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Freedom in Christ... yet service to our neighbour

Notes & Transcripts

Father as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart, but as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Psychologists will tell us that eating food is the most common of all pleasures

For most of us, in this fortunate part of the world, we eat three times a day or more

Also generally with the abundance of choice, if you are like me, food is joy… too much so

From our earliest years, the consumption of food is also associated with meanings quite unrelated to nutrition.

Eating may represent security. It may be an occasion of peace in an otherwise hectic existence.

Food may be a reward: the ice cream that comes as confirmation that you are wonderful.

            Or in my case, the glass of beer that I have when I have completed my sermon

                        Particularly if it is Saturday night

Or it may represent a moral struggle – eating cold mixed vegetables, after which you feel good and noble and …possibly vaguely nauseous.

                                            Eating, then, is a value-loaded activity, and one that has religious associations.

There is, of course, the sacramental partaking of the bread and wine, a central act of Christian worship since faith’s beginnings.

And in the Jewish tradition, there is the Passover meal.

Yet beyond these particular religious observances, it might be said that all consumption of food contains an element of the sacramental.

If a sacrament is a symbol whereby we express our relatedness to the sacred, then all manner of theologies spring forth from our choice of foods. [1]

And St. Paul asks:       Now concerning food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:1a)

There is nothing wrong with food and eating and drinking per se, nor the fine preparation of it and the enjoyment of feasting.

Jesus, you might recall, seemed to enjoy a good meal.

His detractors labeled Him a “glutton and drunkard.”

And we may try to imagine the joyful occasions that called for the accusation

Indeed, Jesus had the audacity to suggest that the table-fellowship shared with disciples, tax-collectors, and sinners constituted an anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

He proclaimed the presence of the Kingdom in the eating and drinking and talking and laughing of those occasions.

But the point is that it was the fellowship and not the food that was the purpose of the feast.

To make food the centre of the feast is to miss the point and the privilege.

The tax-gatherers and sinners and disciples of the world gathered around a common table, sharing food in joyousness, experiencing the release of freedom in realizing that they are forgiven, joining voices in happy praise.

The joy was for the fellowship and the promises of the Kingdom f God, not for the food.

To turn the equation around is to put the emphasis on the wrong things,

And whenever the emphasis is on the wrong thing it becomes idolatry.[2]

Indeed, it could be said with our near obsession with image by some in this age, salvation by diet seems easier to conceive of for some, than salvation by grace.

The abiding danger of idolatry has been addressed throughout history by many of the most perceptive minds of the church.

Tertullian (of the 2nd century) began his essay, “On Idolatry,” - by describing it as:

“The principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment.”

Martin Luther (of the 16th century) recognized that idolatry sometimes takes sophisticated forms which appear to extend to worship of God but in fact are cleverly disguised forms of self-worship.

Thus Luther could say, “Where you hang your heart, there is your God.”

Along in similar lines, John Wesley (of the 18th century) declared,

“We have set up idols in our hearts… we worship ourselves when we pay that honor to ourselves which is due to God alone.”

And in modern times, Paul Tillich has pinpointed the essence of idolatry in saying,

“Idolatry is being ultimately concerned about that which is not ultimate.”

 

And St. Paul asks:       Now concerning food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:1a)

Idolatry is not so much misdirected ritual… as it overvalued values.

Anything can be elevated to god-like status: food, sex, power, wealth, fame.[3]

This begs the simple question… Do we suffer from Idolatry?

Here is a test. Simply ask yourself,

“To what do I give intense admiration? …What do I see as important in my life? …

To what do I give great attention?”

Identify what this is in your life, and for all practical purposes you have found your “God.”

And this “God” will rule you and determine the course of your life just as if it were all-powerful.

This “consuming passion” may be food (pun intended), or a person, pursuit, ideal or goal,

And existentially speaking, it is our “God.”

Whether or not we say we believe in The Supreme being as such is secondary to our actual worship of the object of our desire and devotion. [4]

Our entire New Testament reading today from 1 Corinthians is answering the opening question

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:1a)

And this talk of food and idolatry in modern world, where the specific issue of meat sacrificed to idols is not a live one for most Christians throughout the world

You may be wondering why this passage is even included for worship

Our modern questions about meat are more like:

"Do I want chicken, beef, or pork tonight?"  or "Is this beef grass-fed or grain-fed?" 

Or, there is the contemporary continuum along the lines of vegan, vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian… to those omnivores who eat and enjoy anything, including Spam, and haggis. 

People at various points on that continuum engage in debates that typically start along ethical or environmental lines and might get to theological considerations of whether meat is right or wrong to eat. 

Although important considerations for some - That is not the arena of St. Paul's debate

St. Paul’s question was a highly relevant question of the time.

Where the overwhelming majority of people in the area would have identified with the pagan gods and the pagan temple, where there was very regular need for meat sacrificed to those idols

There was also a well-establish market system for the sale of meat that had been used in this way.

