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Faith United Methodist Church

February 1, 2015

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Prayer of Illumination:

It is true that God has given us the church, a community of believers with whom to fellowship. It is true that God has given us the Word, to guide us and instruct us in our daily lives. Let us, as a community of faith, open our ears to the Word and hear what God may be speaking to us this day. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sermon:  Break Bread Together  

Last Friday night Gary and I got take-out from Chicken Charlie’s. Yum! We ordered on-line and it arrived piping hot. In fact, it exceeded our expectations. It had been a long, snowy, day and neither of us felt like cooking, so it was nice to be able to put in an order and have warm, delicious (and somewhat nutritious) food delivered right to our door.

I recognize that delivery is not something that everyone can enjoy. When I was growing up in the woods in Maine, delivery was just a dream! Also, I recognize that we are in a privileged position to be able to enjoy such a treat on occasion. Our $25 Chicken Charlie’s dinner cost significantly more than anything we would have prepared at home. But it’s our business, right? What food we eat. What we do with our money.

According to the Apostle Paul, though, this may not be the case. He makes the argument that everything we do needs to be considered in concern for the spiritual lives of others. As Bruce Ridgon put it in Feasting on the Word, “Freedom is slavery to Christ, so that in the Christian life we become responsible for one another.” What we eat, how we occupy our time, where we spend our money are all matters of spiritual significance.

The specific case that Paul responded to was a situation that arose in the Corinthian community. In Corinth there were many forms of worship and many recognized deities. There were temples and shrines to many different gods. Also, in Corinth, there was a shortage of affordable meat to eat. One of the places that affordable meat could be found, though, was in the temples of pagan gods. The meat was sacrificed to whatever idol was worshipped in that particular temple and then sold to the public or served in fellowship meals open to the community. I can imagine the signs around town: Steak dinner Saturday, February 7th. Seatings at 5:00 and 6:00. $10 per person.

The some of the Corinthians Christians were hungry for meat. They needed their protein. A quarter chicken dinner from Chicken Charlie’s would’ve probably sounded pretty good to them. Some of them had even participated in temple worship before they became Christians. They knew all about the delicious dinners they served. So they argued to each other and to Paul that since the gods these temples worshipped did not exist it was okay for them to eat the meat.

On the surface Paul agreed with them. He wrote, “In strict logic, then, nothing happened to the meat when it was offered up to an idol. It’s just like any other meat. I know that, and you know that. But knowing isn’t everything.” But knowing isn’t everything. Paul was concerned about the spiritual welfare of all the Christians in Corinth, some of whom were new to the faith and had only recently left the pagan temples to live in a new way. Paul was not so concerned about who was right or wrong. Paul’s concern lay with the spiritual well-being of the whole community, and especially with those who were most vulnerable.

In modern day terms ~ in a rather drastic example ~ we might liken this to visiting a local Satan-worshipping community for their Friday night dinner of beans and franks. We might justify it by saying, “God made all, so I know Satan is not in this food. I’m just going for the good food and fellowship. I’m not going to become a Satan worshipper myself.” That’s all probably true, but what if a Christian seeker, or one of our Confirmation youth, were to see you step through the door of Satan’s temple. What might they think about the faith you profess? What might this do to their faith? As Paul put it, “We need to be sensitive to the fact that we’re not all at the same level of understanding in this.”

 Paul’s advice goes against the grain of our contemporary, American, individualistic thinking. We think we have freedom and we should be able to do whatever we want, no matter what anyone else might think. Yet, as Christians we must hold our individual freedom over against our responsibility to our community. “As Paul wrote, “God does care when you use your freedom carelessly in a way that leads a fellow believer still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track.” Perhaps your faith is strong enough to go eat with the Satan worshippers, or gamble at the casino, or see that NC-17 rated movie, or party all night long on Super Bowl Sunday. Maybe you know that your faith won’t be rattled by going to that bawdy comedy show, but knowing isn’t everything. It’s not enough to act out of knowledge. We are called to act out of love. To live with care for each other.

I hope my Chicken Charlie’s indulgence is not a threat to anyone’s faith.   Yet I’m sure that I have done or said things (innocently, perhaps, unknowingly) that have caused others to question or wonder about my faith or theirs. When we break bread together ~ as we will do in just a few minutes ~ we affirm that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are part of a family with God as our parent, Jesus as our brother. And, just as with any family, we have an opportunity to lift each other up, especially the weaker or younger or more vulnerable among us. Our knowledge must be tempered by charity. Each day we can choose to live out of “knowing” or out of love. There is more to consider than just bring right. As Paul famously wrote to the Corinthians later in this same letter, “The greatest of these is love.” Amen.