Let us pray: Your glory and power, O God, surround us in the sanctuary. We lift up our hands and call on your name. We are your people, thirsty for the living water you alone can give. When we consider how you have helped us, giving us a spring that gushes up to eternal life, we cling to you, singing praises with joyful lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.[1]

Throughout my life, the season of Lent has been viewed much like a second chance at keeping the resolution we made at the beginning of the year. People ask one another, “What did you give up for Lent?” as commonly as we ask, “What is your New Year’s Resolution?” While the responses vary, they also share a common element. They usually have to do with one’s personal behavior. Some people, who enjoy desserts, give up chocolate or sweets; some people give up soda, pop, or coke (depending on the part of the country you are from); some people give up beer and/or alcohol for Lent; and in this age of easily accessible technology, some people give up television or social media. While none of these examples is bad, they are all incomplete. They are all incomplete because each of these examples rely heavily on the individual to maintain the will-power and self-control to not indulge.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.[2]

It is, appropriate, then, that on this third Sunday of Lent, half-way through a time of preparation, fasting and penance, that we receive these words of instruction from the apostle Paul, to the church at Corinth. This passage serves to remind us of the covenant we have made with God through our baptism, and God’s faithfulness to us. Prior to our text today, Paul warns the church not to eat food sacrificed to idols. It is not that Paul or the church at Corinth believed the food was anything other than consumable food, but Paul reminds the church that they are a living witness for Christ, and that they have a responsibility to act with love and self-discipline both as individuals and as a community who proclaims the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 8:1-13 [NRSV]). As Paul begins this section of his letter to the Corinthians, he uses the imagery of the Exodus to remind the church of its history and adoption into the family of God. Paul recounts how God provided a cloud of protection; how God split the waters so that the Hebrew people might cross through the sea, how they all received manna from heaven and water from the rock that Moses struck (10:1-4), and even though God was faithful during this time, Paul warns that most of those who traveled in the wilderness for 40 years never made it to the land that was promised. Paul holds up this example to the church at Corinth and says, “Learn from this example.” Throughout, the 40 years, the Hebrew people grumbled and complained to Moses. “Why did you bring us out here, so we could all die?” “We’re hungry. We’re thirsty.” As Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with the commandments given by God, he came down to find that the Hebrew people, under the watch of Aaron, had melted their possessions and formed golden calves to present as an offering. While God is a God of provision and faithfulness, Paul exhorts, humanity continues to look after its own interest first, and to God when all else fails.

Paul is reminding the church at Corinth that they too are a community of imperfect people in a covenant relationship with a perfect, good, and just God through Christ. Paul is not listing out the literal faults of the community, but is reminding them that any human being whose confidence is in one’s self is subject to temptation. Paul is reminding the church of Corinth that once people made it to the promised land, they began to look after their own interests, instead of seeking God’s interest. They began to plan and build instead of praying and waiting for God to lead. In other words, those in the Promised Land lived as if all of the provisions God provided were done for the survival of the Hebrew people rather than for the praise and glory of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Paul is pushing the church at Corinth to think beyond their individual selves: to think beyond trying to prove their worthiness through their social class positions in the community. At the same time, though, Paul is pushing the church of Corinth to stop looking inward and becoming focused on itself. Paul reminds us that we as a church community can also be easily tempted to focus our attention inward: to focus our resources, our time, and our energy maintaining the church. Paul reminds us that we become susceptible to preserving our own name and place in history, and when we do, we lose sight of the reason we exist as a church in the first place: to share and to proclaim the love God has given to each and every person through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.

In this season of Lent in which converts prepared for baptism, Paul calls us to re-examine the vows that were made us in our baptism, the vows we made when we were baptized, and the vows we make when we covenant with each person who comes before us to be baptized. We are called to remember that the act of baptism is not our Get out of Jail Free card. Because we are baptized does not give us free reign to do and think and say what we want because we have the assurance of God’s salvation. Rather, because we have been baptized, our response is one of gratitude that is manifested in demonstrating love and care for others. Our response is one in which it is Christ that others see when we speak and when we act, and not our own selves.

The good news for us on this Sunday, this little Easter, is that even when we forget and neglect our baptismal covenant, God is faithful. God desires nothing more and nothing less than a relationship with each one of us, and we can only respond to God’s invitation of relationship and covenant when we stop relying on our own will-power and start trusting in God to provide us this day and each day with exactly what is needed. As one of our church’s creeds declares:

We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and   make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the church: to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and              our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.    Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1]               Long, Kimberly Bracken (ed.) Feasting on the Word, Worship Companion, Year C, Vol.1, (2012) Westminster John Knox Press, 114.

[2]               The United Methodist Book of Worship, p.320