Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Sermon Theme: “Don’t Chase Cats with a BB Gun!”
(Sources: Concordia Journal, Winter 2013; Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 23, Part 2, Series C)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we were kids, all of us were taught the proper use of a BB gun, weren’t we? I know I was, and I suspect that my daughter’s neighbor who lives across the street from her was, too.
This nice, gentlemanly middle-aged neighbor had a bad habit of chasing stray cats off his property with a BB gun, not something the neighbors were comfortable with. One day as he pursued a stray cat with his BB gun, it flew across the street to my daughter’s porch, my daughter opened the front door, he fired a pellet, and it shattered the glass in the front door. Better the glass than my daughter’s eye.
After that incident, the neighbor stopped shooting at cats with a BB gun, having learned the ramifications of doing something foolish like that.
In the Apostle Paul’s letters, he often gave good examples of what congregations were doing that showed their great faith and their caring about others; and those examples, I’m sure, inspired lukewarm congregations to do better.
However, in today’s sermon text, taken from his letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses Old Testament stories, examples from the past, as examples or warnings to the people. More often than not, bad examples speak louder than good examples. We learn from mistakes.
Paul begins today’s text by summarizing the gracious gifts God gave His people some 1300 years before he wrote this letter, — the gifts of escape, deliverance, guidance, manna, water, to name a few, — just as he gave the Corinthians gifts, and out of His grace He gives us good gifts.
The children of Israel experienced hard times as they trekked from Egypt to the promised land under Moses’s leadership. Through some of those times their faith remained rock solid, while at others, their faith shifted faster than the sand upon which they walked. Paul is convinced that Christians can learn from the bad times, and they can learn from the way people responded to them.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast. Many lives wee lost, billions of dollars of damage was sustained, and accusing fingers were pointed. Can we, like Paul, look back and ask ourselves, what lessons did Katrina teach us?
The lessons range from local to global. Aging levees, lack of adequate emergency plan, transportation problems, destructive construction practices in the flood plain which increases erosion and makes the coast more susceptible to flooding, are all issues, that when analyzed and addressed, will teach us how to prepare for future disasters. Globally, the increased use of fossil fuels with the possible result of global warming, some say, makes events like Katrina much more likely and frequent.
In the United States, it is a fact that preparedness for flooding is in the range of 100- to 200-year floods. (A 100-year event means an event has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year.) In the Netherlands, on the other hand, disaster preparedness if set at the 10,000-year level.
Have we learned from Israel’s forty-year march through the desert? Will we learn from Katrina?
Studying the past is like taking a survival course. The Israelites were faced with survival in the desert wilderness, but as Paul pointed out in the text, God provided all that was sufficient for the challenges they faced. By studying the Old Testament exodus, God is providing the Corinthians and us with a survival course, a survival manual you might say.
As a child growing up during World War II, I was fascinated with the survival kits provided to pilots or aviators as we still called them back then. The kits contained an amazing array of devices beneficial for support in a wide variety of circumstances and locales. Food, first aid kit, water, radio, flares, weapon, fishing equipment, and so on, all served as part of a very small packet that the aviator carried in his flight suit.
The role of the equipment was to supply necessities should the pilot find himself on the ground separated from support.
However, the equipment by itself was insufficient for survival unless pilots knew how to specifically utilize it. A survival course that taught aviators how to live off the land and survive in a hostile environment became a mandatory portion of military training.
In our Christian walk, we need a survival course, and that survival course is Holy Scriptures which we can take free in any Bible class or hear in just about any sermon in just about any church.
The problem with the Corinthians and the problem with us is the assumptions we make, some of the same assumptions the Israelites made. We make the assumption that we are standing firm. We are convinced we are right, and God’s blessings are on us because we are successful in our relationship with Him, and look at all the good things God has handed us like our fairly new snazzy fellowship hall! Shows that we’re right, doesn’t it! Ah ha, be careful!
Sounds like the Israelites, doesn’t it? Didn’t God rescue us from Egyptian slavery? Didn’t He drown Pharaoh’s army and spare us? Didn’t He provide us manna and water when we needed them?
Be careful that you don’t presume on God’s mercy, says Paul. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites didn’t remain obedient to Him. They got Aaron to let them build the golden calf! They were weak and yielded to temptations, they grumbled and groused constantly, — “we’re tired of eating manna!” God wasn’t pleased with them, and He scattered their dead bodies over the desert.
The Lord designed us for purity and faithfulness. Immorality greatly displeases Him. When the Bible promises us that God will not let us be tested beyond our endurance, it isn’t talking about general troubles. It’s talking about the tests which the Israelites failed when they built the golden calf, the test of idolatry being one.
And when they get to the promised land, those Israelites are going to face the test of pagan cults all around them, especially the fertility cults with their Temple prostitutes. Will Israelite men fail the test of sexual enticements from temple call girls? Many will. Will you and I fail the gross enticements of the modern world? Indeed, the Lord designed us for purity and faithfulness. Immorality greatly displeases Him.
Even though God moves in every moment to offer redemption and restoration, there are consequences to sin. We cannot soft pedal judgment, and yet God does not let judgment come simply as retribution. He always converts judgment into an opportunity for grace, otherwise Christ’s terrible suffering and death on the cross would have been totally pointless.
Because of His great love for us, God through Christ is always ready to forgive us, even when we chase cats with a BB gun. We are comforted to know that His grace triumphs condemnation. May we always keep the faith, He gives the grace. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.