Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Today we don’t often think about what we eat or where we eat. For most of us we have houses filled with food of some sort. Often times we simply throw it in a microwave, zap it for a couple of minutes, let if cool for a bit, and eat. Food has been on my mind this week, I’m not saying I’ve been hungry that isn’t the case at all, if fact I’ve eaten quite well this week as I have most weeks. It is hard not to when I have a great family and church friends that keep me nourished. Food has been on my mind because some of us participated with the feed the people ministry yesterday, and I have been in anticipation for it all week.
This event has shown me much about my life, my way of life, and who I live around every day. To think just a few miles from where I work there are people who don’t know if they will eat today. People that can see buildings filled with food yet they cannot obtain it because they can’t afford it. Not just people but children. Children living in a park. Excited to see a van where they can get a meal, and extra cake.
Food is important. It is more than something we have to have to continue to live. It is a tool. Food is a tool we use to develop relationships and to celebrate life. This afternoon many of you will share food while celebrating the birth of a new life. It is no wonder that to most significant spiritual ritual celebrated in religion revolves around food. The Jewish year is broken into periods of fasts and feasts, Islam has a month where they fast during the day and eat at night. Many Christians fast for a time during the season of lent, and celebrate feast or holy day where they share food with a community. A fast is a time where one abstains from food to focus on God, followed by a feast to celebrate God’s blessing. The single greatest ritual in Christian traditions revolves around a table with bread and wine, a ritual used to reminding participants of the sacrifice Christ made for each of us when He willingly took up the cross. Even though many of us from Friends traditions may not worship using the elements of the Eucharist I assure you we do greatly believe the symbolism and reality in and around the sharing of food. Every meal we eat with our family should be a celebration where we remember the blessing and grace we receive from God through Jesus. Every fellowship meal we share is a time to celebrate the life and hope we find in the relationship we have with each other and with God. Every meal, every aspect of our lives is lived in worship.
Yesterday I saw communion. People seeking something to satisfy their hunger. We were able to share a meal, and encourage them to seek the one who provides a different type of bread. This was communion, yet it was not full communion. The word communion implies more it has at its root common. Something shared, community also is applied. So communion is something shared with others around you. I could not fully share this because I was not part of their community. Yet I did observe communion. I saw people hungry yet they would make sure their friends received a plate before they did. If their friend was unable to get to the van they would take a plate to them. In one case when the food we served ran out I watched a person give another half of their plate so both could enjoy the meal.
Food is important. I know this because most of my life I spent providing the raw products to feed the world. I worked the soil, planted the seeds, and harvested the crops. One farmer feeds over 300 people. Yet that farmer can only do so much. The agriculture or food industry is a major part of our economy. Americans spend around 8% of their income on basic food at home and around a 13% of their income when we add in restaurants, Europeans can spend as much as 40% of their income on food. Other than housing food tops the list of most household expenses.
Paul writes to the Corinthians about food, and the source of food. We may not fully grasp what is going on in this scripture if we don’t understand something about ancient cultures. When my family harvests their crops we take the grain to storage facilities to store. These rural skyscrapers had an ancient relative. Built in much the same way many as today’s grain bins, temples to the gods were actually grain storage facilities. The buying and selling if grain was often a religious activity. We see a glimpse of this in the story of Joseph and the children of Israel when the families move to Egypt during a famine. When it come to livestock things aren’t much different. Today we sell the calves to feeders, who sell the steers to packers. In ancient times the packers were the priests, and the livestock was used in religious rituals then distributed to the people.
There is more to the story. Corinth is a major city in the Roman empire. It is an urban area filled with various merchants. Many of which were people living life as free men. Free men were not a common demographic in ancient culture. There were land owners and slaves. The free men were people who were on their own they made their living by buying and selling goods. These merchant cities had a different type of culture. Their lifestyles were different from other areas of the society. In a great house the lords would provide the food for their servants. They lived in great houses that were like small villages. The communities of free men were different, there weren’t great houses but apartment complexes. This in itself doesn’t sound odd, but archaeologist have found something strange. In our apartments or homes we are used to seeing certain things. The ads say things like two rooms, one and a half bath. This usually means there is a living room, two bedrooms, two toilets, a tub, and a kitchen. In the ancient world they would be missing some of these rooms. We understand that it is a modern thing to have indoor plumbing since only a few generations ago our ancestors used an out house. But in these freeman apartments, cooking areas were often missing. In fact they have found in many merchant communities that there may only be one kitchen for several complexes. These kitchens were in temples. So these freemen merchants were required to eat out every day.
