“I’ve Got Work To Do”
Mark 1:40-45 and I Corinthians 9:24-27
February 12, 2012 (Sixth Sunday of Epiphany)
First Christian Church
One of the things you probably don’t know about me is that I play the piano. Not well, but I can play a few notes. I started playing when I was 11 and my first teacher was J. Ellsworth Jackson. Mr. Jackson was a good teacher was able to get his students to do wonderful things. I didn’t just learn how to play the notes on the page, I also learned the science behind the notes. Once a month, Mr. Jackson would gather a few students and we would learn music theory. The little bit of music that I know, I credit to Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson was a good teacher, but he was a mean man.
Mr. Jackson expected you to practice in the week between lessons. Somehow, someway, he would know if you didn’t practice much and he wasn’t afraid to tell little kids off. There was more than one practice where I went through sheer hell with Mr. Jackson. He knew I didn’t do my job and he would tore into me, talking about how my parents were sacrificing their time and money and that I was throwing it away. You would leave that time feeling bad, but also determined to make the next week better- not because I didn’t want to let my parents down as much as it was I didn’t want to have to go through that horrible experience again.
As much as I hated Mr. Jackson, he was trying to help me understand that learning the piano was work. It meant practicing everyday to become a good musician. The only way to be good was to practice, practice, practice.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is probably the earliest usage of a sport analogy in the church. Paul is talking about running a race and training our bodies and working for an everlasting prize.
Paul is in the midst of writing about how the Corinthians Christians should live and preach the good news of Jesus. Paul is urging his fellow followers to be disciplined in their faith in way that builds up their faith and allows them to share the good news with others. Verses 19-23, which we read last week, talks about how Paul talks about Jesus within the context he is in. If he is with Jews, he becomes like a Jew. If he is with those under the law, he becomes like one under the law. He is sensitive to the culture around him and uses the touchstone of that context to preach the gospel.
But for any of that to happen, you have to be prepared. That’s where today’s verse comes in. Paul is telling the Christians in Corinth that they have to practice their faith in a way that is like training for a sporting event....or a concert to the musicians among us.
So how does one practice being a Christ follower?
We do that from learning the spiritual practices. We spend time in devotions and prayer. We do what are doing right now, gathering together with other Christians to worship with God, experiencing the holy and seeing how God is working in each other’s lives. Each practice is an encounter with Jesus, which allows us to share the Good News with those outside of the walls of the church.
The leper that we meet in the gospel is in need of healing. Jesus is moved by the man’s sad state and heals him. Jesus told the man not to tell anyone about the healing, but to show himself to the priest who could declare the man clean. If someone healed you of a terrible disease, would you NOT tell anyone? Of course not! Instead, the man blabbed to anyone he could meet. He had an encounter of the holy and just had to share it with others.
We don’t do anything to earn our salvation. Reading the Bible or praying is not going to earn us brownie points in God’s eyes. But while we don’t become free through our own merit, following Christ is always a work in process. We will continue to meet together, share the Lord’s Supper, and pray because we want to continue to have the encounter with the creator of the universe.
Paul also says something else here. Paul talks about running the race and getting a prize in the end. We run with a goal. When I was practicing piano way back when, it was always with one thing in mind: the Spring Recital. Paul says their is a method to our madness and we “work out our salvation” for a goal in mind. What’s that goal? Paul could be talking about the great hereafter- a time and place where God’s creation is made whole again. Paul could be talking about how we are working towards God’s kingdom, the life after this one where there will be no more crying and no more dying.
So we work towards that which has not yet happened. But we also work towards healing now. The healing of the world is only a taste of what is to come, but it’s a pretty good taste. When we touch the holy, we want to serve God, not to get on God’s good side, but because we love God. We want show others of God’s love. When we say we welcome people to God’s table, especially those who have been long excluded from the Table such as LGBT persons, we do it because of God’s love in us, which we know through our daily practices. When we feed people, as we do through Feed My Starving Children or Groveland Foodshelf, we do it from our relationship with Jesus. These acts of faith are bringing healing now and set the state for the healing that is to come.
After a few years with Mr. Jackson, went to another piano teacher. They were much easier to be with, but they didn’t push practicing as much, which meant I didn’t practice as much. I wonder what things would have been like if I remained with Mr. Jackson....if only I had practice more.
Practice doesn’t make us perfect. But it does make us more faithful. And that makes all the difference in the world...now and in the world to come. Thanks be to God. Amen.