We humans have a strange relationship with ‘clinging’ to things. When we’re little kids, we cling to our fathers and mothers. If you know anything about kids, you know that that first day of school is always the hardest. Any time a young child goes through some new experience, they always have to go through a kind of internal struggle. Do I put on a brave face and try out something for the first time? Or do I run back to mom with frightful tears in my eyes. I’ve coached soccer camp and taught preschoolers enough times to know that the scenario of a crying kids is much more likely to happen.
As we get older, we like to think that we grow out of this ‘clinging’ phase. Being independent is a mark of adulthood. You get your first car and don’t have to ask dad for a ride anymore. You move out of the house and have to figure out how to buy groceries and do laundry all on your own. You get married and have to figure out how to raise and support a family.
But even though we pride ourselves on independence, we never really grow out of clinging to things. Some people cling to harmful stuff, like drugs or alcohol. Some cling to objects, like money or a house or a car. Lots of people cling to something more abstract though. They cling to ideologies or ideas that tell them how to lead the best life possible, how to make up for their wasted youth, or how to maximize their happiness while they’re here on earth.
People cling to things because they realize they can’t get through life on their own. Whether they’re conscious of it or blissfully unaware, we all need to cling to something. And we need to make sure we’re clinging to the right things. In our lesson the Second Lesson for today, Paul addresses the Corinthians. He shows them their ancestors, the ancient Israelites, and how they help onto to God as he carried them through the desert.
Just because the Israelites held onto to God didn’t mean they couldn’t fall away. The history of Israel in the desert is one tragic incident after another: tragic incidents of Israelites who stopped clinging to God and lost their lives in the desert.
Paul warns us in this section to not stop clinging to God like the Israelites stopped clinging. He says don’t stop clinging to God because we’re still wandering on a journey through earth. Falling away is a very real possibility. He says don’t stop clinging to God because God has promised to hold onto us firmly until he brings us safely to him in heaven. In this section Paul tells us to…
Cling to Your Faithful God
1. Look to examples from the past
2. See what God can do for you today
Paul’s listeners in Corinth would have been very familiar with the Old Testament nation of Israel. Many of the Christians in Corinth were descended from these people. Many of them had learned the stories and accounts of the Israelites from a very early age in the synagogue. It was very fitting of Paul to use the example of the Israelites to instruct the Corinthians on their current situation.
The first example Paul makes is that the Israelites shared the same faith as the Corinthians. Paul writes that “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” The Israelites had the same faith the Corinthians did. They knew that they had a Savior from their sins. They may not have known when he was going to come to earth, or that his name was going to be Jesus, but they knew they had a Savior. They had a rock to cling to as they wandered through the desert.
But even though the Israelites had the same faith as the Corinthians, many of them didn’t make it through the desert. Paul says, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” If the Israelites had the same faith as the Corinthians did, and that same faith we do, why wasn’t God pleased with them?
The reason God wasn’t pleased with them is because they stopped clinging to God. They set their hearts on evil things instead. They turned away from God’s love and mercy. They followed after their own gods that they’d made with their own hands. Paul used the Israelites as an example the Corinthians should learn from
The Israelites were an example, but they were also a warning. They were a warning of what could very easily happen to someone who had faith. They were a warning that falling away is always a very real possibility. Just because God had been faithful to the Israelites didn’t mean that the Israelites couldn’t lose their grip on the God who loved them.
As Paul keeps writing, we learn the reason the Israelites lost their grip on God. They lost their grip on God’s promise because they didn’t realize how serious God was about sin. Paul recounts three major accounts from Israel’s history where the Israelites fell into sin. He says, “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.” God is serious enough about sin that he made an example of the Israelites by taking their lives.
And, if we fall away from Christ like the Israelites did, God has the same message for us. When we look at our own lives, we see that we’re really no better than the Israelites were. We’ve all had sexually immoral thoughts. We’ve all tested Christ. We’ve all grumbled against God. Jesus makes this same point in our Gospel for today when he says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” God takes sin seriously.
Even thought the Israelites lived over 3000 years ago, our current situation isn’t really all that different from theirs. In a very real way, we’re still wandering through the desert. Our life here on earth is characterized and defined by having to constantly fight temptations. We’re assaulted every day by modern-day idols that try to take our focus away from God and his Son Jesus.