This meat was very common part of the culture

The use of this meat, for people that had become Christians and no longer believed in the pagan ways, was a very real consideration that needed some advice provided

            And on the surface it might seem irrelevant to our modern ears

But of course, as Paul writes in 2nd Timothy “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim 3:16)

The real teaching is for us to wrestle with the principal behind the culturally focused matter

It is the issue on how we might gauge the impact of our actions on the lives of others

How we might use that impact as a reason for freedom or to restrict our own behavior. 

We might see a closer parallel to our own day in the debates over "political correctness,"

Political correctness is a ripe field to harvest for any number of illustrations

Now in Oakville where I grew up, it is a bit more of a melting pot than Brantford and one situation that I came across was the names that we use for people groups

- in particular people from Pakistan

I grew up being taught that to call someone a Paki was a political incorrect term and understood it to be a derogatory term

Later I was told by someone that had travelled a great deal, that in fact it was the correct term

That ‘Stan’ meant country or people group

In that region there is Turkmenistan, Tajistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan

And we have no problem calling people – Uzbeki or Afghani

So why is “Paki” a problem – well as I understand it, it is a problem because in Oakville there also a lot of people from India, and India and Pakistan have long been rivals - and it was the Indian use of Paki in a derogatory way that made it a politically incorrect term – even if it is technically correct

And so it is not a matter of whether something is technically right – it is an issue of how it affects our fellow people

           

Another example that might be even closer to St. Paul’s advice in 1st Corinthians on the eating of meat sacrificed in the pagan temple to the pagan idols; is our Christian understanding of Yoga

            Yoga is practiced by millions of people the world over

I grew up knowing that my deeply Christian Grandma would start her day, every day, even well into her 70’s, by getting up 30 minutes before she needed to and doing Yoga

For many it is nothing other than stretching, strengthening and breathing exercises - it can be part of a healthy active lifestyle

            It is good for your heart – good for reducing the impacts of stress

Yet for purists – Yoga is not Yoga unless there is the spiritual element to it

            It is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy

And it is believed that through the meditations of Yoga one can reach levels of spiritual awareness – the mind, body and spirit… inter-connected

It is another religion

            To a purist perspective of Yoga – it is not Christian

And so a Christian needs to set priorities and decide, what do they believe

Is it inner peace through self-actualization?… or the peace of Christ that passes all understandings?

If one is to practice Yoga as a Christian – one needs to be aware that they might be sending mixed signals to others

Some might understand that it is a healthy part of life for the stretching, strengthening and breathing exercises – and the quiet time it might provide for prayer and contemplation

But others might be confused as to whether someone was a Christian or a Hindu or practicing ‘new age spirituality’

            It might cause others confusion, and so as a Christian, one needs to be sensitive

For St. Paul, a piece of meat is a piece of meat.  It does not matter if that meat was offered as a sacrifice to a false god in a pagan temple. 

Eating it will not hurt you.  There's no actual power in it to do damage to you or to your faithfulness to God. 

But that's not the only consideration.

Suppose at our last Pot-luck dinner or the next one to come here at Farringdon

Someone brings a platter of food saying, "The local Satan-worshippers had a table set up at the mall giving away this food.  It's delicious!" 

Would you eat it in front of everyone? 

There would be no actual power of Satan in the food. 

It would be fine to eat it. 

But how might that be interpreted by others? 

What impact might it have on a new convert?

           

Today, I have wadded into idolatry, life’s pleasures, political correctness, other religions – so why not cover all taboos with an illustration from politics and specifically the American political climate right now

Presently there is a problem of what I will call the ideologically deadlocked members of Congress

            It has become, by my observation, a congress deeply divided solely by partisan politics

                        By remaining this way the Congress is mired down and nothing is getting done

The view that the country has of its congress and by extension, the whole political system – the government – is that it is disconnected with ‘main street America’

And that the ‘government’ is a waste – a waste of taxpayer money – in a time of the greatest recession since the great depression

Now if the Congress, abandoned partisan politics and had an attitude of getting things done, giving a little here, taking a little there – so much more could be achieved

And by their activity moving forward – ‘main street America’ would be forced to change their opinion of ‘the government’

And just like the mature Corinthian Christians, where the meat is not what is at issue –

It is the care and concern for how others view them and then live their lives

Anyone who can only see "how right I am" and does not pause to consider the intrinsic value and worth of those who think and act differently misunderstands the heart of the gospel. 

St. Paul says, "If you have to choose between being loving and being right,… be loving. 

If you see someone wavering on the brink of their faith in God, think about what you can do for that person on their terms, not on your terms."

St Paul writes: We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.   (1 Cor 8:8b-9)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ – We have Freedom in Christ… yet we have concern for our neighbour

Trust in that freedom – freedom from the devices and desires and worldly ambitions

Yet in harmony with others… so that they too may grow into maturity of the freedom in Christ

Live the maturity of Christ, using the freedom granted in love –

Love for God… and love for your neighbour

Heavenly Father may we always strive to follow your words “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

            Amen


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[1] Illustration Sourcebook, Series III - # 2907 – Food Sacrament

[2] Illustration Sourcebook, Series III - # 2159 – Food, Idolatry, Fellowship

[3] Illustration Sourcebook, Series III - # 2409 – Idolatry, Values

[4] Illustration Sourcebook, Series III - # 2033 – Idolatry, Priorities

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