Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 16, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Epistle reading, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Here ends our text.
“Are you crazy? You don’t feed a baby chili!” This was a line in a movie delivered to actor Michael Keaton in his role as Mr. Mom. With the loss of his job, his wife went off to work leaving Mr. Mom to care for the children himself. But being a typical man and not a mother, Mr. Mom didn’t realize that you can’t give a baby solid, spicy food. A baby needs milk and maybe some bland pureed peas. You can’t feed a baby what a mature adult would eat. His toothless mouth and delicate digestive system just can’t handle it. But as he matures he develops the ability to digest the solid food which he needs to grow into an adolescent and then an adult. He eats fruits and vegetables, bread and meat.
But a baby matures in more ways than just his digestive system. As a baby, he’s helpless. He can only cry when he’s hungry and wet. He doesn’t serve anybody. Rather, he can only be served. And when he’s not, he complains. But as he matures, a child can begin to do things for himself. He can feed himself and put on his own clothes. As he grows into adolescence, he can absorb more learning, things he couldn’t understand as a baby. Finally, as he grows into an adult, he puts that learning into practice as he serves not just himself but others. His life is no longer centered on his next bottle of milk or diaper change. Rather, as an adult, he serves in his vocation. Possibly acting as a responsible Mr. Mon, he’s the one who gives the baby milk and changes his diaper. He’s grown up. He’s matured. So now he serves.
In our Epistle reading today, the apostle Paul is addressing the saints in Corinth. He reminds them that he didn’t come to them with wise and persuasive words as he proclaimed to them the testimony about God. Rather he simply preached Christ crucified. Through baptism and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit gave birth to them as children of God. But as they were infants, babes in Christ, Paul had only given them milk, not solid food, because they weren’t ready for it yet. He showed them their sin and showed them their Savior. He taught them about the Triune God, the incarnation of the Son, and his suffering and death for their sins. He gave them what they needed to survive as baby Christians.
But while the Corinthians may have matured and aged physically, they hadn’t matured and grown up spiritually. They were still acting according to their sinful flesh, not according to the Spirit of God. The evidence of their infancy was shown in their displays of jealousy and strife among themselves. They were acting like children fighting over toys – babies whining till they got what they wanted. They didn’t even realize where the milk truly came from. Some said, “I follow Paul.” Some said, “I follow Peter.” Others said, “I follow Apollos.” There were divisions and factions among them. But they weren’t following Christ, the one who gave them the milk, his own body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. They weren’t growing up into mature Christians who served others, but remained babes, seeking only to satisfy themselves. They didn’t understand the connection between the justified life of God’s forgiveness and the sanctified life of forgiving others. They didn’t understand that Christ crucified also meant a theology of the cross for themselves. They expected prosperity and glory, not poverty and suffering as they took up their cross to follow Jesus. They weren’t adults in the faith but just babies.
Of course, we see similar things in the Church today. We’re born into the Church through the water of baptism and the Word of God. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to receive the milk. We suckle down the spiritual nutrients of God’s forgiveness in Christ, which we so desperately need to survive as baby Christians. But if this is our only diet, we never grow up and mature in our faith. This is why we have jealousy and strife in the Church. We don’t get our way, so we whine and complain like babies. When we aren’t served, we pout. Instead of forgiving and reconciling, we leave one church to join another. Or maybe we leave because we prefer a different pastor. This pastor is a better preacher, or he’s a better leader, or his church has more programs for me. “I follow pastor Paul, or pastor Peter, or pastor Apollos.” But when he leaves, we go somewhere else to be served. Especially in the LCMS, we play a game of musical chairs, always changing our seats. We’re so immature in our faith that we follow a man instead of following Jesus. I’m not saying that we or others who act this way aren’t Christian, but we’re still on the milk diet. We’re not behaving like adults in the faith but just babies.
In this Epiphany season we’ve watched Jesus grow up. As the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, he was always fully God, neither changing nor growing. But according to his humanity, Jesus did grow up. After his birth, he was a crying babe in need of milk and swaddling clothes. As a boy, he was still dependent on his parents, but his diet changed to that of solid food, olives and figs, bread and meat. But he also began a steady diet of God’s Word. At the age of twelve we see him in the Temple where he continued to grow, not only in stature, but also in wisdom. And at the age of 30, we see Jesus fully matured, both physically and spiritually, as he comes to be baptized at the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness. It wasn’t a mere babe that did battle with the devil in the wilderness, but a warrior who wielded the sword of God’s Word. During his ministry, Jesus wasn’t an infant to be pampered and served, rather he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. He wasn’t slain by Herod as a helpless infant, but voluntarily gave his life upon the cross as a fully grown man.
But besides this sacrifice for the sins of the world, Jesus also called disciples to follow him. They weren’t following a mere man, though, a rabbi or scribe, but the very Son of God. Jesus called them not to a life of leisure but to take up their cross and follow him. He called them not to be served but to serve. And when the disciples argued among themselves, when they wouldn’t forgive others, when they wanted to call down fire upon the unrepentant, when they stood in the way of his road to the cross, Jesus told them all to grow up!
And that’s the message the apostle Paul has for the Corinthians and for us today. Grow up! Don’t act like babies in strife and discord and unforgiveness. Don’t act like infants only seeking the next bottle to satisfy your belly. Grow up! These men and pastors whom you think you follow aren’t the Lord. They’re only servants of the Lord. As Paul says, “You are God’s field. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one.” Don’t uproot yourself and go to another field where you think the grass is greener or the gardener better. You’ll only stunt your growth. It’s all God’s field, and his true servants are one in faith and teaching. Rather, follow the old axiom, “Bloom where you’re planted.” The questions you should ask yourself aren’t, “Where can I go to be served? What’s in it for me? Who will tickle my ears, stroke my cheeks, and spoon feed me lunch?” That’s baby talk. Rather ask yourself, “Where has God called me to be? Where has God called me to serve? What can I do for others? Where does God need me most to grow his kingdom?” Those are the words of a mature Christian. That is the sapling that has grown into a tree. That is the heart of one whom God has given the growth. That is you of whom I no longer address as people of the flesh, mere infants in Christ, but as a spiritual people who have grown up in Christ. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.