Sunday, March 3, 2013

Slow Cooked--1 Corinthians 10:1-13


How does smoked meat taste so good? Recently, I wanted to know a bit more about the process of smoking meat. There are plenty of articles, and I could have read one to learn more, instead I called Stacey Moss, who makes her living smoking meat at Savannah Joe's restaurant. She explained the process to me like this:

They begin with a Boston butt, a cut of pork that comes from the upper shoulder, and she said, the cut matters; it has to be a premium cut. They dry wrap it and season it before the process even begins. Then, they place the meat on the smoker in the evening and let it go all night. They use hickory wood to smoke the meat at 225 degrees. There is an electric rotisserie to rotate the meat, and the whole process involves great patience while the low heat slowly cooks the meat.

What does smoking meat have to do with 1 Corinthians 10? Our Lenten journey? Or, our Christian faith? In this passage, we have a negative example--one to avoid. When we look at examples of how we should live out our faith journeys, we can have either positive or negative examples. This one is negative, but it doesn't happen instantly. It happens over time, just the slow cooking process. The people at the church in Corinth who first read this letter were on a journey, and they heard about the way their ancestors acted. Learning about their past helped them live out their faith in the present; it works for us too.

It was George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In 10:1, the references to being "under a cloud" and "passing through the sea" were about the Exodus. The Hebrew people were in Egypt and God delivered them, guiding them with a cloud and allowing them to pass through the sea. In v. 2, they were baptized into Moses through these experiences. Then, it says in v. 3, they ate spiritual food; this is a reference to the manna in the wilderness. V. 4 speaks of a spiritual drink. We are having spiritual food today, bread as part of our celebration of Holy Communion. We are having spiritual drink today, the wine of Communion, symbolizing Jesus' covenant, but the drink in v. 4 refers to the time in Numbers 20:11, when Moses struck the rock and water gushed out.

Then, in v. 5, there is a sharp shift. The process continues, but just like smoking meat, it is not an instant change. To get smoked meat, we do not put it in the microwave for a few minutes. It cooks slowly over night. After all God had done, and a brief bit of the list is recounted in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, in v. 5, we read (& the first hearers at the church Corinth heard) that God was not pleased with most of them. After all the Lord had done, they still turned away. We can learn how to live appropriately, but we can also learn what to avoid.

In our spiritual lives, we have examples. Some are examples to follow, like athletes who train hard in 9:24-27. Others are examples to avoid. They appear throughout the scriptures and can help us grow, over time. In 1 Corinthians 10, the examples from the Exodus are used to illustrate what we should avoid. In vv. 7-10, we have four specific types of behavior to avoid: making idols, sexual immorality, testing Christ, and complaining. Why these four? Because they were likely ones with which the Corinthians struggled.

What specific types of behavior should we avoid? What specific things do we need to have slowly cooked from us over time? How can we grow? The four in this passage are not a bad place to start. We all make idols. They can take many forms. Few of us actually carve out statues and worship them. Our idols today are more subtle. Anything that takes our time, attention, and resources and pulls us away from God can come frighteningly close to idolatry. Because we don't worship idols these days, we don't think of our idols as idols.

The second was sexual immorality. As far as behavior to avoid, this is a tricky one because it often goes publicly unnoticed. But, when one gets caught, it can really ruin lives. Children enter the world as a product of a short term physical relationship, and the child does not stand nearly the same chance as one who was born into a loving and stable family. Sexual immorality leads to the spread of diseases and can take far more destructive forms, including pornography, rape, and other illicit behavior. Any passing glance at the news reveals what a huge problem this is in today's world.

Testing Christ is not something you might think is a problem today, yet over and over again, in various ways, we put the Lord our God to a test. We are told not to do this in Deuteronomy 6:16, Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12, and again, here in 1 Corinthians 10:9. Exploring the ways we test Christ is a whole new topic; the point here is: don't do it.

Last, in this passage, is a prohibition against complaining. I've preached this point on numerous occasions. Once, I heard someone say, "I was going comment, but the pastor said to complain." There is a difference between grumbling, complaining and blatant negativity and positive, fruitful, productive dialog. This passage is addressing grumbling/complaining, not productive conversations that lead to greater growth together.

Yes, we could personalize the behavior to avoid, but it seems the list in this passage strikes pretty close to home. We can grow in Christ, slowly, over time, if we heed these vv.

God is at work in our lives. This applies to each one of us. None of us are done yet. We may think we are; we may think we have achieved a certain level of righteousness or spiritual intimacy; we may be proud of how much scripture we have committed to memory or how many degrees we have in theology (maybe the last one mostly applies to me), but God is still at work in our lives, slowly cooking us into the people we can be.

There is no ambiguity about one assertion in this passage: God is faithful. The letter to the people at Corinth adds, "God will not let you be tested beyond your strength." Some times we might feel like we are being pushed beyond what we are capable of handling, but just as God is faithful, God is still at work, testing and stretching us, helping us to grow through every experience we have. Some are rich and fulfilling, like positive examples of the Christian life. Others are difficult and take us far from our comfort zones. The difficult times are opportunities to grow.

Through it all, God is faithful.

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