February 1, 2015
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
When Martin Luther was wrestling with the problems in the church, he looked at the sacraments as they were currently being practiced: Baptism, Holy Communion, Penance (we call it Confession or Reconciliation), Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders (taking vows to become a priest, monk, nun, etc), and anointing of the sick (many Protestants still call it Last Rites), and he tried to come to a scriptural understanding of each of them. What he finally came to was a set of rules for what is and is not a sacrament. A sacrament, in his view, had to include three things:
- It had to have been started by Jesus in the Gospels
- It had to have a physical action taken by the people involved
- It had to come with a divine promise.
On the back of your bulletin there is a blurb about baptism that comes from our book of worship that echoes two of his points:
The invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the water
and upon the candidates for baptism is an affirmation
that it is God who takes the initiative in the sacrament.
“Baptism is both God’s gift and our human response to that gift.”
God begins it (it must have been started by Jesus and come with a divine promise) and we respond to it (it must have a physical action.
With these rules, Luther got down to two and a half sacraments: Baptism, Holy Communion, and Penance/Confession. The problem he had was that Penance did not have a physical action. It did not quite fit. But it was so important that he did not want to drop it. Finally, he came to understand that confession is a return to baptism, just as confirmation is a reaffirmation of baptism.
But the actions are important. Actions matter.
Paul wrestles with one action in this morning’s reading. Food would be offered to the various statues and temples of the local and imperial gods and then eaten by the people. Should a Christian eat that food?
This was not only a matter of etiquette or spirituality. It had profound implications for whether or not you kept your job. People in the early church were often labeled atheists, not because they had no god, but because they did not participate in the public religiosity of their day: they did not make offerings to the local and imperial gods or take part in their festivals.
Paul makes some important distinctions and gives some wise counsel. First, he reminds the church that whether or not there are other gods, there is on God, the Father, who is the source of all that ever was, ever is, ever will be, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. Armed with this knowledge, a Christian knows that food offered to other gods is simply food.
But as he says, knowledge puffs up, love builds up. Therefore, before you go out and make a smorgasbord out of the food at the temple of Mars, realize that others who are not so secure in their faith may be confused or misled my seeing you do that. They might think that you are saying that Mars, god of war, and Yahweh, God of the covenant, have the same agenda, God forbid!
It is hard enough to follow Jesus with so many competing claims in the world. The knowledge that it is okay for me to do something is not a good enough reason to do it. I may have no problem having a beer every now and then. They rarely have a spot on the medical forms for two to three drinks a month. But I also know that there are people around me, maybe even sitting here today, for whom one beer is too many, because then a dozen isn’t enough.
So do I have a drink? It becomes an important question. The long and the short of it is compassion. We care about what we do and why, because we love those around us.
The other day, Mary, Mira and I were playing Mario Cart, a video game on the Wii. Mira and I were cheering Mary on when Mira said a word that is so delicate and delightful that it has its own nickname. We call it the F-bomb. Mira had simply been putting together syllables, and if you put together enough random syllables, chances are you will stumble across real words every now and then. That is what happened. So I did nothing and quickly explained to Mary why. And Mira has not said it again.
If I had stopped everything and taken five minutes to explain to Mira that this was a bad word and she should never use it, I can imagine how many times since then I would have heard it. She is four and likes to see Daddy’s blood pressure go up.
Sometimes the compassionate action is to not act.
Mary and I have been having some long discussions about finances lately. She keeps the books because I am smart. I asked how much we are making and how much we are giving to the church. Recently, we have been giving about 8-9% of our net income. I asked what it would mean to give 10% of our gross income, and she agreed and so I have our checkbook here and I am writing our giving check to the church for 10% of our gross income.
I have no room to ask you to look at our deficit budget and ask you to review your finances and your giving if I am not willing to do the same. Mary and I have had some very difficult times, as you all know, but we have also been so greatly blessed by this congregation and this community and by God, and so we are increasing our giving to the church as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
One of the reasons Jesus astounded those around him was that he was not simply preacher; he walked the talk. He never said “Do what I say, not what I do.” He said, “Follow me.”
Thanks be to God.