Rev. George Miller
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Feb 1, 2015
This has become a Season of Letters.
At Highlands Little Theater Always…Patsy Cline has been held over for another week.
Based on a true story, it’s about the letters written between a Texas woman and the country-western singer, affirming the power of music to unite and how celebrities are just like us, from enjoying bacon and eggs to doubts about romantic relationships.
Feb 13 at Highlands Ridge I appear in Love Letters which features romantic notes written over the course of 50 plus years, affirming love’s power to transcend space, time, and all kinds of situations.
In March, we’re reoffering a class in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple in which letters written by sisters span across decades and continents.
Through their letters we witness life, death and resurrection, and how all three shape relationships, community and the world.
Starting today and carrying through next week we’re studying 1 Corinthians, a letter written by the apostle Paul to one of the earliest of churches.
Letters between friends, letters between lovers, letters between siblings, letters between believers.
Letters written before tweets, texts, social media, and e-mails forever changed the sincerity in which we communicate.
I Corinthians was written to a cosmopolitan congregation finding their own way of doing mission and ministry in their community.
They were a church made up of Jews and Gentiles, the well educated and the blue collar, the well fed and the always hungry, the circumcised and the au natural.
Is there any surprise that they were also a church dealing with divisions?
They were parishioners living during a time in which everything was new.
There were no such things as by-laws, or Roberts-Rule-of-Order. There was no conference or conference minister. There was no General Synod or resolutions.
It was all new and exciting and fly by the seat of your pants…it was also so scary and scandalous.
There were issues over what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to be a member of this new community.
Debates over sexual behavior, debates on whether to circumcise or not, debates about food and what can and cannot be consumed.
In other words, some of the same issues we’re talking about today, but with a spin.
Instead of talking about gay marriage, it was about a man who married his step-mother.
Instead of debating the health hazards of circumcision it was the ritual aspect of it.
Instead of a discussion about peanut allergies or being gluten free, it was about eating meat sacrificed to other gods.
These issues around sex, rituals and food were causing divisions and quarrels.
In the church; imagine that!
Paul got wind of this and wrote to them this letter. It’s a letter to set things straight. It’s a letter to help them refocus on the things that are true and truly matter.
It’s a letter not meant to chastise or shame, but to unite and to build.
Therefore, 1 Corinthians is a love letter. A love letter between Paul and the Corinthian Church in which his love for them infuses every word, every sentence he writes.
In this letter, Paul is not writing as a best friend, a lover, or a sibling- he’s writing as their spiritual Pa.
“I became your Father in the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he writes.
Paul acknowledges that there are various levels of spiritual ages in this congregation. There are those who are like newborns, there are those are a bit more mature.
He does not qualify this as better or worse, but as a simple statement. Everyone is where they are supposed to be, each on their own journey.
But one thing is clear. As Papa Paul sees things “Already you have all you want; already you are rich.”
In Christ they have been enriched; in Christ they are being made strong.
Like the leaders we talked about last week; like Rev. Loffer, like Dr. Martin Luther King, and like the Pilgrim’s Pastor, he helps them to see beyond themselves, to see something grander than they are:
Papa Paul addresses his letter “To those called to be saints together and with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So with his feelings for the congregation in place, we get to chapter 8 of Paul’s love letter- the issues involving food.
Why does this matter?
Because they are a church made up of Jews who have spent thousands of years following strict dietary laws as a sign of who they are and their belief in God.
They are also a church made up of Gentiles who grew up eating whatever they wanted.
So imagine the tension this creates when they get together for a church potluck and someone brings shrimp salad.
Or they hold their monthly brunch and there’s bacon in the chafing dishes.
Or someone purchases non-kosher franks for the Fall Festival.
But there’s a deeper issue. None of them live in Kansas anymore. They live in an OZ-like city in which there are temples all over the place devoted to other deities like Zeus and Aphrodite.
People go there to make their sacrifices to their particular gods, and guess what happens to the meat that is sacrificed- it’s sold at the local market and available at the local fair.
