Watch How You Walk
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"Watch How You Walk"
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13)
It was a Sunday just like this, Super Bowl Sunday. In the worship service it was time for the offering. The Pastor, who was a big sports fan, called the ushers forward, pulled a quarter from his pocket, flipped it in the air, caught it, slapped it on the back of his hand and looked at it. Then in typical referee fashion he joyfully announced: "The ushers will receive!"
You don't know how tempting it was just to pull that instead telling it. Especially since I know how many football fans we have in the Church. Just in case you've been asleep all week or out of town or simply zoned out and didn't know, this IS Super bowl Sunday.
This is the Sunday when the two teams with the best records line up against each other and do battle for the title, WORLD CHAMPIONS. This game decides it all; one game, not the best out of seven like in Baseball but ONE game. A game filled with head to head, hard driving, hard hitting competition.
A. And for some strange reason, it seems natural that the season should end this way with all the hype and glitz and glitter. It seems natural because to us, much of life is like the regular season of football and the playoffs. The American philosophy of life seem to be built around the idea of head to head competition and keeping that competitive edge.
We ALL want to be #1. We ALL want to be the BEST!
So we compete in every arena of life. We do it with our spouses and our kids. We do it with each other at work and in fashion. We want to know what's hot and what's not so we don't get behind. We want to know what's in and what's sin so we can keep ahead of everyone else.
Sometimes our competitive spirits spill over into the sports our children play. We compete vicariously through them in little dribblers, flag football, soccer and little league. We can even see the competitive spirit between the denominations and in our own churches. There is within us a natural drive to be Numero Uno, to be the best, to be on top and be recognized.
There's nothing wrong with being the best you can be. That is part of God's plan and purpose for us. That IS what God wants of us and for -- to reach our full potential. But sometimes being our best and being number one, being top dog isn't very Christian.
There's a world of difference between a team holding their coach or captain up in the air or on their shoulders because he is the best or because he helped lead them to a championship victory; and somebody standing on top of the heap, the top of the pile that they've clawed and kicked and fought their way to get to matter who they stepped on or hurt.
They are alike in that both people are on top but one is being held there out of shared love, respect and joy in the experience of winning and success. The other is fighting to hold their own out of the arrogant pride of having made it to the top and out of the fear of being pulled down and losing it.
There's a definite difference between being a team leader and being the king of the hill.
B. Being and doing your best is commendable but not at the expense of others. As Christians, we're called to take the thoughts and feelings of others into consideration as we pursue our goals.
A couple of years ago, in the comic strip Peanuts, Linus is watching football on TV. He's really into the game, cheering, "Go! Go! Go!" He jumps up hollering, "Fantastic." And then runs out to tell Charlie Brown that he witnessed the most unbelievable football game ever played. He says: "What a comeback. The home team was behind 6 to nothing with only 10 seconds left to play. They had the ball on their own one yard line. The quarterback took the snap, faded back behind his own goal and threw a perfect long bomb to the left end who magically whirled away from three guys covering him and ran all the way for a touchdown! The fans went crazy. You should have seen them! People were jumping up and down and when they kicked the extra point with only two seconds left on the clock, thousands of people ran out onto the field laughing and screaming. It was fantastic!"
Charlie Brown turns to Linus and asks, "How did the other team feel?"
That's a pretty sobering thought isn't it? How WILL the Super Bowl losers feel? It's a sobering thought, but it's very Biblical. And very Christian.
II. TEMPERED BY LOVE:
A. As Christians, the competitive edge is tempered by love. It is not self-seeking. Sometimes it's even self-denying and self-sacrificing. That's what Paul is telling the folks at the Church in Corinth in our lesson this morning.
Now to us, the issue that brought all of this to a head seems rather trivial. The people of Corinth wanted to know if it was Okay to eat meat which had been given as a sacrifice to idols, to the gods that everyone else worshipped. They had worked themselves into frenzy over this issue. To us it seems kind of silly but it was a REAL problem because most of the meat sold in Corinth and every other major city was the product of animal sacrifices.
The temples each had kind of a business on the side. In essence, they each ran their own butcher shops. You see, the sacrifices really entailed only the blood. The blood held life. They thought it was life's force. So when they sacrificed an animal, they were really giving the life's blood. Along with every sacrifice, a choice portion of meat was burned. Other portions were used by the priests to feed themselves and their families.
B. The problem came up because some of the Corinthian Christians were eating that meat without even thinking about it. As Paul says, "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." In other words, there ain't no other God but God, the Father of Jesus.
The more mature Christians knew this. However, the young Christians, the new Christians, the ones who had been converted, still carried some of the fears of living in a polytheistic system. Even the concept of monotheism was new to them. For the new Christians, the power of the sacrifice and the power of the gods, even though they were empty idols, was still very real. And they were having some real spiritual problems. They were having trouble reconciling everything, especially the meat sacrificed to idols.
To us that's not much of a problem. The worst discussion we might get into is whether beef or chicken is better for you. But to them it was like telling a Jew or a Muslim that it's Okay to eat pork.
III. WATCH YOUR WAKE:
A. We don't go down to the pagan temples to get our meat, unless you consider Krogers, Food Lion, Minyards or any of the other Grocery stores a pagan temple. Come to think of it, they might be. I've seen a whole lot more people worshipping at the pastry counter at Minyards than an any Church anywhere. The problem that the Corinthian Church faced isn't a problem for us, so what do we do? Do we just dismiss it and the Bible as being outdated and antiquarian? I really don't think so. Because the problem translates into one of discipleship and responsibility for Christian living in a post modern age. It has relevance for us.
