Monday, February 2, 2015

Of Hamburger Helper and Other Tasteful Matters

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield UMC

February 1, 2015

Every Sunday or Holy Day of the Church we have 4 different passages from scripture appointed or selected for the preaching texts for that day: one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Psalms, one from the Epistles, and the Gospel lesson. This is called the lectionary.
Pastors who use the lectionary and preach from the bible, as I do, chose from one or more of these passages for their preaching texts.

For the next two months we are going to be looking at some of the less familiar scripture passages that are appointed to each Sunday. Today we are going to look together at an Epistle selection. The Epistles are the books in the new testament that follow the 4 Gospels and the Book of Acts. These are the books in the bible that most people have to use a table of contents to find because they are less familiar, not in any particular order to make sense, and sometimes, so small that if you blink you will miss them.
They are all a like in a few ways. They are letters written to churches or church leaders. They are written for the purpose of encouraging the people in these churches in this new religion called Christianity and to a life of discipleship.
They were all written during a time when the church was under persecution by the Roman government. And they were all written to show the church how to put the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus into their every day lives.

Today we are looking together at 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is the book in the New Testament that was written BEFORE any of the gospels were written down. Let me say that again. 1 Corinthians was written down before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In other words, it is the earliest writing we have of the Christian church.

So, the book is all about figuring out how to be Christian in this complicated world of the 1st century. It is about how to be a new thing. And let me tell you, that wasn’t an easy thing to be. It is never easy to be a new thing.

The epistle we are reading today is written to the church in Corinth. Corinth is a city in Greece that sits of a piece of land that bridges two parts of Greece. During the time of the early church, the Romans built a boat slide across this piece of land This boat slide cut off miles of sea travel and made shipping goods between the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean Sea safer. Because of this the town of Corinth was a center of industry and commerce. It was multi-cultural. It was noisy, crowded, beautiful and dirty. And the socio-economic diversity made living together very challenging. There were very, very wealthy households, very, very poor household, slaves, merchants, professionals and religious communities of all stripes and beliefs.

Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians loved the church in the Corinth. He was their founder and pastor. The church, however, was a very difficult church to lead. Imagine the diversity. Imagine the questions about life and choices created by this diversity.

In Corinth, the church reflected all the city had to offer. Jews and Gentiles, Pagans and Roman thinking and Greek philosophy, rich and poor, all worshiped together in intimate gatherings. These are people who had worshiped Yahweh, Greek gods, Roman gods, the gods of nature. None of them had ever worshiped the God revealed in Jesus the Christ.
All of them had practices and beliefs that were being challenged and changed.

Paul was trying to help this diverse community learn to live together in a way that honored the teachings of Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all you heart soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself.

In this passage, Paul is addressing a very real situation: food that was being brought to church potlucks. In the market place, there were stalls that sold meat. Anyone could go to the stalls and buy whatever meat they wanted.  IF they had the money.

The reality was, only the rich could afford to purchase meat. Others could eat meat, but it was meat they raised and butchered themselves.

The meat that was available for purchase came from all sorts of places, including the temples scattered around Corinth where the animals were used in idol worship. After the ritual, the slaughtered animals would be brought to the markets to be sold among all the other meat.

The well-off members who can afford to purchase meat from idols are apparently bringing meat dishes to the church potlucks. This creates tension and a conflict for those who not only are unable to afford this meat, but who also believe eating such meat undermines the gospel witness.

Who knew there were food snobs in every culture? People who get kinda self righteous about what people do and don’t eat?
You all know that I am a food snob. But there is nothing I like better than getting my snobbery kicked out from under me.
For example, there was the youth group night at another church. We had decided the kids needed to learn skills in the kitchen so we started cooking supper together before confirmation. The kids were from poorer backgrounds and had different eating habits than I did. So when they suggested that we make hamburger helper for a meal one night, I bit my tongue and let them prepare the menu and the meal. I figured I could eat a small portion to be polite and then go home to some real food.
Well, shut my mouth. After I had tasted my small portion, I was like, O my goodness, this is really pretty good.
I was disappointed when the next time the pan came to me it was empty.
It was really fun to be able to affirm the students in their choice of meal and commend them on the preparation without holding my nose (or really, sticking my nose in the air.) I was thankful I hadn’t dissuaded them from making a meal that was on their family’s menus.
It was one of those times when my love for the kids superseded my love of really good food. It was one of those times when the Holy Spirit was there in the room and I listened.

How do people live and eat together in diverse and conflicting systems?

For Paul it is simple: the answer is Love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.

Love your neighbor as yourself. And sometimes this means something as seemly insignificant as enjoying whatever food is placed before you.

If what you do dishonors another person, then your motives are false. No matter what you think or believe.

That certainly flies in the face of our current morality doesn’t it?

What do you mean I can’t do exactly what I want when I want to? Doesn’t the world revolve around me?

We all act like toddlers sometimes don’t we? Have you ever tried telling a toddler that they can’t do something because it will hurt someone else?
We are flabbergasted when they say to us, “no”. And turn around and hit their playmate.

Well, for a toddler, this is unacceptable but understandable. For a mature follower of the Christ it is unacceptable and NOT understandable.

There is a church in another place, although it could be right here if we weren’t careful. This church has posted on a sign in its entryway which essentially says: “We are this sort of church and if you don’t agree with us then this isn’t the church for you.”
There have been times when I have thought: I would like to pastor that sort of church. Where everyone believes the same things. Where everyone knows the rules of engagement and how to have a conversation without offending others, where everyone knows what and what not to serve at a potluck. How pleasant that would be. And how boring.

Who would challenge me on my beliefs? Who would encourage me to think beyond my established worldview? Who would lead me into a new way of being? How would I ever discover that cheeseburger hamburger helper could be good?