A New Teaching 4th Epiphany
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 January 31,2021 Mark 1:21-28
Life is all about making choices. The essence of life is found in the choices that one makes. So, how do you make most of your choices? After all, there are MANY ways to choose. For example, there is the impulse way—walking past a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies and grabbing one and stuffing it into your face, without considering how it fits into your eating plan. There is also the emotion way, making a choice based entirely on whatever you are feeling in a particular moment. Then, of course, there is the rational way—taking all the facts into consideration and calculating the choice that might best lead to the desired outcome. There is also the law way—legislating a strict rule for every conceivable situation, and then following it. These are just a few ways of many.
What you must remember is that, deep inside, each of us has Values that we treasure, values developed over years of living and experiencing and observing—values regarding whatever is most important in life.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed a crucial choice that Christians there were having to make: whether or not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. We’ll talk more about why this was a dilemma, and we’ll explore the deep VALUE that Paul was urging them to embrace as they made their choice.
In our Gospel reading, we see Jesus teaching people a new thing—and then demonstrating his power in such a way that the people exclaimed, “What is this?! A new teaching, with authority!”
Stepping into a New World
I’d like you to imagine stepping into a New World. There’s the world that we are now in: shared by all; within that world is the culture you live in; and there is the world of your experiences, your thoughts, your choices. Think of the world that Jesus encountered—bound by strict, almost endless rules for behavior. Think of the Gentile world that Paul moved in, where people believed in capricious gods that had to be satisfied in order for life to endure. STEPPING INTO A NEW WORLD means embracing a New Value, a New Ethic, a New “operating system.” Both Jesus and Paul were trying to help people step into a new world.
What Jesus Taught
One of the most pervasive concepts Jesus worked on is that ***People are more important than rules.***
Here’s an example: There was no healing allowed on the Sabbath because it was believed that healing was work, and no work was allowed on the Sabbath. If someone were very ill, it would be acceptable to keep them from getting worse, but getting them better was considered work.
Our reading from Mark says that in the Sabbath service was a man “with an unclean spirit.” Jesus broke the proscription against healing on the Sabbath, and healed the man, demonstrating that THE MAN’S NEED WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE LAW. (People are more important to God than rules.) Jesus was changing their world with his teaching and his healing!
And God has the power to make dynamic changes in “our world” as well. God keeps breaking into the history of the world, and breaking into our own personal stories with TRANSFORMATION!
Sometimes, the dominant value (law) must be challenged, and we are forced to make decisions based on God’s revealed will, not just the old law we were handed. My favorite illustration of this comes from “Fiddler on the Roof” where Tevia embraces TRADITION, but because of love, makes choices based on love, showing that (to God) people are more important than rules.
The Law of Love
Now I’d like us to look closely at Paul and his training in religious law. 1. He grew up in Tarsus, in Gentile territory, raised by Jewish parents who were also Roman Citizens. He came to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel, but there came a time when LOVE broke through to him.
We read in Acts that he approved of the stoning of Stephen, and that “he began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” But Paul had an encounter with the Risen Christ while he was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. The encounter left him blind.
One of the Christians in Damascus was a man named Ananias. The Lord told him to go and lay hands on Paul and pray for the restoration of his vision. Ananias knew about Paul, and was afraid—but the Lord said “GO!” He went to Paul, laid his hands on him, called him “Brother,” and prayed for him. Paul was restored, and stayed with the Christians in Damascus for awhile, then he went back to Jerusalem. He was now a man whose world had completely changed because of love!
In Jerusalem, he met a Christian named “Barnabas” (which means “son of encouragement.”) The other Christians were afraid of Paul—fearful that he was just pretending to be one of them so that he could entrap them. But Barnabas took him under his wing, and explained his transformation to the Jerusalem Christians.
Paul’s world had been transformed because God’s love (through God’s people) had drawn him into a new world!
Our reading from Corinthians illustrates that LOVE needs to be our guide. NOT the “feeling” of love, but instead the determination to work for another person’s best good, no matter what one’s personal feelings are at the present moment. We actually make new neuropathways when we make the CHOICE to love, when we choose to do what’s best for another person. New neuropathways!
One issue the Corinthians had to deal with revolved around the consumption of meat that had been sacrificed to idols. When you went to the market, you never knew what meat had been used in some pagan ceremony, and what meat had not. The Christians in Corinth had been, for the most part, former pagans, and they were still trying to throw off the old habits and beliefs of their former lives. It was an offense to their new faith to eat meat sacrificed to idols. But there were those who knew that these pagan gods were non-existent, and it was no problem to them to eat meat sacrificed to idols. They were, Paul says, “at liberty” to eat it. But he also says that The Law of Love should move them to refrain from eating the meat, so that their behavior would not cause a weaker brother or sister to falter in their faith! The Law of Love was more important than any right or privilege they had.
Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but LOVE builds up.”
So, are you ready for your world to be changed—ready to be transformed into one whose dominant value is Christ-like love? God is ready to help us build those new neuropathways. God is ready to infuse us with love, but the CHOICE is really up to us. I will leave you with Paul’s urging to the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Prayer: for God’s transforming power to help us choose love, the love that Jesus lived.