Adapted from a sermon
Delivered January 29, 2006
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
I Corinthians 8:1-13
One Person’s Medium Rare:
Another Person’s “Mad Cow”
Today’s sermon is about menus. What’s good to eat; what’s good to serve others; what’s just better to maybe eat with a little discretion, perhaps in privacy, if at all. It’s also about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. After we share our knowledge about “food” for a while, perhaps we will be able to stretch our reflection to life’s larger menu labeled “Food for Thought and Deed.” Wisdom.
Earlier in the month I preached what would have been thought of as a “theological” sermon, the one about remembering our baptisms and what baptism actually means for us as Presbyterians. The following Sunday was the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, and my comments focused on our call to “follow Jesus” -- and the resulting cost of discipleship. It might have been viewed as a social action sermon.
Last week, the sermon on Jonah had two parts: one on our personal relationship to God, our call to hear our individual mission in this world, and the fact that God is with us, encouraging us, challenging us, loving us even in the darkest times of our lives in the Belly of the Whale. The second part of the Jonah sermon focused on our corporate responsibility to repent, listen more carefully, put aside our personal wants and prejudices, and find a better way to “go to Nineveh” – now an archeological dig just outside Mosul, in Iraq.
Well, this morning, I think the sermon will turn out to be one more about personal ethics or maybe, wisdom vs. knowledge. I’ll be talking about those choices we make on a day to day basis which are not “black and white”, “good or bad,” but more in the gray areas in life. How does our Christian faith inform these daily decisions?
Paul’s concern over eating meat previously sacrificed to idols was a real concern during his ministry. The Greeks sacrificed animals to their various gods. Later, the meat was served to the crowds near the temples and the priests even sold some of it in the marketplace. I would imagine that for some, this was “special” meat, perhaps even a little bit “blessed” by one or another of the pagan gods as a result of the sacrifice. Or “defiled” as a result of such sacrifice, depending upon your point of view.
The question was: “Should a Christian eat meat which has assumed some spiritual connection to a pagan god?” Some Meat-Eating Christians said, “doesn’t matter a bit! We know these other gods aren’t real. We know these steaks and roasts are no different than any other steaks and roasts, and therefore, there is no harm in eating them.”
Paul acknowledges that these Christian were correct as far as their analysis had gone. Here is where “a little bit of knowledge” might be a dangerous thing. Perhaps, such knowledge needs to be tempered a bit by wisdom, even love for our fellow Christians.
Paul knew that the meat-eating Christians could chow down the steak and not give a thought to Zeus or Apollo or Minerva or any other Greek god or goddess. Tastes good, did no harm to them physically or spiritually. But was there something else to keep in mind?
What about the newer brothers and sisters in the community, he asked, the ones who may eat the meat, but with every bite, they felt defiled? These brothers and sisters ate off the menu, but when they got home after the feast, they were full all right, full of doubt and guilt. What had they just done to themselves, to their faith?
“No harm done to me or my faith”, says the First Meat-Eater. “I’m a sinner, I’m defiled, I can’t be a Christian,” says the second perhaps more spiritually fragile Christian.
Assuming that we consider ourselves in the first group – of knowledge-filled Christians who know that many of the old prohibitions really don’t apply to us – what is our responsibility to others? Are we are brother’s keeper? we might ask.
I think of myself. I am not an alcoholic. I can drink one or two drinks, relax a bit, and no harm done to myself either physically or spiritually. I know this. I am firm in my knowledge here. But would it be “wise” to drink in front of my alcoholic son?
In my own spirituality, I find great spiritual comfort in getting in touch and keeping in touch with the Earth and the seasons and the general Cycle of Life. I attend ceremonies out in our Sweat Lodge, frankly based in pre-Christian customs and beliefs. I find it all quite compatible with my own Christianity. But for some this smacks of unadulterated Paganism. What is our responsibility to those who find this form of worship improper at best, sinful at worst? It is a worthy question. And from my perspective it doesn’t have a right and wrong answer.
For myself, I would look at the two situations somewhat differently. I would not encourage someone to drink who has a problem with alcohol nor would I encourage someone to worship God in a style which causes them more worry and guilt than a sense of holiness or connectedness with the Universe.
However, I do drink and I do worship God and seek connectedness with the Earth in the Sweat Lodge. Which is more problematic? I don’t know. Perhaps we need to develop some basic principles for such based in wisdom and love, not just “knowledge.”
The principles for such making such decisions which Paul seems to be outlining in his letter to the Corinthians are:
1. Our conduct as Christians cannot be evaluated solely based on knowledge. A
“Little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
2. Permissible behavior for one person may very well be quite damaging to another.
3. A Christian does not have a blanket right to practice just anything, if it will
damage the faith of another – even though our Christian “knows” that such action
will not harm his or her own faith and relationship with God.
do we care about the others in the first place?
One commentator offered the following analogy. The giant sequoias of
Paul is saying that Christian communities are a bit like sequoias: we grow tall and strong when we stand together and support each other. That’s what the community is all about.
All this is difficult for me. Where is the provision for some sense of individuality? Where is the freedom to be me? Well, an old maxim comes to mind: “your freedom to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose.”
I’ve decided that for me discretion, a little wisdom, plays a part in these decisions. Maturity also plays a part: movies and books which are appropriate for my 38 year old child are probably not appropriate for my 10 year old grandchild. Who decides? I did, for a while. Now it is my son’s decision. I get to stand back.
go back to the
Paul would say, “Think about it. The question is not whether we are ‘allowed’ to do something, but whether or not it would be WISE to do it. Would it be the LOVING thing to do?”
Often there is no one Right answer. Paul is asking us to remember that such questions are NOT just about us. Sometimes, it’s what’s best for the family, what’s best for the community.
God gave us the Scriptures as a guide for our daily lives. But even Paul admits that all the answers are not therein contained. Some things we have to figure out for ourselves. May God guide us, bless us, and give us wisdom as we take a look at Life’s Menu and make our daily selections, for ourselves and for those for whom we bear responsibility.