drawn to what we can do and what we can have, and away from God as the Provider, and God as the Savior. We need to shake off the haze and wipe the cobwebs away and see reality for what it is, and focus once again on God as the author and giver of life and every good thing, and the Savior from sin and death and hell.
The thing is, we often don't know what we need - and we are not aware at all times of what God has given us to meet those needs. But St. Paul assures us that we have been provided with all that we need.
God knows the temptations and distractions we will face. He gives us His Word to remind us - and sends people like me to preach to you that you don't forget. God is faithful. He provides you with the heavenly food of the Sacrament to cleanse you, and to say to you that He has not forgotten you. He has filled you with His Spirit so that you might know the right things to do to cultivate faith and thanksgiving and a forward-looking hope in you. He places people around you for you to share the Gospel with so that by all means, some may come to the faith and be saved.
Paul describes these realities by saying that You have fellowship with Jesus because God called you. That fellowship is in His body by means of the Word and Sacrament, and joined with those who are seated around you. They are the ones who give you His greeting each time we gather, and to whom you can give your greeting for Him. It is in this fellowship and with the gifts He pours out on you here by means of His Word that God means to care for you in this life, and encourage you toward all that is blessed and salutary for faith and life in Him. Here and now, especially in the congregation and in His grace, you are in God's hands for blessing and strengthening and everything good which God has planned for you. You are in God's hands while we, too, eagerly await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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