"Don't Forget!"Dr. James M. Pitts 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Year C – Third Sunday in Lent
The church in Corinth was a conflicted and divided community. To offer a humous twist; “we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” (2 Corinthians 4:7) but some are cracked pots!
Their conflicts and divisions included: quarrels and strife, spiritual pride, sexual immorality, prostitution; marriage and divorce, worship of idols, lawsuits between believers, dressing immodestly in church gatherings and interrupting them with ecstatic utterances.
No church in Scripture is more ridden with disagreement and controversy than the Corinthian church, much of the New Testament focuses on Corinth. It took the Apostle Paul multiple visits and letters, two of which we have in the New Testament, to sort out the problems in this church.
1stCorinthians (which is actually Paul’s second letter, see 1 Cor 5:9) was written primarily because the Christians in Corinth weren’t getting alone with each other. Following Paul’s greeting at the beginning of the first chapter, he explains what he has learned about this church:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul, “or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” (1:11-12)
The Greek word translated here as “quarrels” can also mean “arguments” or “strife.” Paul uses this same word again in the third chapter of his letter: “For as long as there is jealous and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh?” (3:3). The Corinthian church was being torn apart, not by one single controversy, but by multiple conflicts and tensions.
Beneath these issues lay the challenge of working out the Christian life in a non-Christian culture. When some of the people in Corinth put their faith in Jesus, many brought along their cultural baggage, including prior experiences in paganism.
For example, since it was commonplace for wealthier members of Corinthian society to eat in pagan temples, the privileged few in the Christian community continued to do what came naturally. Yet this scandalized other Christians, especially those who did not have the financial means to eat in temples and who, therefore, considered all temple visitation to be the worship of idols.
Let’s listen to Clarence Jordan’s translation of 1st Corinthians 10:1-13
“I don’t want you to forget, brothers, that all our ancestors were guided by the cloud, and all of them made it through the sea. (This cloud and sea experience was, in a sense, an initiation into the Moses movement.) They all ate the same miraculous food and they all drank the same miraculous water, for they were drinking from a miraculous, ever-present rock, which was a symbol of Christ. But even so, God wasn’t particularly fond of them, for they were discarded in the wilderness.
These people became our “lighthouses,” to warn us against following their example of hankering for wickedness. Never make a god of your possessions as some of them did. For we are told that “The people sat down to eat and drink the sacrificial meal, and then got right up and started carousing around.” Don’t go back on God, as some of them did one time when twenty-three thousand came down with disease and died.
Let’s never try to argue with the Lord, as some of them did and died from snakebite. Never bellyache, like some of them did and were visited by the Death Angel. These things happened to them as sort of a symbol, and were written down for the guidance of us for whom the end of an age has arrived.
Let the man who thinks he has his feet on the ground be careful lest he slip and fall. Yet only temptation of a human sort ever overtakes you, and God can be trusted not to let you be tempted beyond your capacities, always providing along with the temptation a way out, so you can be victorious.”
The Letter to the Christians in Atlanta, CLARENCE JORDAN’S COTTON PATCH GOSPEL p. 263-264, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2012.
Paul is affirming the oneness of God for believers, especially in a culture where polytheism is affirmed. Amidst the conflicts and confusion of their diverse and divided culture, Paul’s counsel is “Don’t Forget!” Remember your roots, your heritage, your story of salvation. Don’t be ignorant. Do not ignore. Paul is encouraging them to connect with the story of Israel and their spiritual roots.
As Scott Nash in his commentary on Corinthians states…Israel’s Example as a Warning to the Corinthians, 10:1-13
Paul transitions to his second main point of his long argument with a commonly used formula for beginning a discussion: “I do not want you to ignore.” The verb agnoein could mean simply “to be ignorant of ” or “to be unaware of,” but in this context, it is better rendered “to ignore.” Paul is not informing them of matters about which they have no knowledge; he is urging them not to ignore the significance of things they already know. What they already know is the story of Israel. Paul appeals to Scriptures that have their origin in the life of Israel because those Scriptures have become the Scriptures of the church. For Paul and for those who have heard his preaching, the church has itself become a part of the story of Israel. Thus, even though the Corinthians are predominately Gentile, the Israelites are their “ancestors.” He is not introducing them to the story of Israel for the first time; the story has already begun to shape their identity. What they are in danger of ignoring however is the severe warning that Israel’s story contains for them”
Paul’s admonition is for each and all. They should not forget that all of their ancestors in their exodus from Egyptians bondage “were under the cloud” and “passed through the sea”. The cloud was a visible sign of God’s presence liberating them from slavery. The “waters of the sea” dramatically brings to mind the parting of the waters permitting their deliverance and the destruction of the Egyptians army pursuing them.
The Corinthian congregation should not forget their roots as a part of a covenant community through the leadership and nurture of God. God guides and provides! Again, and again, the scripture reminds that “Our Lord knows the way the wilderness.” This is not a time for quarreling and grumbling with one another, now is the time to come together as one people under God to be reconciled. In the here and now, our calling is to follow our salvation history into the present and embrace the future.
