1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Walking the Walk: Part I
As you can tell by my sermon title this is part 1 of a short three part sermon series I will be doing entitled Walking the Walk. Over the next three weeks I will be concentrating on Paul’s words from his letter to the Corinthians. In these scriptures we find guidance on how to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives. We learn ways we can build ourselves up, proclaim our faith to others and respond to normal people out in the world. What does it look like to walk the walk of the faithful? Let’s see what Paul tells us today…[Read 1 Corinthians 9:16-23]
This past week I met with some other clergy in Thomasville to plan out our Lenten services. This year six United Methodist Churches will be coming together to celebrate Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We gathered together at a local Mexican restaurant and shared some laughs over some sweet tea or diet coke and some good Mexican food. Later on that day as I thought about what I was going to preach on I laughed at the idea of contrasting that ministerial meeting with another one I attended.
The way the British Methodist Church is set up and organized is that a small group of ministers are in charge of all Methodist churches in a small town. I had three of the thirteen churches in the Ashton-under-Lynn circuit. There were five ministers, four ordained and one equivalent to our local pastor to cover all those churches. It would be like the five pastors who came to lunch that day in charge of all eleven churches within the city limits of Thomasville. Each quarter the ministers would get together to come up with the preaching plan. This plan would dictate who preached where and when for the next three months. As the token American with the strange accent I was ushered around to all thirteen churches during my ten months there.
What made me laugh a little was not how different the polity of our situations was but where our meeting took place. Both meetings involved food because where two or more pastors gather there is food or at least coffee. This week our meeting took place in a Mexican restaurant, a popular choice of cuisine no matter where you live in America. In England we at a pub that was down the street and I think instead of two enchiladas like I had Thursday, I’m pretty sure I ordered bangers and mash for that meeting. Not only that, but something that made me smirk, was we all had a pint of beer.
As we met I told them how this would never happen in America. Methodist clergy over there usually wear clerical collars. So there we were sitting at a table with three out of the five wearing a ministerial dog collar drinking beer at noon on a Tuesday. Here if ministers were getting together to drink beer they would do it far away from their local congregation and never would do it wearing something that would easily identify them as clergy. But in England that is never even looked at as weird or wrong. That is because although we share a similar language the cultures of America, especially the southern “Bible Belt” states and Great Britain are very different. If we shared a pitcher of cerveza at our meeting this week while we poured over our United Methodist Book of worship, I am sure someone would have said something to someone else who would share it with someone on our Pastor Parish Relations Committees and a meeting would have been called for Sunday. Our culture here is different.
When Paul is writing the Corinthians he is attempting to smooth out some practical matters of living out this new faith that is sweeping the area because of his mission work. The passage I read today seems to be linked with the conversation he started back in chapter 8. In that chapter Paul talks about whether or not it is right to eat meat that is sacrificed to idols. This is understandable back then. In the streets of ancient Corinth the market would have been full of people selling the animals that were just offered up to be sacrifices to idols of that Greek culture. The Christians of that area were wondering if it was okay to eat it. For example if a sacrifice of a lamb was given for the worship of the Greek god Apollo, it might be burned but then sold for meat later that day. Say some new Christians were craving lamb chops that night and as they walked in the market they decided to buy them from the lamb that was just offered up earlier that day. Some Christians believed that if someone did this it meant they were worshiping Apollo. Others believed it was okay because it was only meat.
Paul in the 8th chapter says, “7 But not everybody knows this. Some are eating this food as though it really is food sacrificed to a real idol, because they were used to idol worship until now. Their conscience is weak because it has been damaged. 8 Food won’t bring us close to God. We’re not missing out if we don’t eat, and we don’t have any advantage if we do eat. 9 But watch out or else this freedom of yours might be a problem for those who are weak. 10 Suppose someone sees you (the person who has knowledge) eating in an idol’s temple. Won’t the person with a weak conscience be encouraged to eat the meat sacrificed to false gods? 11 The weak brother or sister for whom Christ died is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 You sin against Christ if you sin against your brothers and sisters and hurt their weak consciences this way. 13 This is why, if food causes the downfall of my brother or sister, I won’t eat meat ever again, or else I may cause my brother or sister to fall.” Paul says there is nothing wrong with eating the meat unless it causes some of the weak minded to lose faith in God. He would rather go without the meat then let a brother or sister lose faith.