The Corinthian church is filled with these freemen. They made their own living they were merchants and traders. They answered to no master but themselves, yet to gain the subsistence they often had to attend temple serves. This poses quite an issue. When the followers of Jesus first saw people of gentile races come to God they issued only a few rules one being not to eat food sacrificed to idols. This was first written to a culture much like those around Israel, where the majority of people were slaves or masters. Corinth is a society with radically different norms.
These people had to eat, yet did eating equate worship, and if it did who or what were they worshiping? Paul the first theologian tackles these questions. First with a discussion of knowledge.
Knowledge is a great thing. We should all pursue more knowledge. That is why we send our kids to school, and universities. This is why we pursue training so we can expand our businesses or to take a different role. knowledge on itself is not bad, but it can be if it we use our knowledge poorly. These Corinthians embraced freedom, many of them worked hard to gain freedom, and fully loved God because in Jesus they found hope in the freedom a relationship with Him provides. They no longer had to constantly offer sacrifices to gods with the hope of blessing. They knew that Jesus provides grace new every morning. Yet with great freedom comes great responsibility, with knowledge also comes responsibility.
There is only one God Paul say, these idols are not real they are only man-made image with no power. This knowledge is very important. It is fundamental to our faith. There is only one God, and we should love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength. This is the first and greatest command given from Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. Since these Corinthian believers know there is only one God, these temple are truly nothing but food distributors, they have no problem eat there. Especially since they really didn’t have many options. The problematic issue is not the food. Food is food, this what Paul is saying, but in a culture of idolatry will eating in the temple of a false god lead others to the truth? Does your knowledge encourage other in love and grace or does it keep people in bondage?
A deep question. This leads into our responsibility to our culture as well as our lives. If we say things like our government shouldn’t be involved in welfare. What are we doing to help people support themselves. If we say God is loving, just, and forgiving what are we doing to share that with others in our words and actions. If we say God can do all things, are we living that faith or just puffing up with knowledge? I have asked many of you why you choose to worship God here. For some of you your answer is like mine I grew up in a Friends church so I came here. For others you say this is a place where the people live in relationship with God. That we don’t just have knowledge but live in love. That is what I hope we express. That is why the Friends movement started.
We have been a counter-culture from the start, we have lived lives of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality for over 300 years. We do this because we love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and want to live Christ’s love with others. We do this because we know that Christ will teach and guide us in our lives if we slow down, and wait in holy expectancy for Him to guide us.
This is a life much like Paul encourages in this letter. He said that he won’t eat meat if by doing so it hamper his testimony. He knows it really doesn’t matter to him or God. But it does to those who have yet experienced the grace and love of their creator. He is encouraging them to find a different tool, to find a different approach. He is encouraging them to open their own eateries, or to build kitchens in their living quarters so they can encourage the weak to embrace life with God. The communion with God and others, the relationship with God and others, the brotherly love shared among each other is more important than getting our own way, and something that should be invested in.
We have freedom in Christ, we have hope in Christ. We have this because the one from whom, and for whom all think were created came to live among us. Taking on our humanity living life for us all. We have freedom because God Himself carried the burden of our sin on his own shoulders as he carried that cross. We are free because he took the penalty of our sins to his grave where they are buried and forgotten. We have power because He overcame the clutches of our advisory and conquered death. That hope and power, that love and grace is available to all who freely and totally turn from their old ways and follow him. We know this. God loves us and sent His Son not to condemn the world but to give us life. And for that reason I do what I do.
As we enter this time of collective prayer and open worship I ask how are we as individuals as freed men and women, as a community of Friends, how will we share this great love with others today, tomorrow, and in the age to come.