But like the Israelites, we also have the knowledge of our Savior. We know we have the forgiveness from these sins, and a home waiting for us when we complete our journey to heaven. It’s just that it can be so hard to hold on when the promises the world gives us look so good.
We might not be making ourselves golden calves, but that doesn’t mean gold can’t still become an idol for us. Money gets in the way of our faith a lot. The prospect of getting more money at work can really tap into our sinful greed. Making more money can become the focus of our heart. Do you always remember that it’s God who gives you the money you have? Do you always use that money as faithfully and wisely as God wants you too? I know I don’t, and I’m guessing you don’t either.
The same thing goes for sexual immorality. Just a quick 5 minute scan of anything on television shows us that this is a huge issue in our world today. I don’t mean to sound like I’m being old fashioned, but there’s a lot of stuff out there that goes against the Sixth Commandment. And ever since the rise of the internet, pornography has become a huge struggle for lots and lots of people. Our lives today aren’t that different from those of the ancient Israelites, are they?
So what do we cling to amid all of these temptations? Do we act like the world and try to keep chasing the next thing that will give our lives meaning? Do we follow the example of the Israelites and try to craft our own idols out of what this world gives us? Clinging to these things is like holding onto sand when the waves of Lake Michigan are pulling you. The sand just gets washed out from under your fingers, and you’re pulled back into the water.
We cling to God’s promises. We cling to the gospel in the Word and the sacraments. We cling to the washing God’s given us through our baptism. We take a firm hold of the forgiveness Jesus offers us through his body and blood every time we take communion. We take a firm stand on what the Bible says about our eternal life in heaven.
Like the Corinthians, we get told to cling to this and that. We see people clinging to all sorts of foolish things that give us no hope for eternal life or forgiveness. Like the Corinthians, we also need to learn to cling to God like a child clings to its mother. In the next section, Paul warns us, but he also encourages us to remember that God is faithful, even when we aren’t.
Paul says that he wrote about the Israelites because, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” Paul wrote about the Israelites because the Corinthians were living in the time that the Israelites were looking for. We’re living in the End Times, and we need to be on our guard, so that we don’t fall away like many of the Israelites did.
Paul doesn’t want us to get too cocky about our current situation. He says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” The Israelites probably thought they were doing alright, right? They’d seen God lead them out of Egypt in a cloud and in fire, yet before they’d even entered the Promised Land, they had turned their backs on God’s promises. We need to cling to God’s promises to make sure we don’t end up like the Israelites. We also need to be careful that we don’t fall into the many temptations this world throws at us.
That kind of sounds like a lot to handle though, doesn’t it? How are we supposed to stand firm against temptation when God’s own chosen people weren’t able to do it? That is what Paul covers in the final section of our lesson for today. He writes, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
Everyone gets tempted by sin. Everyone falls into temptation sometimes. It’s just something we have to deal with when we have this Old Adam living inside of us. And every time we fall down, God picks us back up because of what Jesus has done for us. He gives us a way out too. He gives us a weapon in the fight against the devil. He gives us his Word. In God’s Word we find all the promise and reassurance we need to resist temptation.
We have our own examples today too, don’t we? We have faithful pastors and teachers who help show us how we can cling to God’s promises. We have fellow Christian brothers and sisters who help encourage and support us through our struggles with temptation. We have a Savior who was tempted by Satan himself, yet resisted and went on to save us from our sins.
When hard times come, when the world seems like it’s closing in around us, these examples all help point our eyes to what we really need to hold on to. They help refocus our eyes and Christ, and the things he’s promised us in his Word.
We aren’t always faithful to God, but we have a God who is always faithful to us. Even when we fall down, God asks that we return to him. God stretches out his hand and grasps us firmly every time we stumble. The way God does this is through his Word and the Sacraments. The Holy Spirit took a firm grip on us when we were baptized. When we hear God’s Word or receive communion, he strengthens and renews the hold he has on us. This is the kind of faithful God we have. We have a God who gives us something to hold on to. And what we cling to most is the Son he sent to save us. Jesus carried our sins for 33 years, all the way to the cross. He carried those sins as he died to save us, and he rose again on Easter Sunday to assure that our sins were covered over.
People cling to all sorts of things. Some of these things are good, like a child clinging to his mother on the first day of school, or a husband clinging to his wife when a parent dies. But a lot of things people cling to need to be avoided at all costs. Remember the faithful God you have. Grab on to the promises he gives you. Hold on to them like a child, because we are all children of God. Amen.