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.