In every port or harbor at every marina and near almost every dock that I've ever seen, there is a posted speed limit. While in the Coast Guard, I saw a large sign in one Harbor in Norfolk, Virginia, a harbor where both large ships and small boats tied up. At the entrance of the harbor the sign read, "Slow! You are responsible for your own wake!"
It's a rule of the sea that a ship IS responsible for its own wake. A large ship going full throttle would play havoc with the small boats, docks and even the homes and installations all along the shore. People could be hurt and property damaged or destroyed. So the rule is that you don't make waves that could be hazardous to others. Despite the time or the cost, even the largest ships have to slow down and take responsibility for their wake.
Our society has a way of looking up to those people who make waves. We're impressed by those people who "make it." But often times that makes us indifferent to those injured and floundering in the wake. Tonia Harding may not be involved at all in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, but she sure has been swamped and damaged by the wake.
B. As Christians we can't let others flounder in our wake. We have to take responsibility for it just like the ships in the harbors. And that's what Paul was talking about here. He was talking about taking responsility for our actions. Not only for our actions in relation to our Discipleship to Jesus but also our actions in relationship to others.
If we accept and believe what Paul holds to be true, that there is but ONE God; that God is the author and creator of all, including us;
And if we believe that God created all things through and for His Son Jesus, who became one of us, who was crucified for our sakes, and was raised from the dead for us;
If we believe that Christ lives in and through us through the power of the Holy Spirit, then we can't just sit idly by as if nothing had happened on that first Easter. We don't dare go back to what we were before we heard God's Good News. Instead, we have to take responsibility for one another. We have to be concerned with what others see in us and WHO they see in us. WE HAVE TO LIVE UNDER THE OBLIGATION OF LOVE.
C. The grace of Christ sets us free from the obligations of the Old Testament Law. We don't have to break our neck trying to keep laws and rituals that nobody could keep. We're no longer judged by how well we have kept the laws, instead, now we are judged by our relationship with Christ and how we have responded to that relationship.
What that means is that there are no longer any dietary restrictions, except those made by your physician. We can eat pork or shellfish. Things don't have to be kosher. We are no longer under the obligation of the laws of the Old Testament As Paul says later in this letter, "All things are lawful" That doesn't mean we throw the whole thing out, for Paul finishes the thought by saying, "All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. (1 Cor. 10:23)
And that was his biggest concern, the building up of one another. Paul reminds us that we are under the obligation of love. If what we do could harm someone else or lead them astray then it would be expedient for us to quit, both for their sake and our own.
Let me give you and example. I used to smoke. I really enjoyed it. There was nothing better than a cigarette and cup of coffee after a meal. But, I was in the ministry and worked with children and youth. How could I tell them how bad it was for their health? I remember my Dad standing there lecturing me on the evils of smoking with a cigarette in his hand. It invalidated his message. I didn't want to be seen the same way. And I didn't want to be the cause of some young man or woman starting. I felt a real sense of obligation both to God and to others. So I quit.
And that's what Paul means when he writes that if our actions lead someone else astray then we, "sin against Christ." So we have to be careful and watch how we walk our walk of faith. We have to live under the obligation of love. Our actions speak as loud if not louder than our words, shouting out the incongruities in our faith. BUT just as our actions can lead someone astray, our good and loving actions in the name of Christ can also lead someone to Christ and redemption.
And sometimes all it takes is just a glimpse, just a glimmer, just one right action. Sometimes all it takes is just a glimpse of God's love or one moment of God's incredible grace. Sometimes all it takes is one simple deed done solely for the glory of God. Sometimes all it takes is our being open to the movement of God's Holy Spirit. All it takes is for that glimpse or glimmer to catch someone's attention and God can work miracles and turn that someone's life around.
In one church there was a teenager who really saw no need for church but he came because his folks made him. He went to Sunday School and to Youth Group but he didn't pay much attention. He usually caused the Youth leaders problems, nothing major just an annoyance. Throughout his sixteen short years he had been so disruptive and so disagreeable that he had earned the nickname "Booger."
When Booger was a Junior in High School, the church hired a new Choir Director who also served as the Youth Director. That Youth Director took an interest in Booger and Booger caught a glimpse of the love and grace of Christ. Through the Youth Director's love for God and his gentle witness, that love and grace grew until one day, to everybody's surprise, maybe even Booger's but certainly the Pastor's, Booger came down front and accepted Christ as his Savior.
He was so changed after that , that he was asked to be a part of a Sunday Service. The bulletin that Sunday read:
Prelude: Johann Sebastian Bach.
Invocation: Booger Johnson.
That morning, Booger prayed. Now he didn't become famous. He's just an ordinary person like you or me. He didn't go into the ministry, though he certainly thought about it for a long time. Nobody even remembers WHAT he prayed, they just remember the day that Booger Johnson prayed.
They remember that this young man caught a glimpse of God's love, grace and forgiveness in the life and discipleship of another.
And that's what it's really all about. That's what discipleship is all about. It's more than simply turning the pages in the manual and enjoying the pictures. It's putting on overalls and getting on with the job, the job of building up in love.
And we can do that, even with competition but competition tempered and honed through the obligation of love. Competition that accepts responsibility for its wake. We can be the best by the world's standards and simply be king of the hill, or we can be the best we can be by God's standards and build one another up in love, so that others might get just a glimpse of the love, grace and forgiveness that we've experienced through the King of Kings and His Kingdom.
If Christ is number one in our lives, we CAN be the best God would have us be. When we watch how we walk and play by the rules of the obligation of love, then we CAN give others a glimpse of the Kingdom. Live by the obligation of love. Let the love of God in Christ shine through you life. Watch how you walk.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.