6th Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
I Corinthians 3:1-9
February 16, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
Do you know one of the most hated words in the English language, and probably hated in all other languages too? It’s change. People just don’t like to change. One expert says that when confronted with change, ten percent of people will respond enthusiastically, ten percent will respond in a way that makes the change worse, and eighty percent will do nothing at all. That’s a lot of people reluctant to change! I can’t deny it, I probably fit into the eighty percent category, as I’m guess a lot of you are as well. Change brings about uncertainty, and maybe, a little bit of fear. We just don’t know what the change is going to do to us, and that’s really what it’s all about, how is this change going to affect me. I think we would all agree though that some change is good, and Paul talks about that in his first letter to the Corinthian church. The change that Paul is talking about is the change within ourselves, a change that allows us to grow, a change brought about by God.
While you’re frequently, or always, resistant to change, there is one change that you’ve all experienced, and that’s the one brought about by your baptism. As cute and as innocent that all babies are, they’re still rotten to the core. King David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Paul says in Ephesians that we are all, by nature, children of wrath and this means simply that all of us from birth hate God. Just by being conceived and born, we’re God’s enemies; we don’t want anything to do with Him, and He shouldn’t want to have anything to do with us. But He does!
When you are baptized and brought to faith, you are reborn and recreated. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” When you’re brought to faith, you no longer hate God! As Paul also says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You’re old sinful, hateful self is killed and in its place comes one loves and trusts in God above all things. That describes every Christian, including you! Now nobody can deny that precious, baptized babies still act out, precious baptized adults still fall into their sinful habits and turn their backs on their identity as Christians. That doesn’t change the fact though that God still loves you and when you repent, when you turn back to Him in sorrow over your sins, you are forgiven! Completely and totally forgiven! God’s forgiveness and your baptism lead you to be changed into someone who fights against sin and temptations, wherever and whenever they find you.
Look at Saint Paul for instance. He hated Christ, he arrested Christians and when they were executed and imprisoned, he heartily approved. But when the time was right, Jesus appeared to Paul and changed him. Paul didn’t persecute Christians anymore, he was one! He was a missionary who was zealous for Christ, and in the beginning so many doubted he’d been changed, but he was, and they praised God. The Christians in the Corinthian church were changed as well. They went from being sexually immoral idol worshippers who loved their sins to those whom Paul called, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” Their faith changed them into people who loved God and served Him with their whole hearts!
It would be great if this is where the story ended, sadly it isn’t. Paul describes their situation, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” Some of the Corinthians had slid back into their sinful ways, and others had stirred up dissension with sinful rivalries; some followed Paul and others Apollos, even though the two men taught the exact same things! The Corinthians had latched on to a teacher, and the rivalries, the clinging to the past, led them to sin against fellow Christian brothers and sisters.
Are we like the Corinthians? Of course we are! Change isn’t often welcome, especially here in church, but it’s here in church that I remind you that you are changed. God in His grace has done all that is necessary for you to enter Eternal Life. It’s also here in church that I must remind you that there’s some change that’s still needed. Change is needed as you grow in your faith, as you move from your sinful, human desires to being filled by the Holy Spirit. Are we jealous or petty? Are we unforgiving or unloving? Are we mean-spirited or badmouthing? Are we judgmental or blind to our own sins? Sure we are! This is behaving only in a fleshly, human, not spiritual way. This is behaving like the world and not like Christians! These sins that separate us from God and one another, even in the church, are evidence we’re still babies!
Like the Corinthians we are people of the flesh who need to hear that One became flesh for all people. The One is the Son of God who made the change that we need. Christ, the unchanging God, become flesh for all jealousy, for all strife, for anger, hurtful words and behaviors, and for all who are behaving only in a human way. Jesus, the perfect Son of God who had no rivalries or sin, who had the perfect flesh and had no need to change did for us what we cannot do. Even still, in His perfection, He died so that you are completely forgiven. And He gives you these gifts, of Jesus’ cross and his open tomb, in the simple water and strong Word of Holy Baptism and the Supper of our Lord’s very body and blood.
Hunger and malnutrition are serious issues in the United States and around the world. Without sufficient food, without sufficient nutrients, and without sufficient protein, there can’t be growth; people will waste away and their growth will slow and be non-existent. Without adequately feeding on God’s gifts to us, forgiveness, life, salvation we’re not going to grow! So, God offers us this food and invites us to come to Him and have our hunger satisfied. And the more we eat of this food, we will in the words of Paul move from the milk offered to babies to the solid food that increases our faith and challenges us to push beyond our sinful desires to live as men and women and children changed by God.
God used Paul, Apollos, Peter and a whole bunch of men and women to plant churches and preach the Gospel of Jesus. They only planted though because God alone is the source of growth in His new creation, the Church and each of you. Caterpillars can’t change themselves into butterflies. Tadpoles can’t change themselves into frogs. Fertilized eggs can’t turn themselves into tiny humans. Sinful human beings can’t change themselves into God-fearing and God-loving people. God is the producer of change, and He has changed you! Change isn’t fun or enjoyable or welcomed by everyone and some resist it. But the change that God has brought about in you, is more than fun or enjoyable, it’s powerfully transformative. It moves you from hater of God to faithful disciples. Embrace the change! Embrace the growth! And know that the change in you isn’t just for now, it’s for everyday and into eternity.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen