Septuagesima - 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5 - January 24, 2015

Septuagesima Sunday
Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #550 O Splendor God's Glory Bright
Hymn #377 Salvation Unto Us Has Come
Hymn 50 Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing

Readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
Matthew 20:1-16

Collect for Septuagesima
O Lord, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.Amen.

Sermon on the Epistle Lesson

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         St. Paul compares the Christian life to running a race. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Paul uses the analogy of athletics several times throughout his epistles because it is so fitting. In athletic competition there is a goal, the prize. If you want to compete for the prize you have to train and for the athlete, training is a lifestyle and a mindset. He says, Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. The athlete strives to one end: the prize. Their training, their diet, their habits, all their life is aimed at their goal. Like the Marathon runner, the triathlete, or the Olympian who must alter their entire lifestyle for the sake of the prize they seek, the Christian must exercise himself in the Word of God, prayer, and faith daily for the sake of their prize. The goal the Christian seeks is much more lasting and noble than a laurel wreath or a gold medal, for they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

2)         The imperishable crown which St. Paul holds out for us as our prize is everlasting life. The crown for which the Christian strives is everlasting life with Christ which is rewarded to all the faithful on the Last Day when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead. Writing to Timothy at the end of his life, Paul tells him, Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). The prize is perfect righteousness, the purity of being sinless sons and daughters of God in glory without the spot and blemish of sin. Now we enjoy the righteousness of Christ as our own possession by faith when we believe the Gospel.  On the Last Day we will experience it in our resurrected, glorified bodies. Imagine not being tainted with sin anymore. It’s impossible to imagine since we are conceived in sin and born as sinners. We are striving for something we have never been before and something we experience only by faith in this life. St. John writes of this prize in 1 John 3:2, Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. The crown is to be like Christ for eternity, without sin, without temptation, and in perfect glory. St. Peter writes that when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away (1 Peter 5:4), for it is not a prize that wears out or rusts, nor is it one of which we will grow tired and discontent. Christ Himself calls it a crown of life in Revelation 2:10 when He comforts the saints at Ephesus, Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. This is the prize the Christian seeks. This is the goal which we strive to attain, the crown of righteousness and life.

3)         This is why St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians, and you, to run in such a way that you may obtain it, because those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. This doesn’t mean that there is only one crown of righteousness and life to be awarded. Paul makes this comparison to stir us a lifestyle of self-denial and exercising in godliness, just as he writes in 1 Timothy 4:8,  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. Paul gives himself as our example in this training. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. What he is saying is this: “Even I, the teacher of the Gentiles, appointed by Christ Himself for this great task, can become disqualified from the prize of eternal life if I do not hold my sinful flesh in check and subdue my Old Adam, the sinful flesh. Even I, the Apostle of Christ, through whom Christ has worked so much, can be disqualified from the crown of righteousness if I allow myself to sluggish, indolent, and lazy regarding the faith, failing to exercise my God-given faith by using the Word.” Paul does not rest of his laurels and say, “I am saved, therefore it matters not how I live, if Christ has qualified me for the crown, I will always be qualified for the crown.” No. Paul understands that Christ will not disqualify him, but that he can disqualify himself through willful sinning and through willful neglect of the Word and the means of Grace. So He disciplines his body because the body is from whence the temptation for ease and laxity come. If Paul panders his flesh and gives his sinful flesh what it desires, he will disqualify himself from the running, just as an Olympian disqualifies himself by diverting from their diet and indulging his desires. That Olympian might appear to still be in the race, but inwardly he has disqualified himself through his sluggishness and thoughtlessness.