Scripture: Jonah 1-5, 10
We live in a culture populated by fear, jealousy, greed, prejudices, and hate. Our politicians campaign hoping these emotions will serve their purposes. Many have a jealousy of those with wealth. In that jealousy it isn’t considered what it took for those to obtain the wealth, but instead it is assumed that something unjust occurred to gain what we all want. In some, perhaps many of the cases this is true, but like everything it is not the whole story. Men like Gates, Jobs, and Buffet all had a vision for products, they had greater vision then other and often purchased patents from people because they had greater vision than the inventors. In hindsight we feel that they cheated these people whose ideas make companies millions of dollars when only purchased for much less. Although wealth and success seems unobtainable in today’s world, we live in a culture where ideas, progress, risk, and challenges are sought. Those willing to pay the price, to rise to the occasion are rewarded.
Jonah is a man living in an odd time in Hebrew history. He is an Israelite, from the area we know as Galilee. He’s a person through whom God speaks. He receives a message to go to Nineveh and tell them they are doomed. This is good news for Jonah. Nineveh is the capital city to their greatest enemy. Their destruction is, in his mind something to look forward to. The words used in this sense are the same words of warning given to Sodom prior to the rains of fire. The destruction in that case was due to their sinfulness. Sodom was a culture fully engaged in sensual pleasures. Their lives and lifestyles revolved around fulfilling their lusts. Nineveh is similar. They too lived in a culture of lust, blood lust. Their armies were feared not only because they were well manned and equipped, but also because they took pleasure in killing. The more gruesome the better they felt about themselves. We could discuss just how gruesome they were but it would give us nightmares, we can just say the lord Dracula was a saint compared to these men.
Jonah was excited about the impending destruction but not to thrilled with the God of Israel getting involved in this way. We may ask why. When we consider the overturning of Sodom we know that their destruction was total. Even to this day archaeologists aren’t sure were this once great city was. They have some ideas but the city was never rebuilt. This type of destruction should be ideal for an entire culture entertained by murder.
Jonah had a problem in two areas: the first why me, and the second was that he knew God. We live in a culture in era of time defined by lusts. The enemies of our nation says that we are corrupting the world because of our lusts, lusts of greed and sensuality. Many in our culture look at them as being bloodthirsty tyrants bent on killing anyone not willing to conform to their ideals. Both see the other as the source of the impending doom of humanity.
If you have watched vegitales or have a basic understanding of this story you know Jonah tried to opt out of his calling. He ran the opposite direction only to find himself in the belly of a fish contemplating where his life went wrong. He had a passion for God. One that would rival any of us. He was regarded as a leader, a prophet of God. He traveled where ever God led him, and yet he exhibited just a bit of free will and he ended up siting in darkness with the aroma of partially digested seafood wafting around. We all choose things in our lives, we all have passions and convictions. We have prejudices and boundaries we refuse to cross. I can identify with Jonah I know exactly what he feels. I would venture to say God was calling me to ministry early in my life. I read scripture daily in grade school. And over the course of my life I have read it completely several times. I was raised to pray, to worship, to tithe ten percent of all I earned. Yet I was not perfect. I strayed from the paths of God. I love knowledge I pursued and still pursue it like a dog after game. I was caught up in the view that science could prove and disprove everything. As a result God seemed to slip from my view. My quest was science and my passion was the emerging technology of genetically enhancing crops. Was God still a part of my life, yes I still faithfully attended worship, still tithed, I still refused to work on Sunday, but I questioned areas of scripture. Things like loving your enemy, do not commit adultery, and blessed are the poor sounded ridiculous to me because academics provided other paths. My quest for knowledge out weighed my desire for God which slowly caused my life to slip into sinfulness. I lived a life of justifying my actions. On the outside most regarded me as weighty in spirit, yet in reality I was empty and running. Jonah ran and found himself in a fish, I ran and found myself facing the reality that 99% prevention still leaves a 1% chance.
Does God cause things to happen if we reject his ways? This is the question of the ages. Theologians have debated this for all ages to this day. The disciples of Christ even asked it often. The reality is we all face consequences for our actions. Jonah faced a storm and a fish for rejecting God, he says this because without these he would not have turned around. God uses circumstance to teach and guide us. Jonah learned a lesson he truly repented and traveled into the land of darkness to enlighten them.
