June 6, 2021
“Just Do It”
I Corinthians 7: 1-4, 7-13
By now, some of you have hopefully seen our latest edition of the Chimes newsletter in which we laid out the phases for our re-opening later this summer.
Our Together in Person Team decided to start up in-person worship services on August 1st.
That may seem unnecessarily late to many of you after the state of North Carolina lifted most every restriction. It’s okay to feel some impatience. Believe you me, if I could go a hundred years without preaching to my phone again it would still be too soon, so I get it.
Also, when we do gather indoors, we will plan to sing, but we will definitely require everyone to wear masks. That may feel unnecessary when so many of us are fully vaccinated and ready to see more than just the eyes and foreheads of our dear, dear friends.
All of these decisions are the product of our TIP Team’s sincere, spiritual discernment. One of our guiding convictions is that as important as it might be to communicate WHAT the decisions are, it’s even more important to communicate the “WHY?”
Since we are a Church, it’s important that our “Why?” is based in Scripture and not just the whims of our own opinions. My hope in this sermon is to offer something resembling a “Why?” for these decisions that is based in Scripture. The fact of the matter is that the Bible has no obvious road map for this kind of situation, so inspiration came from a rather odd corner of the Bible.
To prepare you for this reading – a Pop Quiz!
What narrative device is illustrated in the following quote from Alice in Wonderland?
“You should learn not to make personal remarks,” Alice said with some severity. “It’s very rude.”
The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
Do you know what it is? Absolute artistic absurdity – that most blessed of literary devices – the Non-Sequitur.
A Non-sequitur is defined as “a statement that has no logical flow from what preceded it in conversation,” and while that is a serviceable definition, I prefer to say “I’ll know them when I see them.”
And boy does 1 Corinthians have a doozy.
The Apostle Paul – the author of some of the most beautiful phrases in Scripture, the kind that countless people have chosen to have read at their weddings – that same Paul suddenly shifts from marriage advice in chapter 7 to this fantastic non-sequitur to open up chapter 8:
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols…”
Wait… What?!? Maybe I’m doing this whole Christian thing terribly wrong, but Paul, when I walk the aisles at Harris Teeter – I may take a moment to read the nutrition labels, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing telling me whether this pack of hot dogs was sacrificed to Hermes.
Keep your eyes peeled, folks, and let me know if you see any labels that read “Warning: this meat may or may not have been sacrificed to Mercury.”
But alas, this is our reading today, and I do believe that there is something very important concerning the Christian life buried in this seemingly arcane discussion about idols and food.
The questions we ask today may be quite different, but in this time and in this place – the Corinthian Church was asking,
“Is it appropriate for a Christian to eat meat that was sacrificed in a Pagan temple or is that a betrayal of Christ?”
Keep in mind that this would be absolutely normal in a Greco-Roman port city like Corinth where cultures and religions mingled freely. Members of this Church may have converted to Christianity, but they still had friends who had not; who attended festivals and even held parties at the Pagan temple. Did being a Christian mean you couldn’t attend your friend’s birthday party? Where do you draw the line? How do you walk the line once it’s drawn? That’s what is at stake here, so let’s prepare our hearts for receiving what the Spirit whispers to us through these ancient words.
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4 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.”
…We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat [that] meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
This week I was able to walk into UNC Hospital for the first time in 15 months.
Hospital Visits are so much a part of a minister’s role that, well, I don’t think I was prepared for the complicated feelings this would elicit in me. I felt incredible gratitude that I could sit in a room, surrounded by the bleeps and buzzing of all the machines and hold somebody’s hand and pray. I also felt incredible loss for all the times I could not share such a moment with so many others this past year.
When I arrived, I walked across the bridge from the parking deck and along the way there were no fewer than three signs reminding me to wear a mask. As I passed each sign, I instinctively reached for the mask hanging around my neck to make sure it was there, just like I periodically pat my pocket to make sure my car keys are still there.
As I approached the doorway, I spotted a young woman just outside the sliding doors ready to screen me before entering. After answering her questions she then presented me with a brand-new surgical mask, asking me to wear it instead of the now superfluous one hanging around my neck.
