The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - January 28, 2018
Scripture Reading:
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Sermon Title: ďLove is the guideĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Before I start to talk about this particular passage, I want to take a moment to talk about where we are in the Bible this week.  I do this because I never got it until probably when I went to seminary.  We bounce around in the Bible a lot, and I think once you start to get how it all fits together, you start to understand it better. 

     Paul was one of the first well known people who converted from Judaism to Christianity.  After Jesus was killed, probably between 33 and 36, Paul was a strict Jew who was persecuting early Christians.  He would get permission from the High Priest to arrest and jail early Christians.  He was headed to Damascus, apparently on his way to find and persecute Christians, saw a bright light and heard a voice saying ďThis is Jesus, why are you persecuting me?Ē  He went blind, then got his sight back, and became a follower of Jesus.  After this event, he started to travel around and set up churches in different cities.  We have the 4 Gospels, which tell the life of Jesus, and then the book of Acts, which are the events that happened shortly after Jesus died.  Paulís conversion is found in the book of Acts.  And then many of the letters that follow the book of Acts are claimed to be written by Paul.

     This letter is written by Paul to the church at Corinth.  In our Bible they are found after the gospels, because in chronological order, we have to learn about Jesus in order to have Christian churches for Paul to write letters to.  But the gospels were probably written after most or all of Paulís letters.  At this time, there was no printing press, and no clear official church structure to determine what gospel or gospels of Jesus you should be reading.  There were a lot more than just the 4 gospels we have in our Bible.  So even if they had some pieces of an early gospel, it was nothing like what we have today. 

     As these churches formed, they started to wonder about this issue and that issue.  Paul was the authority on this, so the church wrote to Paul, and then Paul wrote back to the church, answering their questions.  We donít have copies of the churchís letters to Paul, but in reading Paul you can usually tell what they asked, based on his answers. 

     Now I will admit that there are people who do not like Paul very much.  He is the one who says that women should not speak in church, and should have their heads covered.  So we tend to use that early advice from Paul in light of what we read in the gospels.  Jesus certainly traveled with women, and never mentioned them covering their heads, so we believe that Paul was a little off in his opinion there.  Also, it is very possible that in some copies of his letters things were changed to fit the times in which they were copied.  It is very possible that some of those early copiers could have said ďPaul would have said this if he had been asked about itĒ and could have added parts to these letters.  

     But I like the reading today because it is an issue we really donít deal with very much anymore.  Generally, at least in the United States, it would be uncommon to sacrifice an animal to any god.  Yes, this still happens around the world, and probably even here, but if you neighbor buys a goat, and starts to build an altar for sacrifice and to burn this offering to some god, you are going to call the police.  But at this time it was common. 

     In the ancient world there were all sorts of temples to different gods, many different religions, and many were not exclusive.  So you might sacrifice a goat in this temple for a good crop, then another animal in a different temple for health for your family.  In Jerusalem, at this time, the Jewish were also sacrificing animals to God. 

     And what happens to the meat of these animals?  Often it is eaten by worshippers in that temple, or sold.  So Paulís church in Corinth was wondering about this meat.  Is it OK to buy it and eat it, or even eat it in that temple, is that participating in the worship of this god, eating the meat from the animal that was sacrificed to it?  I am younger then many of you, but can honestly say that I have never been faced with the option of buying meat from any animal sacrificed to any god, and I would guess that most of you also have never been faced with this issue.

     And this is good, because we donít get hung up on the issue, but can look at Paulís reasoning.  If we took an issue that people are more connected to, we get hung up on right or wrong.  With an issue not really facing us today we see, perhaps, how Paul might deal with some issues we are faced with today. 

     Paul starts by saying that these gods that others are sacrificing animals to are not real, there is no need to worry.  He admits that there are other gods and other lords, but we all know that Zeus does not exist, so if we eat food sacrificed to him, and we know he does not exist, it does us no harm.  Paul could have left it there, it is OK to eat the food. 