The city of Nineveh is actually only around 8 miles long and one or two wide but like Kansas city it had a metropolitan area surrounding it. It had several suburbs that eventually grew into one continuous system of cities. There is discussion surrounding just what scripture means when it says that it was three days walk to cross the city. Some believe that it would take three days to visit all the various centers making the metro., while others believe that the distance was a straight three days walk. Either way it is a large area. it was located on the eastern shores of the Tigris river and the culture emerged from the same civilization from which Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was called from. They were the first of the great conquering empires, originating in the cradle of civilization. This was the center of the world at that time. This one man, Jonah, was going to this blood thirst superpower to tell them to turn to God. It was a one man quest to convert New York city.
He was filled with fear over the enormity of the task, the violence of the culture, and the message. He had no problem with God snuffing them out, he hated them just like we grew up to hate the Soviet Union. But he knew God. He knew that God ultimately is a God of grace, a God of justice, a God who does not wish for one person to be left unredeemed. Jonah knew that these hated people just might turn to God and their violence against Israel may go unpunished because some may come to faith.
Jonah was a reluctant, hesitant, prejudiced, and truthful prophet. God can use pretty much anyone. The truth if spoken honestly will turn many. these people were on a collision course with destruction. They had everything yet they were throwing it all away to satisfy unwholesome desires. Every nation around them were uniting against them because of their brutality. If enough people unite against one opponent it will eventually fall. Eventually it did fall. But only after God provided an opportunity for their redemption. God provided an opportunity for them to repent and turn toward him. The time was ripe, the entire city was engulf in revival at the words delivered from Jonah.
The world needs God. They need people to go out and present the Gospel. The problem is the world is hesitant to religion. I was hesitant. Other things in life are grabbing for our time and attention. Balance is off. Our world is hesitant to God not necessarily because they are opposed to God but they feel if they pursue God their world and life will spiral out of control. God does totally overturn our lives. He is a jealous God. Meaning he does not like it when other things are overshadowing His place. If life is a Balance, God is the central point holding everything together, the pivot point. As our stresses piles up we should be sure to adjust them around Him or eventually everything will fall. sometimes we must pull God closer to the stress so we can bear it up, like lifting a great weight with a lever.
The truth is without God our lives will unravel. I have found in my own life many things would break down around me. No matter how educated, no matter how good or bad my job or family life is without God it is worthless. With God though the are reasons, and purposes. With God my income becomes a tool of encouragement, instead of a burden or idol. With God my family is a gift and pleasure instead of a responsibility. My passions are greater, and are filled not with selfish greed but community enrichment. The pursuit of peace isn’t just an idea but a real goal with God. God brings balance and reality. The lives we once knew do unravel. It falls away and is replaced with something new something greater.
God gave Jonah a vision to turn the vilest people to Him. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea yet an entire nation was redeemed to God. This has happened countless times. The Romans turned to God, the Celts, the vikings. In each cases it was the unlikely people who turned the hearts. Who will proclaim the gospel in our world? Our city, nation, and world need God we need balance. Our central city is falling apart, we keep moving from the center leaving many in areas without hope or or means. When people lose hope they begin to live by fear. They seek safety in gangs because there is nothing else for them, no family or community. We see the news and are glad we don’t have to worry. We move and shop elsewhere so we don’t have to deal with it. All the while we are just like Jonah running from the people God gives us to minister to because we would rather opt out. It is easy to say this, it is a different story to live it. It is difficult to live in Nineveh. yet I feel that God is calling us to bring balance to our city. To go into areas to proclaim the truth, areas that may not be glamorous but will bring hope. Jonah turned Nineveh to God. What could Quakers do for Kansas City, Lee’s summit, Johnson county, and Independence. What would happen if we were excited to serve, to invest in areas other groups leave behind. What if we lived our lives following Jesus’s example and taking the gospel not to those who have already heard but to those whose lives need a new source of hope.
As we enter into this time of open worship ask yourselves if running or pursuing? Are we willing to trust God with our lives to bring balance in our world, And are we willing to go where he calls.
Today’s Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Every morning we go through our morning routine. We make coffee, take a shower, drink coffee, get dressed, drink coffee, find our keys, drink coffee, drive to work while drinking coffee, honk our horns a few times, and start a regular work day. For the most part nothing changes for us. Our days are oddly uneventful, it is no wonder we are so anxious for a weekend so we can do something different for a change.