So what happens if you’re part of this Corinthian church and either you still identify as a kosher-observant Jew or you’re a Gentile for Jesus and you now believe there is only one God made known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Do you stop shopping at the local Publix? Do you demand that Winn Dixie only sell sacrifice-free meat?
Do you stop attending the monthly Wine Walk or the county fair or the 12-Hours of Corinth Chariot races because the meat may have been sacrificed to Apollo?
Do you stop visiting the homes of non-Christian family members or friends because of what they may serve?
No, says Papa Paul. You are free to eat that food because you know, and I know, that none of those gods are real; they do not exist.
You are free to enjoy your spareribs because regardless who that animal was sacrificed to, we know, deep down in our heart that we only have one Lord and Savior, and that is Jesus Christ.
What a relief that must have been for the people…but there’s a still an issue.
Yes you have freedom, but with new found liberty in Jesus Christ comes responsibility.
What happens if you have members who are still so new to the faith that they can’t differentiate between eating meat that’s been sacrificed to Baal and their former lives when they did worship Baal?
What do you do when in your very midst are folk in which putting into the spaghetti sauce meat that’s been sacrificed to Mars feels like idolatry, therefore causing them a huge crisis of faith?
What happens if one bite of a sacrilegious snack causes a person to backslide and fall off their Christian wagon?
We may not understand this as modern day Americans who indulge at buffets where Buddha statutes stand amongst platters of bacon wrapped shrimp, but for the 1st Century Christian Church in Corinth this was a big deal.
So in this love letter, Papa Paul deals with the issue head on. He states that nothing we eat can bring us closer or further away from God.
Papa Paul states that there is only one God, so it doesn’t matter if the pork we buy in Publix has been sacrificed to Pluto or not.
We know what we know, so eat away…
….but, but if in our eating we hurt another or causes another to have a crisis of faith, don’t do it. Wait until you go home.
Kind of how modern churches have stopped using wine during Communion as to not hurt anyone for whom alcohol is an issue.
Here is the heart of Paul’s love letter. The church can operate out of knowledge, but knowledge is not always enough.
Sometimes people with too much knowledge become puffed up and think they are superior to others.
Sometimes people who think they and they alone have the right answers are the loudest ones, bullying others into accepting their ways and their beliefs, unaware or not caring that what they can and do can hurt others.
That’s not truly good; nor is that truly beneficial to all, so Papa Paul suggests another way.
He suggests that the church operates out of love. Love that is compassionate; love that puts the welfare of others before one’s own desires.
This is not sentimental love. It is love as an action; love as a verb.
Love is that which builds community. Love is that which cares about what is beneficial to all.
Love that is based in freedom; love that knows such freedom has unselfish responsibility.
Love is what allowed Jesus to lead the disciples. Love is what allowed Rev. Robinson to encourage the pilgrims to sail to the New World.
Love is what allowed Dr. King to share his dreams.
Love is what allowed Rev. Loffer and our founding members to build Emmanuel UCC so we can do ministry and mission.
Love is what allows us to gather today. Love is what allows us to say that for 25 years we have had faith in Sebring.
Love based in Christ Jesus is love that says “I will do my best not to hurt or to harm you. I will do my best to build you up and not tear you down.”
We are each on our own journey; we are each at our own unique step.
Some are wrestling with God just like Jacob. Some are crossing the Red Sea like Moses. Some are entering the Promised Land like Joshua. Some are fishing for people like Simon and Andrew.
Let what we do be done with love; love based in Christ.
Love that says through our words, through our actions, through our outreach that it doesn’t matter if you are new to the faith or you have been a life-long member, we are all part of God’s Kingdom.
Love that lets all, old and young, working and retired, blue and white collar, southern and northern, be a part of this well-fed family in Christ.
After all, in Jesus Christ we already have all that we need; in Christ Jesus we are invited to eat at the table of the Lord.
Amen and amen.