Tripping Others

Here is the video referenced in this message:

“Tripping Others”
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Sunday, January 29, 2012 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
#3 in a Series of 6: Are You in Jeopardy?

Not long ago our Evangelism Ministry Team met to set our evangelism goals for the coming year and begin to plan for activities that will help us reach those goals.  It was a lively discussion that touched on areas such as:

  • welcoming guests who visit our church and helping them find the restrooms;
  • from offering a variety of worship styles to letting the community know who we are;
  • and especially reaching out to people who need us more than we need them.

As our opening video told us this morning, every second a person dies without knowing who Jesus really is…Sadly, we may be doing things that prevent people from meeting Jesus…Our behavior or language may send the wrong message to those who seek to know Him.  I believe that is what Paul is talking about in our text this morning…His original audience understood all about the practice of idol worshippers and the problem with eating food that had been sacrificed to their false gods…This is not language that we readily understand and it is hard for us to grasp Paul’s message if we get caught up in the language he uses…Today, let’s continue to think about how we can do a better job of bringing the Good News into our contemporary culture.

This is Week Three of Jeopardy – Learning to share God’s Word…

We began this series by talking about how “church language” can be a problem for people outside the church…We talked about how we need to find ways to translate “church-speak” into something that other people can understand in order for them to begin to learn about Jesus.  Words that we recognize may not be familiar to people who didn’t grow up in church.  Then, last week, we talked about living our lives differently so that our behavior offers a faithful witness to what we profess to believe…This has to do with setting our priorities on God’s plan rather than on our selfish desires…It has to do with living as if there were no tomorrow so that we might be ready to meet Jesus whenever he decides to return for us…Both of these messages talked about our authentic witness as Christians…People want to hear what difference our faith has made in our lives.  Today we hear another message from Paul that includes language totally unfamiliar to our contemporary culture.

So, let’s play Jeopardy!

Today we will be working with the category: “January 29”…There are only five questions…

A:        Food offered to these things should not be eaten.
[Q:       What are idols?]

When was the last time you sacrificed a lamb on the altar?  [Probably never!]  And, even if you did, what would be wrong with eating the leftovers?  To us this whole thing may sound silly, but to the people who actually practiced these rituals it was very serious business…We need to keep digging to find out what Paul is trying to tell us.

A:        Paul says that these do not really exist.
[Q:       What are idols?]

For Paul there is no problem eating food sacrificed to idols because they are false gods that don’t exist anyway…However, to the people who worship those idols it is a very different story…Paul may be talking about a little respect here.

A:        We believe there is only one of these who created the world.
[Q:       Who is God?]

We believe there is only one God and we want to share that message with other people.  We know, however, that there are other people who believe in and worship other gods…We know there are people who don’t believe that God exists at all…If we are to let our message be heard we must understand our audience.

A:        People look to Christians and observe this about us.
[Q:       What is our behavior?]

It’s not news – I’ve said it before…people know who we are…or at least who we claim to be…People know we say we are Christians and they watch us to see how we behave and how we react…They notice what we find funny…They listen to what we say and make judgments about us and our faith based on what they see and hear…It may not be fair, but it’s what happens so we need to live with it.

A:        Paul is concerned that our behavior might become one of these for others.
[Q:       What is a stumbling block?]

This is the tough part of this lesson…If people see that Christians treat each other badly then they are less likely to want to listen to our message of love for one another.  If we do not practice what we preach we will be a stumbling block to others.  For Paul a piece of meat is a piece of meat…for most of us we only care if it’s chicken or beef or pork…It doesn’t matter if the meat came from a false god’s table…we don’t believe in the god and so the meat has no false power over us.  It might not seem that way to a non-believer who takes offense to anything that comes from idol worship.

Now, before you yell at me about silly political correctness and how it’s destroying our right to free speech, etc., etc. – Think about it another way…Listen carefully to what Paul says to us…”Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  It’s one thing to know that it makes no difference to you where the meat came from, but it’s a very different matter to lash out and say: “Your custom is stupid! I’m right and you’re wrong!”  Paul’s point is that, no matter which side of a debate you are on, the one who focuses on “I’m right and you’re wrong!” will not win friends and influence people.

Paul is speaking to both sides of every argument…liturgical wars, worship wars, talk show hosts, and members of Congress…“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by God.”

When we can only see how right we are and we don’t take time to consider the value and worth of those who think and act differently from us we have missed the heart of the gospel.

Paul is really saying:
“If you have to choose between being loving and being right, be loving.”

“If you see someone wavering on the brink of their faith in God, think about what you can do for that person on their terms, not on your terms.”

Remember Jesus’ example when he washed his disciples’ feet and said that he came to serve not to be served…This is servant leadership we should all model…We are called to be humble before God and before one another…this humility keeps us aware of our own capacity to fall into error.  The fact is that, in the eyes of God, eating meat offered to idols is harmless…But people stand at different places along their faith journey and in the strength of their relationship with God.

For the sake of people who are not at the same place that I am in my faith, I will act out of respect for their position and love them rather than call them “stupid.”  Remember that our love and understanding can never compare to God’s, but we must at least make an effort to portray God’s image…Offering another love and respect is a choice…Let us choose not to be a stumbling block waiting to trip another as they make their way along their personal journey with God.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen