O Spirit speak to us today, and indeed feed us, with the only thing that can satisfy us, our beloved Jesus… so, that we might be formed for the work of feeding others. Amen.
Now, I know what y’all are thinking… I’m so glad that the text this week is on Food Sacrificed to Idols… because this is juuussssst the thing I’ve been struggling with in my walk of faith!!!
I mean, I’m sure sometime this week most of you were in the grocery store, or perhaps across the street at Only Burger, anxiously debating over whether you could buy some hamburger meat, wondering whether or not it had at some point in the packaging process been sacrificed to an idol….
Not so much, huh?? I know, I know, this is one of those places in the Bible where we think hmmm… I can probably skim through that and it would be alright. Sacrificing food to idols not such a relevant issue…
But you know, Paul devotes no less than 2 whole chapters to it!! Makes you think twice doesn’t it? Makes you wonder if there aren’t other things in our lives today that we can just sort of skim over as being unimportant, irrelevant to our faith… when perhaps we need a sermon at least 2 chapters, or I don’t know 2 hours long, to set us straight…
….Just kidding, we are Presbyterians….
But before we get to us… we’ve got to think about the Corinthians…. For Corinthian Christians, eating food sacrificed to idols really was a big deal. Because everybody else was doing it.
I’ve never been to Corinth or Greece, but I have been to Rome and seen the ruins of the Roman Forum. These ancient cities were based around their pagan temples, which made regular sacrifices to idols-they were the center of the community which all activity revolved around. To not eat meat sacrificed to idols would mean that they couldn’t participate in not only religious, but also social and political life. For us in America today, it would be like not being able to watch the Super Bowl next week because the hot wings are sure to have been sacrificed to idols!
On a more serious note, it might be like not being able to go to the Durham Farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, or not attend a governmental debate or a city council meeting, or not being able to go to the downtown New Years celebration.
The point is, not being able to eat this idol meat, was a major problem for Christians… and not just socially, but economically as well. Any good businessman or woman knows that rule #1 in doing business is networking. Sipping wine together at public festivals, feasting on idol meat, is how people in these ancient communities created social as well as business relationships with each other.
So the Corinthians say to themselves: "Look, we’ve got to find a way to still be able to eat this idol meat." And they craft a pretty good argument for Paul by professing to have "knowledge." Listen, Paul, they say, "We KNOW that "there is no idol in the world that really exists" and "that there is no God but one." We KNOW that this food sacrificed to idols is really meaningless… that we are "no worse off if we do not eat it, and no better off if we do." This food in and of itself means nothing to us-don’t worry, Paul, we aren’t going to fall away from the faith. We have the knowledge to take care of ourselves, and can eat this idol meat with the pagans, just for business you understand, and still remain faithful and devoted Christians.
Now, where have you heard this sort of argument before?
I know I remember making it to my parents many times in my younger days…
"Mom & Dad, I am old enough to make this decision on my own. I have the knowledge to discern what is right for myself. I want to be free and independent to make my own choices, to make my own life." Whether it was how late I could stay out or how fast I was driving my car, my argument was always the same: "I have the knowledge to take care of myself."
To which they would often reply: "Well, you are a role model for your brother and sister, and you have a family who loves you." In other words: "Don’t be a stumbling block! You are accountable to more than just yourself!!"
I used to hate it when they said that-because it meant that I really wasn’t free to make my own choices, that I would always carry the burden of being a part of my family, a part of a community, that loved me. And I would remember that before I was ever an "I," I was a part of a "WE."
We live in a world that tells us that we are individuals, that we are free agents with free choice… We get to call the shots in our own life. We get to choose what community, or what "WE" to belong to; and often, it is a "WE" that really serves the interest of the "I"-a "WE" that furthers our own interests.
This is the power of knowledge, of discernment, of free choice; but it is not the power of love. As Paul tells the Corinthians: knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
I have a dear friend who serves as an elder… She always says that she did not choose our church, but that we chose her-or better yet, that God chose her. Sue often makes this comment in jest, but she is touching on the very thing that Paul wants the Corinthians, and wants us to understand:
Sue is a faithful member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church not because she has chosen what "WE" she wants to be a part of, not even because she has chosen to believe in God, but out of a recognition that her life is not her own; that she is not writing her own story, but is a part of God’s story. That she is called and claimed in her baptism, and is bound to God her maker, and to God’s people, her brothers and sisters in the faith.
What I think Paul is really trying to say to the Corinthians is this: This whole idol meat thing… Maybe it isn’t about YOU. It’s not about your personal knowledge or freedom… your own choices… your ability to resist temptation… your own piety… or the soundness of your own individual faith…
Because faith isn’t individual, it is about being part of a community.
And love isn’t about what you know, it’s about how you live.
Are we making choices in our lives that secure our own interests? Are we choosing the "WEs" that make us feel good about ourselves, that puff us up? Are we writing our own life stories, acting as our own God? For this is certainly idolatry.
Or are we making choices in our lives that recognize that we are part of a very important "WE"-the family of God’s children? Are we making choices that build up others? That build up the church and the world? Choices that are made in love?
Idol food may not mean a heck of a lot… But there is a food that means everything…
As Christians we are called to a particular table, called to eat particular food: the body and the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is the food that is going to truly nourish us, going to help us make all the right connections, and offer us the sense of wholeness, belonging, and security that we all long for. Jesus is the source; nothing else even comes close. And at this table, we are reminded who it is that we are bound to, and that we are not free until we are fed by Him, and unless we are feeding each other.
Do not misunderstand Paul. Just because we are called by our faith to make certain choices within the world, we Christians are not to avoid the world. We are called to live a life of love in a world of knowledge, in a world that thinks it is so very smart. We are not simply to stay in a little Christian bubble, and not to participate in any other "WE"…
But our faith lived out in this community, worshipping and serving here at Westminster, gathering together at this table, being a part of this "WE"-forms and shapes the whole of our lives. It forms us so that what we will carry out into the world is not knowledge-so that we can frolic with the pagans and live our lives the way we want to, but still pass as Christians…
But so that what we will offer the world is love. It forms us to see that if the choices that we make in the service of our own interests, are to harm this body, are to be a stumbling block-whether religious, social, or political-to others in our human family, then this is not love. And that we are not free to make such choices.
Real freedom in Christ means that we are joyfully bound to one another and to God.
And real Love means embodying the radical love of Jesus… A love that cares for others more than for itself. A love that is willing to give up not just idol meat, but meat altogether if it means a better life for someone else. A love that doesn’t simply want to be a part of this world, but that wants to be a part of how God is transforming this world.
The Corinthians were right about idol meat-at least in and of itself-it is meaningless; but as the saying goes: We really are what we eat. And if our hunger is for Christ, for the Lord’s table, for being part of this body… then the world will know that we are Christians not by our knowledge, but by our love.