Now in the 9th chapter we hear more of this train of thought. Paul says “act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). 21 I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I’m not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ). 22 I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means.” Paul is like a chameleon who changes with the people he is with to gain as many people as possible for God.
This passage is so relevant for us in 2012 it is almost funny. We live in a culture that likes to draw lines everywhere. Are you Republican or Democrat? Which ACC team do you root for? Are you pro-choice or pro-life? What denomination are you? What religion are you? Our culture also drives us to only see those things that we agree with. If we truly listened to some political pundits, if you are Republican than you should not be hanging out, interacting with or making eye contact with any Democrat because they are from the devil. It can go the other way as well. The church has had a history of this. You don’t have to go far into our past to find Catholics and Protestants killing each other over their religious views.
How do we live out our faith if it differs from other people we interact with? If our believes are different than our friends, our families, our neighbors, what do we do? Paul says we are to be like the other. We are to act like Jews to the Jews, weak to the weak. Does this mean that we are to be Democrat to the Democrat and Republican to the Republicans? Are we to be pro-choice to the pro-choice and pro-live to the pro-live? Are we to be fans of the Tar Heels when in Chapel Hill, then Blue Devil fans in Durham, Demon Deacon fans in Winston-Salem, and Wolf Pack fans in Raleigh? There is something weird feeling about it. It sounds like Paul is asking us to be hypocritical and for us to give into whatever idea the people around us have.
I was talking with a person who went on a trip to Armenia with one of our previous Bishops. Our conference, through Project Agape, helps the Methodist Church over there and this was one of the trips our Bishop took to see how things were going over there. While they were there they met with equivalent of their Bishop. During their meeting there was a lot of laughing and praying. Then the Armenian Bishop pulled out a special bottle of vodka. It was one of those bottles that people hang on to only to bring out for special occasions. It was clear this was a very special bottle of vodka and the Bishop wanted to honor this meeting by offering everyone a drink. He poured it into glasses and gave it to everyone in the room and everyone drank. What would have happened if the people from our Conference denied the gift the bishop was offering? This bottle of vodka that he had been holding onto for years that he finally opened because he wanted to share it with his fellow Christians from America, would he be offended if they didn’t at least take one drink from it? It probably would have been offensive because in his culture that bottle was something to be honored and cherished.
What Paul is saying here is we have to make sure we are looking at the big picture that unites us when we interact with people and not the small stuff that divides us. The big picture is that everything we do is “for the sake of the gospel.” We are to win as many people as we can for Christ. The best way to do this is to look past our little differences. We are humans created in God’s image and given free will. Because of this we will all look at the world differently. We will not all agree on everything. If we did the world would be boring. But that doesn’t mean we cannot approach, talk, discuss, worship, and interact with those we disagree with from a sense of love for one another.
This is what Paul means when he says, “Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them.” Yes, our Christological Theology frees us from the law and enables us to do many things. But we also live within a culture that views the world in a certain way as well. We can do more damage than good if we try to flaunt our freedom. Those who may view things differently may be hurt because they do not understand or believe the same thing we do.
People all over the world see the world differently. Paul, a Jew who grew up in the Middle East was telling people who were in ancient Greece how to live. He is giving them the freedom to be slaves for their people. We in Thomasville, North Carolina have the same mission as those who live in Kenya, or Armenia, or Australia. We are to hear the Great Commission of Christ, to “therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20)
In order to do that we must be willing to let our little differences go for the great good of the gospel. The Gospel is not about our personal beliefs and our personal worldview. As the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren starts off saying, “It is not about you.” It is about the salvation of the world that came through life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to stop meeting people in this world with hate and judgment and starting meeting them with love and understanding. Different cultures, different languages, different generations, it doesn’t matter how we are different, we need to start with where we are the same. We all are the children of God made in His image. We need to heed the words of Paul today and stop being divisive for the sake of ourselves but to do all things “for the sake of the gospel.”
And all of God’s people said…Amen