“We Need a Change”
Epiphany 6, February 12, 2017
Changed to Be Growing
Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1–9
What do we all know about babies? They’re cute. They are a tax deduction. They cry a lot. They don’t sleep enough at night. We shouldn’t let them grow up to be cowboys. And they need a change. Now and then, pretty regularly, every baby needs a change. While I figure none of us can remember, we’ve all been there; we all needed changing back in the day. And many of us have been on the other end, doing the changing and all the threats and tension that provides. A baby can’t change himself. Oh, they grow out of it. But in the meantime, if babies are going to grow up and be healthy, they need a change.
In our text for this Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, St. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that they’re babies, still spiritual babies. And if they’re babies, you know what that means: babies need a change. If they’re going to grow up spiritually, they need a change. Fortunately, St. Paul also tells the Corinthians—and us—that God Gives Us the Change We Need to Grow.
Hearing this text today is not the first time we are changed spiritually. For many of us we were changed years ago. The fact is, every Christian has already been changed. Every human being is conceived and born in sin—an adorable little baby who nevertheless inside is a spitting, spiting hater, and an enemy of God. But when a soul becomes a believer in Christ Jesus, when the Holy Spirit does His thing in here, a new person is created inside who loves God, fears God, and trusts God above all things. That’s every Christian.
That was St. Paul and the Christians in Corinth. There had been a great change in Saul: from his former way of life, a guy who pursued and persecuted believers to being one of the great evangelists in the history of the Church. There had been a change in the Corinthians. They had been hedonistic, heathen, pagans and then they heard and believed the Gospel that changes people, so that Paul addressed them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). This change had happened by the Holy Spirit working through the ministry of two men, Paul and Apollos: “servants through whom you believed” (v 5). Each had preached the Gospel that changes people so miraculously.
So how are we like the people of Corinth? We are changed by the Good News! Now I realize today that I am talking to a bunch of Lutherans. Our denomination, and its members, are not known for flexibility and adopting the latest trends. You have all heard the ‘change” jokes we like to tell ourselves about ourselves. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Change? I ran across two other good ones this week… How many fishermen does it take to change a light bulb? One, but you should have seen the size of that light bulb! How many optometrists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, or two? One, or two? Sorry. As a Church, we are not usually into change. In certain areas of my life, I’m not a big fan of change, either. One example: when the furniture is arranged in our home, its place has been determined. It doesn’t need to be moved twice a year or every five years, or ever! Erica will tell you once we have everything where it is good, I want to just leave it!
While we note that God changed us in our baptism and made us His, we need another change. Just as change was still needed in the congregation at Corinth (vv 1–4). Change was needed so there could be growth: from mother’s milk to solid food, from people of the flesh to people of the Spirit. There were still those sinful rivalries in the church—factions for Paul or Apollos, members against one another, though Paul and Apollos themselves weren’t divided at all. Many folks in the Church at Corinth were acting like baby Christians. They still needed to grow up.
So how are we like the people of Corinth? We are changed already by the Good News, and we still need to be changed, right? No matter how mature we think we are, we all have some growing up to do, don’t we? Are we ever jealous? Do we have rivalries? Do we lie? Do we gossip? Do we envy? Do we hate? Do we covet/wish we had something that we shouldn’t have? Do we lust? Do we do things or say things that encourage our families or our congregation to take sides or be divided? That’s behaving only in a fleshly, human, not spiritual way. These sins that separate us from God and one another—even in the church—are evidence that we’re still babies! We all need to grow up. We, too, are people of the flesh who need to hear that one became flesh for all people.
We need to grow. We need a change. And the Son of God made the change we need. Jesus Christ, the unchanging God, became one of us to take care of this little problem of ours with jealousy, and strife, and lying, and gossiping, and envying, and hating, and coveting and lusting and all such human behaviors better known as sin.
And since “each will receive his wages according to his labor” (v 8b), we rejoice in what our Savior Jesus has done for us:
1. For the wage of His labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness.
2. And the wage of His labor in (and out of) the grave is new and never-ending life.
3. Even more: these wages, these gifts, of Jesus’ cross and His open tomb are delivered to us in the simple water and strong Word of Holy Baptism and the Supper of our Lord’s very body and blood.
This is the food we babies need to grow. Here’s what I am talking about. Hunger and malnutrition are serious issues in the United States and around the world. Some 8.5 million Americans experience hunger on a daily basis, while 17 million children worldwide suffer from acute malnutrition. Without sufficient food, without sufficient nutrients, and without sufficient protein, there will be growth failure. We need to receive on a regular basis the Food of this Meal and the Word of God.
St. Paul addresses spiritual malnutrition in 1 Corinthians 3. The Christians in Corinth should have moved from mother’s milk to solid food (3:2). The fact that there were still jealousy and rivalries among them demonstrated that they needed the one food that nourishes peace and harmony—the same food we need to be fed—the rich nutrients of the Gospel: forgiveness, life, salvation.
This is how God changes us. Only God can give this change! And when God changes us, we grow (vv 5–6). There is growth beyond divisions when Paul and Apollos, and the man standing in front of you, are seen not as something in and of themselves, but as the Lord’s servants. There is growth after watering and planting. Servants/Pastors do this work, as well as teachers and parents and anyone who teaches anyone about Jesus. And after we do this work, we servants wait with patience (vv 7–9). And, just as God gives growth in His creation, so He is the source of growth in His new creation, the Church. For the Church is God’s field! God is always about change. God is always about growth.
In many parts of the country, it’s not even close to planting time Fields and gardens have not been plowed or tilled to receive seeds. But even though it’s February, it is planting and watering time. The Epiphany season—a time to consider and commit to Christ’s mission for His Church—is always a time for God to give growth. And the Church faithfully sows the seed of Christ’s Gospel and faithfully waters what is planted, that the harvest will be greater and greater. For this truth must be affirmed and celebrated (v 7b): It is “only God who gives the growth.” We aren’t ready for harvest yet. We all need to grow. And only God makes the change.
Adapted from a Sermon in Concordia Pulpit Helps, Vol. 27, Part 1.