1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
January 28, 2024
As no small number of you recognize that I am a foodie, you won’t be surprised that I noticed that food is mentioned a lot in our passage this morning. While I might want to make this sermon about different ways to enjoy meat, the Bible passage is really about the ways we can grow to embody the love of the One who didn’t show off how right he was about everything, but denied himself his own rights in order to bring good into the life of others.
Back in Corinth, there were many pagan faiths. The priests for these faiths had butcher shops in their temples where they sold the leftover meat of animals sacrificed to the gods. Some new converts thought if they ate this meat, they would betray Christ to whom they’d just committed their lives. For those who knew there was no real harm in eating the meat, they needed to realize that love might ask them to deny themselves enjoying the meat that was their right to enjoy, so as not to harm a new brother or sister in the faith. There really was more than met the eye in what one decided to have for dinner!
In our scripture lesson today, we are challenged to look at our own behavior and ask ourselves what our motives are and what is our hoped for end result. If we hope to please God and we understand we please God by loving others as we love ourselves, we won’t get caught up in showing how right we are in our thinking or asserting our rights. We’ll be more concerned about drawing people close to Christ and keeping their relationship with Him good.
Having the right to say something or do something doesn’t mean we should say or do that thing. Showing love is far more important than showing that we are right or asserting our rights.
I am reminded of how critical this was when I was part of a delegation from Los Ranchos Presbytery (the consortium of Presbyterian Churches in this area) to Chonbuk Presbytery in South Korea. Back in 1996, our team of four was sent to sign a Partnership Memorandum of Understanding between the two presbyteries. Women didn’t have much of a leadership voice in the Presbyterian Korean church at the time and I knew my every action would be watched and scrutinized. The men I met with were cordial and respectful towards me, but I could not help but see there was more than met the eye.
I had a right to be a pastor and to be present in South Korea, but it was more important that I didn’t preach about my right, rather that I interacted with graciousness and humbleness. Love for God and respect for God’s people and the Korean culture would speak volumes more than my words ever could to help open doors for women in ministry there.
It was a humbling honor to be asked to officiate at the Lord’s Supper table. Many had never seen a woman do that before! I prayed that God would work through me in such a way that they could encounter him and then realize that the encounter included a female pastor and all was okay.
I was invited to return that Fall, this time with Rob. We were guest speakers at a “Spirituality Week” at the Margaret Pritchard Nursing School. I think that part of the invitation was simply to meet the man who would let his wife travel with three other men across the ocean and be in a leadership role in the church – and that was okay. If curiosity into what makes Rob and me tick helped women join with men to build God’s kingdom, so be it. All we could do was to faithfully deliver God’s word that God had given to us to share and be ourselves —the Holy Spirit would take it from there. There was more happening than met the eye or that we would ever be made aware of.
You know, many of the same issues that threatened to divide the Christian community in Corinth still plague us today. For example, the problem of an inflated ego (knowledge that puffs us up) is not easily overcome in a culture in which people make choices based on their own preferences and perceptions. The main challenge Paul proposes is that Christians are to be motivated first and foremost by love. You may love quiet serene music; but if whom you are being called to be a witness to is someone who loves hard rock, then chances are you should be listening to hard rock music. There was a tutor at Rising TIDE who liked football but was far from an expert. She most likely would have enjoyed spending her time getting tips for cooking and decorating her home from Chip and Joanna Gaines, but she spent her time learning about football so as to better relate to her tutee.
The issue in our passage today is deeper than what meets the eye. It is about our priority of values. There is something more important than thinking one is right and enjoying those rights — it is love. Bringing no harm to someone else and being patient with their spiritual journey matters more than having what we’d like or showing off our own enlightened consciousness.
Reuters reported this story a few years ago. “Their hearts may be on their sleeves, but their tattoos are under them. While participating in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the manager of Samoa’s men’s national rugby team required his players to don special sleeves to cover their tattoos. The edict complied with an advisory statement by World Rugby, issued as part of the sport’s cultural awareness program. The Manager said, ‘We have to respect the culture of the land we are in wherever we go. We have our own culture as well, but we are not in Samoa now.’
“When asked to elaborate, the manager clarified his stance further: There are some training venues that have allowed us to show our tattoos and some places where we can’t, and for those places, we’ve been given ‘skins’ to wear to cover our tattoos. The extra skins are only for when we go to the pools though. At the training we can wear our normal clothes.
“It might not have been an easy choice for the players to follow, because tattoos are a revered aspect of Pacific Islander culture. But in Japan, they are often associated with the Japanese organized crime syndicates.
“In the run up to the tournament, coach Steve Jackson consulted Japanese cultural experts to ensure players respect and appreciate the local culture. As a result, team captain Jack Lam was on board. Lam said, ‘It’s quite normal in our culture. But we are respectful and mindful to what the Japanese way is. We will be making sure that what we are showing will be OK.’” There was more than met the eye—it wasn’t just about covering tattoos, it was about respect and love for others.
Relationships present us with both a remarkable privilege and an awesome responsibility. As Christians, we are to take good care of those with whom we interact. We are to respect them and honor them enough to meet them where they are, and to be patient with them until they broaden their horizons and grow in their ideas and thoughts. This means that we may have to, like the Samoans with their tatoos, cover up some of our own values and thoughts until the time is right. If we love, it’s never about having our own way, but helping others grow and come closer to the way God wants them to be.
The challenge for us from this passage today is to reflect upon these questions in light of God’s word:
- How are our actions—no matter how justifiable or innocent they may seem in our eyes— likely to affect others in their personal development?
- Is our exercise of Christian freedom likely to undermine someone’s faith?
- Do we need to listen longer to others and patiently come to understand where they are, so that we might meet them there and lead them closer to where God wants them to be?
There is more than meets the eye with every encounter with another human being. We have a God-given opportunity to bless them and encourage them in their becoming all the more the person God wants them to be in their character and their conduct.