A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
January 28, 2018
(Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28)
It takes humility to listen.
After all, to truly listen implies that there is something we need to hear and learn. This is a truly priceless insight. Without the humility to listen we are unable to learn from others – or from God.
Humility’s opposite is pride. Most pride is destructive. If we operate out of an arrogant pride rather than from a humble spirit we become stuck and unable to listen, learn, and grow. Humility before God and others is vital for community, personal growth, and, ultimately, for our humanity.
Perhaps this is why Moses after leading Israel to the edge of the promised land urges the people to listen. He proclaims God’s promise: God will raise up another prophet. This one may be unsettlingly familiar – more ‘brother’ than outsider. So, included in Moses dying charge, is his call to find the humility to listen. At stake is their hearing – or not – of the very words of God.
How attentively and expectantly do you listen to others? After all, who knows who God may use to speak to you? A donkey? A child? A refugee? A poor person? Another sinner like you?
Fortunately, Moses words do not leave us at the mercy of anyone who may claim to speak in the name of God. Discernment is here. God will hold the presumptuous prophet to account. The listener is expected to patiently wait for the promise to ‘not come to pass’ or to ‘come true’. This is no asking for blind trust. The listener is to hold loosely the prophets word until God’s moment of clarity.
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the Psalm selected to stand next to this reading contains no reference to prophet or mediator. All praise is given to God alone. God brings about that which he promises. God is – exclusively – the one who is celebrated.
This sheds an important light on our gospel passage. There Jesus’ teaching provokes the synagogue’s ‘astonishment’. Following Jesus’ rebuke of the unclean spirit the crowd is ‘amazed’. It leads to the fame of Jesus spreading ‘everywhere’.
There is, however, no apology. Jesus does not say ‘Give glory to God and not to me’. John the baptist does. The newly Spirit-filled apostles do. The untimely-born Apostle Paul does. Each one points from themselves. Jesus, however, is content to accept the crowd’s praise.
There is something very different about this one. Jesus is so wonderfully human and yet is still prepared to take God’s accolades. He is more than a prophet. He accepts worship. It is the primary discovery of the New Testament writers. Jesus is Lord.
And each time we say ‘Jesus is Lord’ we are also saying ‘I am not’. Putting Jesus in his rightful place also puts us in our rightful place. This is true humility. Jesus is Lord. I am not.
Which brings us to Paul’s instruction to the Jesus-community in the city of Corinth. The city is full of idols. Food is offered to many of them. These offerings often find their way into the marketplace and are sold for human consumption. What should the Jesus-is-Lord people do? Some of them recently came out of this world of idol worship. They fled from a life entangled in this particular understanding of the world. For others what has been done to their meat is of no concern. God made it. God gave it. We enjoy it and give thanks to God!
Potentially this community is profoundly divided.
Perhaps surprisingly, Paul does not begin addressing this issue from right or wrong, true or false, theological maturity verses theological immaturity. Knowledge of God already divides this community. For these people the weight given to lesser gods is the proverbial elephant lurking in their every dining-room. The great symbol of their Jesus-won fellowship – the communal meal – is at stake. Their knowledge of God is building barriers.
So Paul argues not from truth, but from love. Make no mistake, Paul believes the idols are nothing and the meat offered to them is – tasty meat. In his own words – it is the ‘weak conscience’ that refuses to consume idol-offered food. Even as Paul seeks to unite over this issue he clearly states what he believes to be true.
Paul insists, however, that there is a higher calling than being right. This is the calling to love in the service and building up of another.
In this precarious case, God-given knowledge could destroy. A humble, listening, self-giving, love, however, can build. What will the Corinthians choose in their situation? What will you choose in yours?
Church of God, love like Jesus loved – and you will be on a path to something greater than merely being right!