Sunday, January 28, 2018

Year B Epiphany 4 Veggie Burger For All Our Sake

Year B Epiphany 4, January 28, 2018  
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“The Veggie Burger For All Our Sake” 

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Deuteronomy 18:19-20 & Mark 1: 21-28 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet 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. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. 

In our readings today, we look at a singular theme: Authority. Deuteronomy looked at its right and proper use. Jesus astounded the people by his moral authority in his teaching, but the proof was in the pudding when he drove out the unclean spirit in our Mark passage.  

Authority is a hard thing. Often when we have it, we are hesitant to use it. And often when we want it, we complain and gripe about someone’s misuse of it. Authority is like a scalpel, it can be a weapon or a tool. It all depends on the hands of the one using it. 
When I was first priested, I had a woman come into my office seeking advice. She said, “Tell me what I should do, and I will do it.” My first use of the authority she was giving me was, “Do not ever say that to anyone.” We all are responsible for the actions we take, and the decisions we have to make. I did help her talk through her situation, alternative ways to see it, and helped her look at the options she had. It took a while for everything to play out, and it mostly worked out well. But I did learn an important lesson on the use of my authority that I had been given in my ordination to Holy Orders. It is not something I took, or take, lightly. And I renew my vows every year so that I never lose sight of God’s Call in my life, and the responsibility I have been given. 

As beings made in the image of God, the imago Dei, we all have authority of our Free Will and our ability to respond to the choices we have been given. As Children of God in our Baptism, we are also given responsibility of being at work in this world on God’s behalf. Teresa of Avila instructs us this way: 
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” 
You may hear me say that before the blessing in the 10 o’clock service from time to time. It is one of my favorite invocations over fellow believers. And this is what Paul is getting at in our strange passage from I Corinthians.  

This strange passage can be confusing without context, so let’s see what is going on in Corinth. In a Southern phrase, it could be summed up at “Don’t get too big for your britches,” as my grandma would have put it. To go with our lectionary theme though, “Do not abuse your Authority.” might be a better way to put it in a sermon. 

The Roman world was filled with temples to all the gods of all the peoples in the all the countries they conquered. Instead of “converting” people, they would just add their uniqueness to their collective wealth. One thing, just sacrifice once a year to Caesar and say “Caesar is Lord,” and you can do anything you want the other 364 days, worshiping any way you please. Most people were fine with this. Do your Civic Religion duty and get it over with and worship whomever however you please the rest of the time. Except the Jews could not, and would not, do that. They were not allowed to have graven images, like the bust or statue of Caesar. They could not take the coins into the Temple in Jerusalem, because it had his head on it, which helps explain part of why Jesus went off on the money changers. All these graven images were anathema to them and after much struggle the Jewish people were given the one exception in the Roman Empire. This is the milieu in which Christ came. This fine balance with the Romans was precarious, and Jesus threatened to upset all of that. 

And Paul is getting to how people who are believers in Jesus as the Christ, the ones who say “Jesus is Lord” instead of “Caesar is Lord” were to live in this multi-cultural world. He talks about how “ ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” And here he gives some Authority to the less informed, the superstitious amongst the band of believers, and ask for those in greater knowledge and authority to let their pride in being right go for the sake of their fellow believers. 

Animal sacrifice was a big part of the ancient world. Every temple, for the most part, had animals which were killed as offerings to curry the favor or the forgiveness of the gods. And did people sacrifice the puny or the sick animals? Of course not. One gives one’s best, so the best animals available were the ones which were sacrificed. And one could purchase said “best meat” from these temples, so that one had the very best. Paul knew this, and said he knew it was okay to do this. These idols were nothing more than hunks of metal with no power or Authority. But then says, despite what you know, DO NOT BUY THE FOOD OFFERED TO THEM, all for the sake of our weaker, superstitious brothers and sisters. If they see you eating that meat, they will be confused, or misled, or think that the leaders are hypocrites and quit the faith. Their naivete was the problem, and for their sake, Paul said be vegetarian. He would rather forego any meat than mislead a brother or sister in the faith. They mean that much to him. “All of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 

He would rather have us build up the Body of Christ than have a fine steak dinner of the best cuts of Grade A Prime. It is just not worth it. Let me quote Paul here so that it is clear. 
So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” 
We all have Authority, and how we use it is important. We have to decide what is it we hold most important. What holds the greatest Authority in our lives? 
This last week I had a rough interaction with an old friend on line. He called for someone in the political realm to be tried for treason and executed. It broke my heart as a fellow believer, and I called him out on it. I stated that I had a hard time when a believer calls for the killing of anyone, especially when it comes from a political disagreement, and I rebuked him. Then I was rebuked for judging him. And we could go back and forth on what is wrong with each other.  

Paul could have argued that he was right because idols were nothing, but he chose a better route. Rather than trying to be Right, he chose to be in Right Relationship with his brothers and sisters so they could be in right relationship with Christ. That is what he held most dear. And that is what I reminded my brother in Christ about, or tried anyway, calling him to put Christ first and his politics second. Pray for me and him as we continue to interact and hopefully bring glory to Christ in even in our disagreement.  
This week, watch what you say, and how you say it. Watch what you do, and how you do it. We all better watch ourselves, because the world is watching us already. So this week, ponder this: Does what I am about to do or say bring glory to Christ and help build up his body the Church? Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock