Saturday, February 12, 2011

Epiphany 6 - 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 Deuteronomy 8:7-18 "His Holy Harvest"

In the Old Testament God promised to give the Israelites a new land. The land in which they dwelt was Egypt, a land of slavery and oppression. Having been freed from that place it seemed they went from the fry-pan into the fire. They found themselves wandering around in the Sinai wilderness, amongst snakes and sand. It seemed they found themselves between a rock and a hard face – a very hard place indeed.

But the Old Testament tells us of a promise made, that God would deliver them into a better place as the chosen race. He would give them an inheritance, a land of their own overflowing with milk and honey. And those he would deliver into this land of plenty would be a great nation, too numerous to count, as he had promised Abraham all those years before when he called him to look at the night sky and see his family numbered like the stars.

We know Abraham never saw the multitudes for himself. He only had one son, Isaac. Isaac too, never saw a large family. In fact, both of these men had wives who struggled to fall pregnant and have children, and the land in which they inhabited was not their own.

It was only when the land in which Isaac inhabited descended into drought and desolation that God began to grow Israel, but still only as a family. Jacob, and his wives and concubines, had a large family, but with no food it appeared they too would perish and die. If it was not for Joseph being sold into slavery and God raising him as Egypt’s second in charge, they would have surely become dust in death.

And so Jacob was the first to see a large family, but only after a series of severe testings throughout his life. He saw his family on the brink of starvation, he saw his family squabble and secretly sell one of his sons into slavery. And only in his last days did he see Joseph had survived and his family fed through God’s preservation. But was the land they were to inhabit the land of Egypt on the fertile Nile river?

We know it wasn’t, and for four hundred years it seems God goes quiet before he severs them from the slavish hell their lives had become in Egypt. Nevertheless, while they were there they grew as God had promised. From about seventy in the household of Jacob, saved from famine, not until after four hundred years and generations past, did they number like stars in the sky.

God delivered them through the Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness and God gave them the Law on Mount Sinai. Moses came down from the mountain with two stone tables and inscribed on them were Ten Commandments, given to guide the Israelites. They were commanded to look not to themselves but to the Lord. But what of God’s promise they would inhabit a land of their own? Moses tells the people…

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:7–18 ESV)

Can you imagine how they must have felt hearing this promise? Food and freedom; no more building bricks with mud and straw! Iron and copper, crops and vineyards, water and wealth; they were going to be masters in this land of promise and plenty.

Just like a child wide-eyed at the prospect of getting a gift, the Israelites promise to acknowledge the Lord, follow him adhering to the Law, and remember it was he who gave them power and wealth. “Yes Lord, o course we will listen to you, follow you, acknowledge you, and remain under your almighty guidance!”

However it seemed the Lord was a long time in coming good with his promise. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness just outside this place of plenty for forty years. For many it was a lifetime and most of them died never trusting God nor seeing the land of Canaan. God was again testing them and teaching them to trust him, his promises, and to follow him. If they weren’t going to follow him in the tough times how would they be able to do it in the good times?

So Israel’s promise is an inheritance of land. God grew the nation. He opened the wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel to do this. He carried them into Egypt and fed them, and while there he grew their numbers despite slavery and suffering.

He delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians, and made his presence known in the desert. And as they wandered in this wilderness he fed them, watered them, and increased their number and power. And then he delivered them into the land of plenty; a land flowing with milk and honey, an inheritance promised through adherence to the Law given on Mount Sinai.

What is God’s promise to you? What is God’s promise to us in his church? What is your inheritance?

Things are a little different from the days of the old covenant, the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments. Or are they?

Jesus Christ has come but the Law remains. In fact, he increases the Law. Do not murder, is increased! Now if you hate, you are guilty of murder. Settle your disputes lest the Law calls you to pay back “every” last penny! Just one look in lust and we’re guilty of adultery. And don’t make promises you can’t keep, by swearing or making oaths.

Jesus calls for impeccable thoughts, words, and deeds – to flee from all evil and acknowledge your lack of power. He says, “…do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:36–37 ESV)

And what of our inheritance? The Israelites received land through the promise and remained in it as long as they adhered to the Law. And the Law led them to remain faithful to God. The Law reminded them, focused them, and revealed the reality they faced in their hearts every day.

Our inheritance is not our farms, our gardens, the milk and honey, the wheat and barley, the bread and water which we take from the earth. These things are the things God gives us as we walk in this wilderness towards the inheritance promised in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, our struggle is still the same as that of the Israelites, the Corinthians, and every other person. Paul tells the church in Corinth…

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:1–14 ESV)

The greatest temptation we face today is doubt, worry, and pride. To believe God’s promise is not for us, to think our inheritance is what we work for now — our power, our time, and our possessions. We’re tempted and so often fail to trust God is in control, and seek to seize power for ourselves. We turn from God to the greatest idol in our lives; we the idolater become the idolatry. You and I set ourselves up as the great “I am” and our ego left to its own devices always turns to worry, doubt, and pride.

All of us are the same. All of us in this building, all in this generation, our parents, our children, all those we place on a pedestal and all we avoid in the gutter! Every temptation you face people have faced before, and they will be faced again. You have not been tempted by a temptation so great it can’t be resisted, or forgiven. God is still faithful and he provides a way out.

So what is the way out of our wilderness of sin? How do we depart from our deeds of destruction; the thoughts of temptation; and our testing times? What is our inheritance; our land of plenty?

It is not an inheritance here on earth, but rather this is the place of God’s harvest. Rather God wants us as his prize possessions. He longs to let his eternal glory rest on us as we rest in him. Yet in these days he calls us to let his glorified Son Jesus Christ, grow you into his kingdom.

St Paul says… I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6–9 ESV)

Your inheritance is you! God seeks to harvest you as he originally intended you to be; united with all in his kingdom as one before him!

Seek this heavenly holy fellowship. Soak up the water of God’s Word, be fertilised and fed in the body and blood of Christ. Allow yourself to repent; to be rebuilt through the testing times you face in this life. Let the Holy Spirit grow faith in you. You are God’s field, let him weed you! Be one in God’s holy house; let him build you as a believer. Let God grow you like grain, into his holy harvest gathered in Christ. Amen.