Sermons

"I Said Love!": Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B

"I Said Love!": Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B

Jan 28, 2018

Passage:1 Corinthians 8

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Epiphany

Category: Love, Discipleship, Faithfulness

Keywords: disputes, idols, knowledge, love

Summary:

The Church at Corinth asks Paul about a dispute over eating meat sacrificed to idols. How does this apply to us today? This sermon reflects on the different things in our culture that cause us to have disputes. And it takes Paul's solution to heart.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Back when I was in seminary, during my first semester, I had a class on Pastoral Theology. I was sitting next to my friend Mitch (who, by the way, is now a priest in East Texas). The professor had asked some question about different characteristics of pastoral care. She was writing words and phrases on the board that students were calling out.

She wrote furiously as people all over the room were calling out things like: "COMPASSION"; "EMPATHY''; "COMMON SENSE"...

In the meantime, next to me, Mitch was calling the word, "LOVE."

But the professor never heard him over the cacophony of other words being shouted out. She just kept writing the list as people called them out.

Mitch kept trying. He called out again, "LOVE."

The professor didn't hear him and she finished writing.

She turned to the class, and with a kind of a mock disappointment, she pointed at the board and said: "This is a great list. But I think it's missing the most important ingredient for being a true pastor." She then turned and wrote in huge letters on the board: L-O-V-E.

Unable to contain himself, Mitch exclaimed: "I said Love!"

Everyone exploded in laughter. And I turned to Mitch and said, "Mitch, I suspect that for the rest of seminary, that answer is going to fit, no matter what the question is."

And it more or less did.

After that, for the next few years of seminary, no matter what class we were in --Bible class or preaching class or Theology class, if the appropriate answer to a question was "Love," everyone simply would turn in their seats to Mitch. Whether he was paying attention at that moment or not, he knew his cue was to say "Love." Even other professors got in on this. They came to know that Mitch was the "Love answer" student. When it was time to make a point about "Love," they would say, "and the reason God does this for us is because... Mitch, tell us!" And Mitch would pipe up, "LOVE!"

Our scriptures today helped bring this story to mind for me. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we hear him addressing the topic of whether or not they should be eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols.

Now Corinth was a major crossroads city with much diversity and multiple belief systems. The fledgling Christian community established by Paul is a tiny minority. For them to even exist in this city, they HAVE to interact with those who are of others faiths.

But obviously, the Church there in Corinth is experiencing a conflict over this issue about meat. Perhaps some members of the Christian community are eating the meat cooked in the sacrifices to idols, then sold in the marketplaces. As far as they are concerned, it's just meat. They're not worshiping the idols. But others in the community say, "No, don't eat the meat because it fosters this false religion!"

Now there is conflict and argument within the church itself. Both sides are sure they are right. Both sides have valid arguments.

Both sides appeal to Paul to settle the issue.

And for us today, we might gloss over this scripture because, frankly, we don't worry about meat sacrificed to idols.

That's not ever been an issue that I have to had to ask myself: "Self, is it okay as a Christian to eat this beef offered in sacrifice to the goddess Athena?"

But we DO find ourselves in the same position as the Church in Corinth ALL the time.

We often find ourselves bogged down in this culture of "I'm right, you're wrong."

"My way is the only way."

Our media is more polarized politically than any time in modern history. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you inhabit, you are likely to hear news you most agree with, then interact with like-minded people on social media. So when you encounter someone with a differing opinion/idea/value--it's easy to demonize them.[1]

We feel: "THEY clearly don't GET it!"

We ask: "HOW can they THINK this way; BELIEVE this way; ACT this way; BE this way????"

And all the while we are sure we are RIGHT!

WE have the knowledge.

We have read, heard, studied, talked to, listened, and devoured everything about all the topics.

We are RIGHT.  

Paul answers the Corinthians when they ask him to take a side on the meat issue.

But he doesn't specifically take sides in the meat debate. In fact, what he does is he challenges EVERY side of the debate.[2]

Paul says to them: " 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."

In other words: "I said LOVE!"

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is asking us in all situations to pause.

When we find ourselves first and foremost asking: "how am I RIGHT?"... we need to shift that to: "am I seeing the value and worth and contributions of all with whom I am dealing?"

This is especially true when we are dealing with folks who challenge us the most.

This doesn't mean give up and give in on all things....

Because Paul is also telling the Corinthians to be mindful of eating the sacrificed meat if it causes others to stumble. In other words, in a spirit of love, we can have boundaries and limits. We can be clear about what is appropriate or helpful in the world.

But what Paul is basically telling us: "If you have to choose between being RIGHT and being LOVING, choose LOVE."

Back at seminary, one of the most useful things we did was to sign a "conversation covenant." There were several components of this, but basically, it recognized that all of us came from different political, theological, social, and economic backgrounds. Nevertheless, we were expected to always be disciples of Jesus Christ. To do this we stated, among other things, "that we do not have to agree in order to love one another... and [that when we do have conversations, debates, confrontations with each other], we will strive to... consider the possibility that we might be mistaken, secure in the knowledge of the love and forgiveness we have all received in Christ."[3]

 So basically, we should all strive to be the "I said love" student each and every day. When life presents us with challenges and opposition, Christ calls us all to answer: "LOVE!" Amen.

 

[1] AMY MITCHELL, JEFFREY GOTTFRIED, JOCELYN KILEY AND KATERINA EVA MATSA, "Political Polarization & Media Habits," Journalism.org (October 21, 2014), available at http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/

[2] Part of this argument can be found at Frank L. Crouch, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13," Working Preacher, available at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1197

[3] Found at https://ssw.edu/conversation-covenant/