     But he takes it a step further to base the rest of his answer on the issue of Love.  You know the truth, you read my letter, but what if someone else sees you doing it, and does not understand?  Will they think you are, indeed, worshipping Zeus?  The issue turns into not what logically we can justify, but instead what our heart says.

     Paul, unfortunately, uses language here that is hard.  I donít know about you, but I donít want to be called weak or immature.  But I also donít believe I am better than others.  He almost seems to be saying that if you are mature enough or strong enough, you can eat this meat, but is it worth it?  Is there a test to make sure you know enough about Jesus, and that you hold Jesus in your heart, and therefore can eat this safely?

     For Paul, at least on this issue, the people around are more important than yourself.  You may be able to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but if those around you are not able to fully understand how and why, it is better to just avoid it. 

     For Paul, the focus is on the community.  If you truly love those around you, how should you act?  If you understand more than those around you, you should not boast or brag.  In fact if you are seen eating meat in a temple and that causes someone else to stumble, you are sinning against Christ.  The idea is to have everyone involved, teach others about Jesus.  It is not about what you can do, but how your actions will affect others. 

     Which really translates well into our lives today.   In ministersí circles we often joke about perceptions of ourselves or other clergy.  We try to live up to othersí expectations of us, but often we donít even know what those expectations are, and we fail.  I mentioned once a conversation I had with a minister who had just purchased a car, and the difficulty he had finding the right car.  Could not be too big, or too small.  Probably should not be brand new, but certainly not too used.  Bright red is probably not a good color, silver or white is probably safe.  But it goes beyond that, what about smoking or drinking.  How about seeing certain movies, or going shopping on Sunday?  Some here would say that those are personal choices and have nothing to do with someoneís role as a minister, but others feel that a follower of Christ would never do those things, and having a minister who does is wrong.  And this does not just apply to the person in the pulpit. Paul would say this applies to all of us, so although ministers tend to be more under the microscope. What does it say to others when you do, or donít do these things?

     In todayís world it can be even harder than in Paulís world.  Take something like creation.  The Bible tells us that it happened in 7 days.  Mountains of scientific evidence point to evolution.  There are many people who fully believe that if the Bible tells us that it happened in 7 days, about 6,000 years ago, that is what happened.  Others believe that it was purely accidental; through genetic variations and survival of the fittest, over about 4.5 billion years, life evolved into what we have today.  Which can put us into a hard position.

     If I tell you that the Bible is not a history book, but that truths can come from stories that are not factual, this might cause some to assume that the whole Bible contains no facts.  This logically would cause some to question all the stories about Jesus, what is fact and what is story?  But if I tell you that the Bible is fact, every bit of it, you are going to question why our children are being taught incorrect things in schools. 

     Would Paul say that we should not talk about things like this?  For Paul, is unity of the body more important than anything else?  Or would Paul agree that we can teach, we can discuss, we can even argue a point, but we do that with understanding and love.  There are currently two groups in the world who believe in strict creation as recorded in our Bible.  These are conservative Christians in the United States and conservative Sunni Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia.  In most of the world the theory of evolution is taught as the best theory at this point, and often presented as truth with details still being figured out. 

     I hope you have heard me say ďTell me more,Ē or ďWhat do you think?Ē  In todayís world none of us agree 100% with anyone else.  You may believe in Creationism, or evolution, but you are still my brother or sister in Christ.  While I do agree with Paul that we should not intentionally do something that will confuse another, we do need to decide personally and as a church how God is calling us to act.  In my mind, that means taking all the evidence we have, scientific, from the Bible and from other sources, putting it all out there and examining it.  Even if we all have the same information, some will weight some sources above others, which means that we may never agree. 

     And in the end, some of us will smoke, or drink, or watch certain movies, or shop on Sundays.  We will make decisions, we will talk about them, we will read the Bible, we will compare that against cultural norms and other evidence, and sometimes our decisions will change.  We should not boast that we are correct and everyone else is wrong, or that we know more than others.  But we are equal, we are all learning, we are all weighing options, but in the end, just as it was for Paul, the community is the most important thing.  Above being right or wrong, loving each other as God loves us is the most important thing.