St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-28-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-28-2018

One Person’s Righteousness, Another’s Sin

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Recently, in our confirmation class, we were discussing “sin”. It was a class I added to our curriculum just before we talked about “Forgiveness and Grace”. I thought it was important for the young people, as it is for all of us, to understand what sin is, what makes something a sin, other than the fact that the Bible says it is.

In preparation for this class I gave them 4 questions to consider, asked them to engage the questions with their parents, and asked them to write down their thought. The 4 questions were…

1. Are there reasons why God declares some things sinful? If so, what are the reasons?

2. What makes something you do or say a sin?

3. Can doing nothing, in some circumstances, be a sin? Why or why not?

And 4. Is it possible for something to be a sin for one person but not for everyone? Why or why not?

That last question might seem to be a no-brainer if we are only looking at the Bible to create a list of what thoughts or actions God has declared sinful. But if we expand our thinking with consideration of the other three questions, we might find need for reconsideration.

One of the things we need to keep in mind when reading books of the New Testament, especially Paul’s Epistles, is the cultural context of those to whom they were written. The letter to the Romans, for example, was written to the Christian Church in, obviously, the Roman culture; whereas today’s letter to the Corinthians is to people living in a historically Greek culture.

Paul was well aware of the cultural differences of the various locations and that some of the Churches were made up predominantly of converted Jews while others were mostly converted Gentiles and would adjust the presentation of his message accordingly.

I found a modern day case for this kind of thoughtful consideration in my cross cultural trip to India where the predominant Hindu faith considers cows to be sacred. Even though Christians are, by their faith, permitted to eat beef, they wouldn’t think of doing so. If they did it would result in such conflict with the majority of the nation that all hope of converting others to our faith would be destroyed along with the Church itself.

 

At a glance we can see that, in today’s Epistle reading, Paul is addressing a question about the right or wrong of eating meat that has been sacrificed to an idol. It would seem that the letter sent to him included a statement about those in concern having the “knowledge” that, since idols aren’t real gods, and not the one and only God, then the meat sacrificed to them (probably the only meat available to the people) is okay for them to eat.

Paul agrees with this. He states emphatically…

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

But then he continues with a warning to those who are eating meat to not mislead others with a weaker faith; less mature in their faith.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

What we can now see in this writing; not only about eating meat but applicable to all things; is an answer to that age old argument, “can one person’s righteousness be another person’s sin”?

I’ve been involved in many discussions over this question, sometimes heated arguments. But right here we have the basis for my side of that argument. Paul clearly states that, as people of the one true God, we are free to eat whatever we want, even what has been sacrificed to idols as long as our knowledge, our consciousness, allows us to differentiate between the true God and false gods.

Still, even though it is not sinful for those with this knowledge and ability, Paul tells us that we must be careful not to cause the weak to stumble, to cause them to stray from their new found faith. And this brings up another question to consider, “Do we need to abstain from everything that might cause others to stumble”? To find this answer we need to go back to the beginning of today’s reading, the very beginning, verse 1, where we read “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Here, Paul is telling those with the needed “knowledge” to not hold it over those who are less mature in their faith or to think themselves greater than them, but to use that knowledge to lift up the others; to be patient with them and to teach them until they, too, have a clear conscious, the clarity of mind, the confident understanding that the more mature in faith have.

Keep this in mind, especially in matters of faith, but also in all aspects of life. What is clear as day to each of us might not be so clear to others. And, conversely, what is clear to others may not be so to each of us. So be patient, persevere, teach by speaking your truth, and learn by listening to another’s truth, build up in love until all people, including yourself, can live in the freedom of life with God and Christ.

Amen

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;
8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.
8:4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”
8:5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords–
8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
8:8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
8:10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?
8:11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.
8:12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.
18:16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.”
18:17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said.
18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.
18:19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.
18:20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die.”

Psalm 111
111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.


 

Mark 1:21-28
1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.
1:22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,
1:24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
1:26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
1:28 At once his fame began to spread throughout
the surrounding region of Galilee.