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4 Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The study proved him wrong, writes Belinda Luscombe in Time magazine.

An October study from the University of Missouri found that since 2016, family interactions have been more likely to drive highly partisan relatives apart than bring them together.

One of the authors, associate professor of communication Ben Warner, says he had initially thought that having a family member who was on the opposite side of the aisle might lead to less stereotyping or dismissing of that person and their views..."It looked like it probably made things even worse, perhaps because it was such a point of tension in their family dynamic."

Luscombe's article chronicles the struggles of a variety of American families dealing differently with the strains and stresses caused by the spirit of vehement, even violent disagreement and entrenched division characterizing our times.

The problem is pronounced enough to be newsworthy, but it's nothing new in the church.

Before there was 21st century America, there was 1st century Corinth.

The church there was passionately conflicted about all kinds of issues, including today's topic, meat offered to idols.

In the Roman empire, civic holidays included large, festive sacrifices to the Roman gods.

The leftover barbecue from these events was sold in the marketplace.

Should Christians buy or boycott?

Was it a violation of the first commandment for Christians to eat this meat?

Complicating the question was the belief that you are who you eat with—which is why Jesus got in so much trouble for eating with sinners, and also why his followers believe that Communion is such a big deal.

So is eating groceries at home that were publicly offered to idols participating in idol worship?

The debate raged, with both sides certain that they were right and that the other side was stupid.

Enter Saint Paul.

Because idols don't exist, there is no problem with eating it, he argues.

Then, in his very next breath, there is a problem with eating it, he argues out of the other side of his tainted, meat eating mouth.

Is Paul short for "Politician"?

Which is it, you flip-flopper?

It depends, Paul says ... on your neighbor.

In his watershed treatise The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther elaborates, at his usual great length, on two contradictory statements he holds to be true at the same time:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Having only to answer to God in Christ, we need never be confined by pleasing other people, meeting their expectations, agreeing with their views, or obeying their demands.

And having only to answer to God in Christ, we are always obligated to serve other people,

love our enemies, honor those who disagree with us and champion their dignity.

It is one of the many tensions of faith: we, who are both saint and sinner, worship the Son of Man who is also the Son of God, one hundred percent human and one hundred percent divine, despite the objections from the audit committee.

We also claim ultimate power in the utter powerlessness of the cross.

And we argue over things like whether we need to focus more on the needs of the world

or on the needs of members, inreach or outreach, which is like two lungs arguing about

whether to inhale or exhale.

God made night and day, darkness and light, law and gospel, yin and yang, and our faith is wide enough, wise enough, deep enough, strong enough, sturdy enough to hold both.

We are free, and we are not free.

We are free to eat meat offered to idols, because idols are phonies, but we are not free to eat meat offered to idols, because the newbies don't know that yet, and doing so might lead them astray, and Christ died for people who mistake lies for truth and fiction for reality.

Parents are free to do a lot of things they choose not to do in front of their children, because they value those children more than their immediate personal gratification.

Therefore, if food is the cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I do not cause one of them to fall, Paul concludes: I always can and I never will.

Because my freedom is not as important as my neighbor.

My rights are not as important as a person my Lord relinquished his rights and life for.

Being right is not as important as being good.

Winning is not as important as the well-being of my opponent.

Knowledge, which is partial and temporary, defers to love, which is complete and eternal.

The demons know who Jesus is; knowledge doesn't overcome them, love does.

Knowledge is just another idol; the true God, revealed in Christ, is love.

Thank you, Shepherd of the Valley, for loving those Christ died for so faithfully in the last year.

On this annual meeting Sunday, at the risk of turning the sermon into a State of the

Communion address, I want to thank you for loving your neighbors in 2020 and encourage you to keep up the good work.

As our nation debated freedom to gather in person during a pandemic, you looked not to the constitution but to Christ, and pivoted to video and outdoor worship for the well being of one another, which closed some opportunities and opened others.

You gave generously to the Shepherd of Tomorrow appeal, freely offering money chased by

idols to benefit those who will come after us, in this place and elsewhere throughout the

wider church, as well as the earth that will be their home.

You committed to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation, intentionally welcoming people of any and every sexual orientation and gender identity, including those who disagree with the decision on principle, modeling Paul's deep truth that knowledge bows to love.

You carefully collected food for the hungry, blankets for the homeless, and toys for the poor,

bound by your allegiance to the Christ who intentionally identifies with our neediest, most vulnerable neighbors.

You closed, and then carefully reopened, our preschool to serve children who contribute very

little to the peace, quiet, order, and cleanliness of our campus.

You bridged social distance and strong disagreements with respectful love, building up others rather than puffing up yourselves, letting go of legitimate grievances to hold on to one another while also welcoming newcomers to our community.

You exercised your enormous freedom to love and serve others, not perfectly, but passionately, generously, beautifully.

Now please don't let this praise, this knowledge, puff you up.

Instead, make it a foundation of love that transcends life's inevitable debates and decisions to build you up.

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