It Takes a Church
Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
January 29, 2012
You may have come to Worship this morning and listened to the scripture reading about consuming the meat sacrificed to idols and were bewildered. You have never been confronted with worrying about eating food sacrificed to Zeus, Apollo, or Baal. It doesn’t really seem to apply to us very much.
Underlying all of this was a complex issue.
In Corinth there were many temples to idols and people made animal sacrifices to those idols. The temples would then sell the meat to people to consume in a meal or something like that. For followers of the idols the meat was sacred; for others it was merely good meat. People often sacrificed their finest to the idols and so the meat sacrificed to the idols was merely a delicious commodity. So there was the question. Was eating this food a sin?
Many of the Christians in Corinth availed themselves of this. Many things in life change, but people’s love of a good steak hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries.
The problem was, for some within the Christian community, this had become a problem. They saw Christians eating this fine meat and they thought that the people were somehow sinning by worshiping multiple gods. So Paul was presented the problem. Is it a sin to eat this meat that was sacrificed to the idols?
His answer is a brilliant one. Since people had the knowledge that these idols were false idols and since people weren’t worshiping those idols, theoretically they were doing nothing wrong. They were merely enjoying a fine cut of meat. However....
If the people in the community were scandalized by this, if people in the church family didn’t have the knowledge or understanding of this, and if it threatened people’s faith, Paul goes on to say, don’t eat the meat that had been sacrificed to the idols. It was, he states, the responsibility of the strong to support the weak. The church was a family and everyone was responsible for the well being of one another.
There are several lessons in all of this. The first lesson is this. It takes a church to raise a Christian.
There is an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. This imagery became somewhat controversial because Hillary Clinton used this proverb as a title for her book and the concept became politicized. I will leave that issue up to everyone to discuss among yourselves or debate over lunch.
However, whatever your opinion is about children and villages, please note that it takes a church to raise a Christian. In 2000 years of Christianity, this hasn’t changed very much.
St. Paul wrote this letter to the people in the city of Corinth around 55 AD. The Christian Church of that era bore very little resemblance to the Christian Church of now.
Any organization of the Christian Church would not come until the beginning for the 4th century, almost 250 years later. Early Christianity did not have much of a structure, no real hierarchy, or organization. There was no set way to Worship, there were no hymnals and the New Testament didn’t exist. In fact, the Gospel of Mark, the first Gospel to be written, was actually not even written yet when St. Paul wrote these words. Whenever Christians of our era compare themselves to Christianity of that era, we need to do so recognizing the world and the Christian Church was vastly different.
But there was a constant and it was the need for a community, a family of believers. People needed to take care of one another then, and they need to take care of one another now. The people who are strong in faith are responsible for the people who are weak in faith. That is Paul’s point. We may be people strong in faith, but we are responsible for the well-being of those who are weaker than we are.
It is one of the reasons we raise children in church. It’s interesting to note something.
Several years ago someone wrote to an advice column written by Billy Graham. They said that their 18 year old daughter was going away to college. The parents confessed that they had not paid much attention to their daughter and had not done a really good job raising her. What, they asked, could they do now to assure that their daughter would do well and conduct herself well, when she was out of the nest.
Billy Graham’s answer was really pretty jolting. He said, “Nothing.” They had missed their opportunity to do this. It was now too late and their only hope was to pray that their daughter had learned good values along the way.
One of the reasons we raise children in church is because it is a place where values are taught and lived out. It takes a church to raise a Christian. If we want to live out our Baptismal promises, however, and if we want children to grow up with the values we can teach in church, then it’s important that we see the value of it taking a church to raise a Christian.
And, of course, Paul’s point is this. We are responsible for one another, in church, and responsible for not doing things that negatively impact the faith of others. Which goes back to the food sacrificed to idols.
If the people in the community were scandalized by this, if people in the church family didn’t have the knowledge or understanding of this, and if it threatened people’s faith, Paul goes on to say, don’t eat the meat that had been sacrificed to the idols. It was, he states, the responsibility of the strong to support the weak. The church was a family and everyone was responsible for the well-being of one another.
The second aspect of this is a lesson from St. Paul to know what we are about as a church.
The Christian Church exists and has always existed for one reason. We exist to bring people to Christ. Our Mission Statement about reaching up, out, beyond, and within is built on the premise of bringing people to Christ. Every church in the world, if it’s remotely faithful, exists to bring people to Christ. When we forget this, we forget who and what we are. The world of commerce has taught us huge lessons.
Eastman Kodak, a historic blue-chip American company, recently filed for bankruptcy. The problem is that the company failed because it didn’t adapt to the digital age. Ironically, it was Kodak who developed digital photography but they failed to capitalize on it because they forgot who and what they were.
The problem with Kodak is that they were the leading manufacturer of film. Eastman Kodak thought they were in the yellow film box business. In truth, they were in the picture business and people stopped buying film because most of the cameras on the market were digital. Kodak fell so far behind in making digital cameras that they got crushed. The forgot who and what they were.
They weren’t the first to make this mistake. In the late 1800s, no business matched the financial and political dominance of the railroad.
Then a new discovery came along — the car — and incredibly, the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this transportation development. The automotive revolution was happening all around them, and they did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity. They couldn’t figure out why people would ride in a car when they could ride on a train instead. They forgot their real purpose----transportation.
In the 1980’s one company in the United States was primed to be the largest manufacturer of computers and software. If I told you that you had to guess, there would be three probably answers over and over again. They would be Microsoft, Apple, and IBM. Microsoft and Apple benefited from the mistake of this company and IBM completely missed the boat.
The company that was primed, however, was Xerox. They had developed the graphic interface system that became the underpinning for the Windows operating system and the Mac operating system. They developed a Word Processing software with a design that was ‘what you see is what you get,’ along with the machines to run it.
They, however, got rid of it because they saw themselves just as a copy machine company instead of a document producing company.
Which brings me back to a point of this lesson.
Paul was making a point that, as a people of Jesus Christ, our priority is to win disciples for Christ. It is not about pushing the envelope of our lives, but living our faith as an example for others. When we cause scandal for others, just so we can have fun, we are missing the point.
This passage is not about Zeus, Apollo, or Baal or even just the people in Corinth. It is not just a lesson for a people in a church vastly different from our’s, but a lesson for all generations, reminding us the joy of being together, but also, more importantly, the responsibility of being a family of faith who never loses sight of who and what we are about.