Epiphany + 4 1-2-15

Today’s readings are about the choice we have to go God’s way or the wrong way in life. In Deut 18, we’ll hear the prophet Moses tell the people that God will send them another prophet; …who will lead them in God’s kind way. A few verses earlier, Moses talks about the other peoples who don’t know God; who live in fear that makes them do terrible things: …sacrifice their children to bribe imaginary gods so they’ll get good harvests; …ask mediums for messages from dead people; …try to influence nature by casting magic spells. God will send the prophet to tell us the truth; truth that can set us free from that fearful life.

Ps 111shows us this life without fear—God gives us all we need before we even ask.

1 Cor 81-13 tackles the issues of God’s free people living as a minority among the great mass of people who live in fear. Everyone else offers blood sacrifices to statues of emperors, to fertility gods and to dozens of other idols trying to buy some control over their lives. So many people do it that a whole economy is built on trade in these sacrifices. Should the Christians in Corinth buy meat that might have been sacrificed to idols?

Mk 1.21-28 shows Jesus setting a man free from the control of just this kind of false god—an unclean spirit that’s taken over this man’s life. Jesus sets him free so what he says and does can now be his own choice. He’s no longer a puppet of an evil power. We’re free as God’s people; slaves if we’re not.

Sermon You might remember two weeks ago we heard Paul quote a slogan that was popular in Corinth: 1Cor 612 ‘All things are permissible for me.’ The Corinthian Christians loved slogans—they used them to sum up their faith. Shared slogans made them feel stronger as a tiny minority among all the idol-worshippers in Corinth.

But life’s a bit more complicated than something you can sum up in a few slogans. They wrote to Paul to ask his advice on several matters. Today it’s about buying and eating meat in a city of idols. That’s more important than it sounds. Because it’s almost certain that any meat they buy has just been offered in sacrifice to an idol. Someone will have smuggled it down to the shops so they can make a bit of extra money out of it.

The Corinthians’ letter to Paul included some of their slogans, and he quotes them back in his reply. All of us possess knowledge. No idol in the world really exists. There is no God but one.Paul agrees that these slogans are partly right, but he says the Corinthian Christians need to think carefully about the effect of acting on these slogans and buying any meat.

If you look at today’s three slogans, they echo the All things are permissible for me one we heard two weeks ago: That time, it meant ‘Jesus has set me free: I don’t have to obey all the Jewish purity laws; … … I don’t have to avoid the local customs here.’ … In today’s reading, the Corinthian letter writer’s slogans are All of us possess knowledge. No idol in the world really exists. There is no God but one.What they mean is, ‘We know better than this ignorant majority. The gods they worship don’t exist. And if they don’t exist, the animals sacrificed to them aren’t cursed or contaminated by association with them. So any meat I buy is just meat; no more. Before God, I’m free to eat it; so I’ll just go ahead and do it.

Paul agrees, but he challenges their approach. They treat it as a question about correct understanding. But Paul writes about it as a pastoral matter; about caring for other people. Buying and eating this meat might do you no harm, but could it be a problem for brothers and sisters in the Church?

What if a new Christian—someone who’s just escaped from that life of fear and appeasement; someone who looks up to you as an older Christian sister or brother—what if they see you feasting on meat that’s obviously been sacrificed to idols? Their faith isn’t strong like yours; they haven’t thought about all this; they don’t understand yet. They just see an older Christian eating with pagans v.10. What might this do to their faith?

They think if you do it, it must be okay for them.

And before you know it, they’re sucked back in their old ways, sacrificing to idols and worshipping false gods. They didn’t have the depth of faith that you have, and now they’ve been lost to Christ.

As Christians, we are all members of a family. The older ones have to look after the younger ones. The stronger ones look after the weaker ones, but in a family way; not a managerial way The strong don’t control the weak. They become weak to care for the weak. Remember Paul saying to those ‘strong’ people who dragged others off before the judge? Don’t do it! Let yourself be wronged before shaming a family member. 67b

And today, he’s saying the same thing. If my eating meat could make a younger Christian stumble in their faith, I’ll give up eating meat. They might be wrong and I might be right. I might have true knowledge, but if I don’t have love, I am nothing. Being right is not the important thing: loving my sisters and brothers is. If Jesus died for someone weak and ignorant, I’ll eat vegemite sandwiches for the rest of my life if that’s what it takes to look after them.

We know what it does in the Church when the powerful hurt the weak. And we know what it has done for all of us that Jesus humbled himself and died for our sakes. We follow him. Amen