Caring for One Another
Sermon Preached by PastorWesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
February 1-2, 2003
West Bend, WI
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
"A Scout is reverent." This is another way of talking about an old United Methodist understanding that we are to be holy as GOD is holy.
It is easy to turn reverence and holiness into very individualistic qualities. In our United Methodist tradition we know that John Wesley was right in saying that "there is no holiness but social holiness." In the scouting tradition we also know that reverence or profound respect needs to be shown beyond a nod to GOD. We remember to reverence and respect creation, so campsites are always left better than they were found and to reverence and respect our neighbors through daily good deeds.
As we heard Paul responding to the people of Corinth in today's reading from the Bible, we begin to get another glimpse into caring for one another. The phrase "caring for one another" is quiet and soft. It doesn't make a lot of noise to demand this action or interpretation, or that. But when we listen carefully we can begin to hear other images in those simple words.
Care can be put in other, stronger ways. We are to reverence one another. We are to respect one another. We are to acknowledge the holiness of one another.
Today I would have us take a look at just the first verse of 1 Corinthians 8 through the eyes of some biblical scholars.
Paul begins by quoting from a letter he received from the church people atCorinth asking him to mediate on what was to them an important question. So Paul remembers and responds, "Now concerning what you wrote about food offered to idols. It is true, of course, that 'all of us possess knowledge,' as they say."
Indeed we do possess knowledge. In fact this is almost a defining feature of human beings. Our creation story, back in the Garden of Eden, has us choosing knowledge of Good and Evil as more important to us than Eternal Life.
The way the Corinthians were using their knowledge was to try to prove their knowledge was better than any one else's knowledge. They did this by cutting corners on caring and reverencing and respecting one another. Individual was set against individual and group against group.
The example given is that of eating food that had been offered to idols. In their time and place it would be a given that somewhere along the way one would be served such food. So what your knowledge was about food that had been served to idols was an important question.
For some it meant they could not maintain their faith if there was the slightest doubt about what they ate and so they would always be on guard to see that they honored GOD by not eating.
For some it meant that food was just food, regardless if it had previously been part of a religious ceremony to another god. They knew that food did not have the power to bring us closer to GOD or to keep us farther away from GOD, so they reverenced GOD by eating.
For one group, GOD could only be reverenced through close attention to a particular food rule. For the other group, GOD could be honored without such a rule.
What both groups forgot was that one cannot reverence GOD without reverencing GOD's image in this world, without reverencing one another or caring for one another.
So those who wouldn't eat particular food insisted that no one eat and those who would eat anything insisted that they would eat even if others disagreed. Those who wouldn't eat held back the spiritual journey of those who would eat and those who would eat insulted the spiritual journey of those who wouldn't eat.
Into this time of conflict and everyone trying to get their own knowledge affirmed as the one right way to understand things, came Paul with the second part of the first verse.
Paul listened to their complaints about one another and summarized the issue: "Such knowledge puffs a person up with pride, but love builds up."
We have so many different ways of dividing ourselves from one another and only one way to keep growing closer together.
So which side are you on and is it more important for you to make your point than to build up another?
What knowledge do you have or need in this business of rumors of war until war becomes inevitable because leaders can't back down and have to prove their power? What does love need to be building up in regard to relationships between Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis, Iraqis and Americans?
What knowledge do you have or need in the business of rumors floating aroundFifth Avenue United Methodist Church? What does love need to be building up between our members, between ourselves and those who have left our membership, between ourselves and potential new members?
What knowledge do you have or need about hospital relocations and airport expansions and job losses? What does love need to be building up in our community?
What knowledge do you have of shuttle re-entry disintegration? What does love need to be building between losses in the past and horizons in the future?
Paul puts it in no uncertain terms - "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Whoever thinks they know something perfectly really doesn't know as they ought to know. But anyone who loves God is known by God."
Friends, let us reverently acknowledge our own limitations of knowledge and take advantage of our opportunities for discussion and dialogue to be closer drawn to each other. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love-our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares. May we live this song and show our reverence for GOD and our care for one another. Amen.