The life of most people is a similar story, maybe without coffee, but we all have ritualistic lives that rarely change dramatically. Yet sometimes things do change. A new parent’s life changes the moment their bundle of joy comes home, and suddenly the word sleep causes their eyes to glaze over in desire. Eventually the baby is added into the daily routine and life goes on. Humans tend to gravitate toward the boring.
We do this because we must. We have bills to pay, food to gather and eat, and other responsibilities. Historically things have changed little. Daily the shepards watched their flocks, daily the farmer tends the grounds, and daily the scholars researched their fields of knowledge. Celebrations emerged around things like harvest, the birthing in the flocks, and other cycles of life, to celebrate the changing of tasks and responsibilities. Many of these holidays continue to celebrated today, days like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving have historic roots that lie in many cultural traditions revolving around the agrarian culture. Scholars studying the paths of the stars and the changing seasons began to develop calendars, and were able to predict when changes were about to occur. Things like the phases of the moon, how many moon phases to a season and year. These scholars would wave stories around their knowledge, develop rites and religions the support their lifestyles and keep order in the society. They held great power because they held knowledge and they interpret that knowledge to direct the decisions of the masses.
These wise men from the East were such scholars. The magi, magicians, or priests are all words used for these men. But who are these people? Magic is a term we tend to tense up around in our culture. It holds a mysterious, unexplainable aura that lead us to believe power is held that is beyond us. The magi were above other things astronomers they watched the stars, tracking their courses and interpereted the meaning. For the most part things in the offices of the magi were not that much different than the office of Sprint, the same thing happens pretty much every day.
They are given a task of watching one star or one star grouping. They track the time of it rising, the setting, the unique position in the sky and the distance it is to other groupings. They make reports, many of these reports can still be read, if you are interested in star positions in ancient times. At some point something happened in night skies, something that these well educated people could not explain. So like every person needing answers they began to search for answers.
These men from the East came from an area readers of scripture know well, the area of Persia, Babylon, or Assyria. The land of excile. One well known figure rose in power among these governments one named Daniel. Daniel was a government official one with power, he was also one of these wise men, from the ranks of the Magi. Among these wise men of the East a portion knew about the Hebrew history and prophecy, they learned from Daniel. When they were faced with a problem, they found an answer from the little but persistant land of Isreal. That answer could only be that the day of the Lord was near. The long awaited king had come.
Imagine the excitement in the towers of the magi the night the star appeared. The young assitant running to the master magician’s quarters to announce the news. The stress of the wisest of the order pouring over the clay tablets trying their best to explain what exactly was going on and why they didn’t foresee it. You may have had a conversation similar to this, your manager was caught off guard and now you have to try to explain why. No one can answer sufficiently so now it is time for damage control.
This priestly order was a very influential group. Some have even called this group king makers. They come from a defeated but down and out nation of Persia. This once great empire streached from Greece to India. It land mass was equal in the East as Rome was in the West. And Isreal was that small tract of land seperating the two empires. Just as Isreal has been in all of ancient history. Rome’s interest is there because if Palistine falls it can open the door to Rome. Persia needs this land so they can again put pressure on the western nations. Money is at the heart of the matter.
The magi missed something big and they hope to correct the error. They are influential members of the Persian culture, they are religious leaders who have followers not only in the land of the Mead’s but through out their former empire so these leaders whose livelihood comes from the prosperity of the nation go as a diplomatic entourage to hopefully gain an alliance with the king of the Jews.
They however aren’t the only players in the story. Herod the current king, rules under the direction of Rome. For the most part they live unharrassed by Rome, but there is unrest. He sees the group of magi coming. Remember this is not just merely three individules but a group of wealthy foriegn government officials, most likely with a large group of armed escorts. He too begins to wonder what is going on. What did he miss? We have two groups of people, two empires meeting in a small pocket of the world. Two super powers meeting unannounced, for reasons yet unknown. If they had cable tv in those days every channel would be broadcasting this story and everyone’s normal daily routines would be shaken. Think of a time like this in resent history. A day we all remember a day when towers fall and the strength of a nation is questioned. This is not just a small insignificant story. This is the announcement of a new day, the opening of a new age, the world as it was known was about to change.