4)           Lest the Corinthians, and we, fall prey to the damnable idea that if men are once saved they are always saved, no matter how they run, Paul draws from the deep well of Israel’s history. Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. The Israelites at the time of the Exodus enjoyed God’s great salvation. The Lord rescued them from the iron furnace of Egypt. Their eyes saw the plagues as the power of God against Egypt’s idols. Their paths were led by the pillar of cloud by day and they were protected by the pillar of fire by night. They experienced the Gospel in visible, sacramental ways. They were baptized into Moses when they passed through the waters of the Red Sea. Christ fed them with manna from heaven. They drank from the rock. All of these sacraments of the Exodus Christ established for their physical as well as their spiritual life. These sacraments required faith if they were to be of any spiritual benefit. But most of the sons of Israel rebelled. They wanted to go back to Egypt to enjoy what they now considered to be the good life of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 11:5). Their flesh delighted in the delicacies of the world rather than the Word of God. The Old Adam in most of them would rather worship Baal Peor with his liturgy of sexual immorality than worship the true God through trust in His promises. So most of them did not make it into the Promised Land. Actually, only two of that generation survived. Joshua and Caleb ran in such a way as to obtain the prize, mortifying their desires and exercising their faith in God’s promise.

5)         Dear saints of God through faith in Christ Jesus, when you were been baptized in Christ you were united with Christ in a far better way than Israel was united with Moses. You are fed with bread from heaven, the Word and promises of God, which you feast upon spiritually by faith. You are even fed with the same flesh of Christ which was crucified, resurrected, and ascended for you and your salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Christ has qualified you for the crown of righteousness and everlasting life by giving you faith in the Gospel. You do not qualify yourself by your own merits and worthiness, your own churchliness or piety, nor for any other reason than that God has freely called you by His Gospel preaching and graciously planted and grown faith in your hearts. Christ, who has qualified you for eternal life in paradise without sin, will never disqualify you or disown you. But you can disqualify yourself. If St. Paul could disqualify himself and fall away from grace, so can you. If Israel can receive the precious promises of the land of Canaan and yet not enter through willful sinning, grumbling, and unbelief, then it is not far-fetched to think that we can slip from salvation as well. This is why St. Paul teaches you this analogy in this text. You are to be careful how you run, how you train, and how you fight. You must discipline your body, lest the lusts of the flesh, whatever those might be for you, overcome you. When temptation comes you must fight it with the promises of God and rely upon the Word solely, not your own will power or resolution. You must fight yourself in this, your own body, even your own mind at times because the entire flesh is tainted with sin. You must wage war against the desires of your flesh, the grumbling thoughts of unbelief, and the desire to be your own God, thinking you know what is best. You must fortify yourself with the Word, making that your daily diet.

6)         Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17) you must regularly hear the word, study it and meditate upon it. This is how God strengthens you for this race to which He has graciously called you. It is God’s will to strengthen, increase, and support you to the end by having you observe God’s word, pray diligently, and abide in God’s goodness, faithfully receiving the gifts He gives. It is also His will to defend you from the temptations of the devil in your great weakness and to rule over you by His grace. It is God’s will to lift you up when you stumble into sin and to graciously forgive you when you repent and confess your sins. It is His will to preserve you in the truth faith unto life everlasting by putting His body and blood upon your lips so that you receive them by faith for the strengthening of your conscience and the fortification of your spirit. Paul’s point is very clear: don’t neglect faith in the Word. Don’t neglect the sacraments since these are the means by which Christ feeds you and strengthens you to endure under every cross and temptation. Do not neglect your study of the Scripture, individually and corporately, since man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Christ, who has begun this good work in you, has promised to bring it to completion through His Word and Sacraments, giving you the crown of righteousness on the Last Day. So run thus: not with uncertainty. Fight thus: not as one who boxers the air. Rather mortify your Old Adam, starve Him out daily, and feed the New Man of faith in Christ with the food which Christ gives you in His means of grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments. Run and fight thus, for you know your prize, the crown of righteousness and everlasting life with Christ. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Popular posts from this blog

Judica, the 5th Sunday in Lent + Psalm 43:1-3 + April 2, 2017

9th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 16:1-9 + July 24, 2016

Exaui, the 6th Sunday after Easter + John 15:26-16:4 + May 28, 2017