Somewhere deep down inside I wondered if all of this was necessary. I mean, I planned ahead; I brought my own mask…do we really need to waste another one? My mind turned back to this time a year ago when there was a distinct shortage of PPE Gear…
But then, I took a breath and remembered: these are the people who show up day in and day out to take care for our community. They put their own health on the line to serve those who desperately need the healing arts that they have practiced for so long…so if they can show up day in and day out to do their job, the very least I can do is take that brand-new, fresh-creased mask from the nice lady and put it on. Channel my inner Nike Marketing Executive and “just do it.”
If I understand this text, that may well be the heart of what Paul communicates in this odd, eighth chapter.
Picture this with me: Imagine there’s somebody in that Corinthian congregation – let’s just call him Julius…I know, I know…it’s a bit on the (Roman) nose…but let’s imagine Julius being that guy in the Church who feels that eating this meat at the Temple to Minerva or Artemis or whatever Pagan god – it’s no big deal.
Then, imagine Paul putting his arm around Julius’ shoulder and saying to him “I get it, Julius…you know as well as I do that those gods aren’t real. And you and I both know that a god who isn’t real can’t do us one bit of harm. We can eat freely because we know the truth.”
But then Paul puts the knowledge aside and drops some real wisdom: “You know Julius,” he says, “knowledge isn’t everything. Knowledge puffs up…but love build up…and maybe this is a moment to lean into love instead.”
Then, imagine Paul continuing this line of thinking: “Think about Felix? He just became a Christ follower, what, week before last? Do you remember when you were two weeks into following Christ? Do you remember how confused you were all the time; unsure about every little decision; wondering ‘Am I doing this the right way?’ What if Felix were to see us stepping into Apollo‘s temple for a bite to eat and, well, remember he looks up to you, Julius. He’s looking to you to show him the way…so what if he sees you over there and starts thinking that you really haven’t changed at all – that all of this Jesus business is just for show? What will happen to Felix’ faith then”
“Love builds up, Julius – which means that it’s more important to be loving and kind that it is to be right all the time. So out of love for Felix, why don’t we just avoid that food.
It’s the very least we can do….so why don’t we just do it.”
Now what does this have to do with our re-opening plans?
I know that there are some in our midst who are beyond ready to throw open the doors and have church like we used to have it. Believe you me, I would like nothing more.
AND – there are church members who still have reservations, and for good reasons.
I think about the unvaccinated child with a serious asthma condition; I think about how much anxiety the parents have carried for over a year now; I remember that I love this child – so I’ll put my mask on.
I think about the vaccinated adult who also happens to be receiving chemotherapy; vital treatment for the cancer but treatment that may compromise his COVID immunity – I remember that I love this person, too. So I’ll put my mask on.
And in the spirit of this peculiar passage about food sacrificed to idols,
I’m asking you to do the same.
Go ahead and wear your Nikes to Church if you like, but bring your mask too.
Just do it. It’s the very least we can do.
Last weekend Meg’s side of the family gathered to celebrate her parents’ wedding anniversary. One morning we went to Davidson College Presbyterian Church where they made their vows to one another 50 years earlier. Meg had solicited memories from a wide collection of their family and friends and one person observed the following:
I don’t know if this is significant, but it stuck out to me. I remember years ago, Margaret was learning to golf so they could have something to do together. I had the distinct impression that she was doing this, not because of a recently discovered love for golf, but more as an investment in their marriage. I also remember Pete going to cooking classes that spoke to a similar investment in each other. I carry that with me in my own marriage — the importance of investing myself in the partnership.
At this juncture I’m pretty sure those golf clubs are collecting dust in the garage. I definitely know that it’s a good day when Pete successfully boils water.
But covenantal relationships are like that – you bend, you accommodate, you do the things that you might not choose on your own…all out of love that builds up.
Last week, Meg said that you don’t need to explain the love of God to be saved by it.
In a similar way, I think Paul pushed the Church to embody the love of God, because when we do,
we may not explain it,
but we sure do make it real.
And after all, this is the same Paul who wrote some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; love does not insist on its own way…love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
May the Church – may this Church – keep that covenantal love at the heart of all that we say and do.