Three gifts they bring to pay homage to the king. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are gifts of honor that rise well beyond tribute, but prophecy and worship. Gold even today is the internationally currency. Those that have gold have power, the currencies of the world rise and fall with the nation but gold holds value, it holds a consistant value. The amount of oil that can be purchased with an ounce of gold in the 1970’s is the same as today, even though the amount of hours we must work to fill our tank increases. Gold and wealth show where the power of the nation resides. Our nation is worried about the 99 vs the 1% yet our true worry shouldn’t be with who hold the dollars but who has the gold. When our dollars don’t buy as much it means our nation’s strength has gone elsewhere, and our gold has been given to pay homage to others. The gold of Persia was not going to Herod the king but another, the gold was not passed to Rome but the Persian magi of the east were honoring a new power one unseen by the eyes of the current regime.
Frankincense is a spice of worship. It is burned in the temples of various religions as a symbol of worship. The smoke rises carrying the prayers of the worshippers to the heavens and the sweet aroma symbolizes the blessing of the gods. Even the Hebrew temple to the one true God offered incense as a form of worship. If we read through the progression of offerings burned on the altar it begins with drink offerings of wine, moving to sin offerings of animals. Both represent the toils of man and the sour pungent stench created alluded to the vileness of humanity before God. After these offerings are burned and the worshippers are nearly sick from the odor of burning flesh the priest throws incense on the fire, quickly the room is filled with a new odor one refreshingly sweet. Their eyes are lifted to the heavens in praise and thanksgiving because their sins have been covered by the blood and blessing restored. These priest of foreign lands bring offerings of worship to the king. He is not just a human ruler but of devine heritage. He is more than a king he is lord, in a land where the emperor is worshiped as a God this does not bode well.
Myrrh is also a spice of religious quality. The name means bitter, it is a bitter oil used in morning and funeral rites. This giftgive a prophetic vision to this king. We who know the story know that this gift speaks of the suffering of Jesus, but it goes well beyond Christ individually. Myrrh is the spice of death, suffering, and war. These wise men were saying war is approaching a clash between the East and West, we gladdly embrace the challenge and seek the alliance. Suffering is at hand.
Three gifts with strong messages. They speak of power, worship, and suffering. They are carried not by the worshippers in Jerusalem but from the pagan priests of a foriegn land. Those directly affected, who eagerly await this day are so caught up with their own issues they miss it all together. And those who watch from the outside are brought into the fellowship.
We all get caught up in the daily grind. We often miss the chances to do something big, something of great importance. One hundred years ago the largest Christian nation in the world was caught in a bloody war of ideas. The revolution started as a protest against the unequal distribution of wealth. We know this revalutionary war as the red revaluation of Russia. The war that caused the last monarch of Europe to fall and the rise of communism. This war waged yet where was the Church the church that sheparded the largest single nation of believers? They were sitting in there domed buildings guilded in gold arguing not to minister to the hearts and minds of those they served but what leturgical color was most proper to display. The nation was gripped in suffering yet they did little and lost much.
We stand at the dawning of a new day. A day where many protest against the powers of the world. A day where the gold, frankincense, and myrrh are distributed to various factions. We seek power in places we never did before, we idolize gods empty of hope, and we are covered with the spices of morning because we wonder in darkness, lost. There is hope. These wisemen these scholars of ancient sciences saw a new hope in a baby found not in a great nation but in a land ruled by their enemy. A land lying on the crossroads of the nations.
He was not their king but he was a king whose power and stregnth took the greatest minds by surprise. They sought an alliance because in this king all their hope found reality. They invested their riches, praises, and eternal hope not in an emperor but an eternal king born in a stable. Do we invest in hope or security, in the dream or the known. Are we willing to risk our future to this stable born king or the might of the world? This king brought suffering and pain, but through it all honor, hope, power, strength, and assurance. Both of these once great empires dwindled to nonexistance yet the kingdom of God through Jesus rein from ages to ages.
As we enter holy expecency and communion with God as Friends let us risk our passions, dreams, desires, and hope in the king that unites the world in love, hope, and peace. Let us be a community loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living Christ’s love with others.