Food for Celebration, by Pastor Fred Kinsey
I can't wait till Fat Tuesday when we have our traditional household Mardi Gras meal before Lent begins: Giordano's Stuffed Spinach pizza! O boy, I'm telling you, for the feast before the fast, that's the way to go. Every neuron receptor of my brain’s olfactory-lobe, is shouting for joy as I lick my lips and chew with vigor and glee. That perfect combination of salty mozzarella and Romano cheeses melted around fresh spinach, with that not too sweet, basily tomato sauce, and flakey, done to perfection, crust! Umh! I know you can taste it!
Sure, it is a bit of a cheese bomb! But that's the point, right?! Fat Tuesday!
Well, with much the same delight, I'm looking forward to our potluck meal after worship today where the feast continues with our fellowship and food downstairs. Today the feast is Chicken and Ham, with green bean and kale salads, breads and potatoes au gratin, cucumber sandwiches, red curry rice, along with some kind of fantastic deliciously-rich desserts, I’m hoping!
I don't know about you, but this is not my normal, everyday diet! But for a special, once a year, gathering, I'm all in! Bring it on!
So, what is today's diet? For some, it’s the Atkins diet, or it's more recent iterations, the Paleolithic diet, the caveman diet, the Stone Age diet, and the hunter-gatherer diet. Or, for others it’s basically the opposite, a vegetarian or vegan diet that allows for some carbohydrates. Some diets are for losing weight, fast, some slowly over time. Others recognize the need to make their diet an everyday meal plan. Some people are more, economic vegetarians – choosing vegetables over meat because of cost, and buying locally – as opposed to environmental vegetarians – who seek to live in harmony with the earth, and to buy vegetables from organic and sustainable farming, or a spin-off group, who allow themselves to eat meat occasionally, usually from non-industrial, or range-free, meat production, who call themselves, “flexitarians”.
But St. Paul's issue with meat was different. In fact, in our culture today we don't have the issue the Corinthians had, which is, whether or not to eat meat that has been sacrificed as an offering to one of the many Hellenistic gods, or idols. Paul doesn't have a problem with killing animals for food, as far as we know – so, he may fall somewhat closer to the caveman diet, you might say. But Paul's real issue is, how to respect and protect, the new faith of those who have joined the church he founded in the city of Corinth, the quintessential pagan city of the Mediterranean. Some of these new believers have just recently come to understand and confess the one God, through Christ Jesus, and have courageously renounced the pantheon of many gods. So they are still very close to the culture of Hellenism, which is always, all around you, in Corinth, and it is different for them, than it is for Paul, who grew up Jewish. In order for the Corinthians to separate themselves from idol worship, and start a new life in Christ, they’ve renounced their former diet of meat offered to a pantheon of gods in Corinth, which they had just recently been praying to.
Paul knows that because the one God is sovereign, he sees no power at all in the statues of gods here, there and everywhere in Corinth. Whether you eat the meat that's been sacrificed to these gods or not, has no effect, Paul knows. And yet, he says, this knowledge “puffs up, but love builds up.”
There is a greater issue at work here, says Paul, the law of love! Knowledge is one thing, a good thing even, but love is the overarching principle, especially in community. And for Paul, he never conceives of a fellow believer as an independent individual, one who would make decisions that involve him or herself, only. For Paul, we are first and foremost, involved in a community, enmeshed in a network of relationships, formed by our interconnectedness, as, the Body of Christ. We must take into account how our behavior, influences the behavior of others.
At this point, you may be wanting to walk out, seeing how un-American this must all sound! And considering this is Super Bowl Sunday, after all, when we practice our own particular brand of community, getting together with friends to celebrate however we want to. No one’s going to tell me how, or how not to, do it. If I want to pig out on guacamole and beer, I will! If I want to eat 5 buckets of hot chicken wings – or even, meat sacrificed to the gods of football, I can, and I will!
Personally, I like to tie my feasting and fasting to religious holidays, but if the Super Bowl means something important to you – as long as it’s not destructive of self or others – go for it!
But what Paul found in his community of faith, is that the good of the community comes before anything else. So Paul would not eat meat sacrificed to idols, because he didn’t want to injure a brother or sister, even though, personally, he believed doing so would have no consequence in his relationship with God.
In this view, being members of the Body of Christ, part of the same local parish or congregation, takes on a level of responsibility to one another. If an injustice is happening to a brother or sister in the faith, or anywhere in the community, we as the Body of Christ must do everything we can, out of love for the other, for the whole, to protect and speak up for them.
When Jesus comes to the fishing town of Capernaum where Peter and Andrew live, and they go to worship on the Sabbath, he speaks up for the whole community, that evil powers are trying to prevent God’s realm, God’s power, and God’s people, from transforming the world, Jesus came to save. The man with an unclean spirit knows him, and that he is, the Holy One of God. Even the 12 disciples haven’t had the insight to confess that yet! The leaders from Jerusalem, the scribes, don’t want Jesus to bring this new kingdom either, which will mean a big change for them. But Jesus represents the restoration of God’s order, God’s kingdom – so he speaks up. He does not destroy the man with the unclean spirit, as the man fears he will, but Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, silencing its voice, and exorcizing it out, so the man – the human – can be liberated, and made free. The unclean Spirit’s will no longer control God’s people, Jesus makes clear. He has come, that humans, and all creation, may be saved. And, that’s just in the 1st chapter of Mark!
When we live together in community, we make it a priority, and stick up for one another, to save each other from harm, without doing harm. Jesus shows that we must be proactive about this. Don’t think for a minute that the power of evil is not capable of walking in the door at any time. And so – by training – we are to be ready, with the weapons of love.
Today we give thanks for another year together at Unity Lutheran Church, a community that looks out for one another, speaks out proactively against the powers of evil in our community, our city, and our world, and courageously love one another, even our enemies. We Gather every Sabbath to give thanks for that unity that we have, we faithfully hear God’s Word, are strengthened with the Meal at Christ’s table, and gladly are Sent out once again, to be lights to the world, and proclaimers of God’s liberation.
The church is God’s people, we feast together, and we fast together, and we give thanks in all things, as we learn to put love and community first.