Signing into “the cloud” and “checking memory” sounds like advice from a computer consultant. That is the way to get up to and running in the present.
Paul’s counsel “to not forget” – underscores what we know all too well that “memory matters.”
Putting life – all of life – in perspective is the contemporary challenge. It is made more difficult in a culture suffering from “intentional institutionalized Alzheimer’s.” By intentional, this is purposeful and chosen behavior. By institutionalized – this is not just personal but corporate and communal. This behavior is Alzheimer’s by choice.
Leaders, who appear to celebrate the “virtues” of arrogance and ignorance, tell us we need to look forward. Forget the past, ignore the present, and follow them into the future. We need to move forward, focus on tomorrow, disregard the pain of the present and stop thinking about the past.
This binary orientation views life as a flat screen, not three dimensional with past, present and future. All that is needed is to simply hit the delete key and begin again with blank screen.
We all have observed in our circle of family and friends the tragedy of Alzheimer’s. This cruel disease robs persons of their memory, bonds to loved ones and loss of dignity. They forget familiar names and suddenly can’t remember how to get back home.
Alzheimer’s arrives silently and sometime the immediate sufferer is unaware. A mate or a child is often the first to note. Initially, they are annoyed by their loved ones losing track of thoughts and things, and difficulty in completing simple tasks. The sufferer seems just to drift away. A knowing smile offering recognition becomes a blank expression.
This progressive disorder robs persons of their memories and normal functioning. They start to tell a story and either repeat it or go blank. Completing familiar tasks, confusion with time and place, misplacing things and withdrawing from work and social activities are a few of the symptoms.
Memory matters not only personally but also culturally. It appears that we are living in a cut-flower generation. Without roots, life begins to wilt and fade and decay. Distracted by the media roar of the immediate, it is nearly impossible to keep life in perspective.
The busy signal becomes a disconnect; we find ourselves alone and isolated from others and even God. We are cut off and out of the relational network that provides ties that bind us to past, present and future.
A keyword in the lexicon of faith is “remember.” Carved on the communion table is “in remembrance of me.” Perhaps we should re-place the remembrance of me with the command “Don’t forget!”
Another dimension of our faith is “hope.” Hope is a picture of the future that sets in motion powers of the present.
The past and future intersect in the “present” …in the here and now …in today’s world and current time.
Our faith is like a three-legged stool…with legs representing the perspectives of past, present and future… there is a firm and stable foundation to life. Don’t forget the past! Don’t ignore the present! Don’t give up on the future!
The gospel chorus reminds, “Our Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all we have to do is follow.”
As in the past, God continues to guide us through the present to a future filled with hope. For God’s sake, and for peace of mind and sanity, remember the past, embrace the present, and anticipate the unfolding future. Do this is in a spirit of thanksgiving, acceptance and with eternal hope.
In the life of faith, the hard drive of memory is never down and never crashes. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the present, thanks for the unfolding future.
We don’t live in the past; it reminds us where we have been. We live and work in the present, and anticipate the future with an eternal hope in God’s guidance for the road ahead.
About the writer:
Dr. James M. Pitts is university chaplain [retired] and professor of religion emeritus, Furman University. A native of Washington, DC, Jim is a graduate of Furman University in Greenville, SC, Southeastern Seminary at Wake Forest, NC, and Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.
An experienced pastoral counselor, he has worked in both congregational and hospital settings. His professional expertise includes crisis counseling, substance abuse intervention, and career guidance for persons in ministry.
His sermons and essays on biblical and pastoral themes are published in books, magazines and on NextSunday.com. One of the founders of Smyth & Helwys, Jim has served as Chairman of the Board for the past 28 years. In addition to serving as the editor of www.NextSundayWorship.com, he is the principal photographer and editor of www.NextSundayGallery.com an educational resource with a comprehensive collection of high quality photos illustrating the geography and archaeology of the Biblical world.
Jim and his wife Nancy are the parents of two sons and two daughters-in-law: Stewart (deceased) and his wife Kelley, and Jonathan and his wife Jackie. They are the proud grandparents of three grandsons, Will, Jon Walker and Colton, and a granddaughter, Lilli.
Scripture and Music:
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
There s a Wideness in God s Mercy
O Jesus, I Have Promised
Jesus, My Lord, My Life, My All (Bob Burroughs)
Here’s One (Mark Hayes)
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Mack Wilberg)
Create in Me a Clean Heart (Mueller)
The Best of All Rooms (Randall Thompson)
A Rose Touched by the Sun s Warm Rays (Jean Berger)
Set Me As A Seal (Rene Clausen)
Ho! Everyone Who Is Thirsty
My Soul Is Athirst for God (A.R. Gaul)
No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus (Charles Weigle)
O Rest in the Lord (Mendelssohn)
His Eye Is On the Sparrow (Charles Gabriel)