Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 8:1–8:13
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Being SJLC: Hunger Serving”
Some of my friends really watch what they eat. It’s not because they’re all trying to keep their weight down; most of them can’t eat certain foods. Some have a gluten sensitivity that keeps them from being able to dig in to an ordinary pizza or cinnamon bun. Others aren’t able to eat dairy products, such as milk or cheese – even eggs. Yet others are managing diabetes and have to monitor their blood sugar levels, keeping an eye on how much they eat, and when. Each one of them, though, is watching what they eat out of concern for their health.
That’s not something that most of us do. If you’re like me, you probably assume that you’re going to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, with maybe a few snacks and desserts thrown in. You might also look to eat sensibly, practicing moderation and generally taking in a balanced diet… with the occasional Five Guys burger or chocolate milkshake added to the mix. Beyond that, though, you might give little thought to what you’re consuming day after day. When you can’t eat what you want to eat, though, you probably start thinking about it a whole lot more. If you’ve ever been put on a restricted diet or even just skipped a meal, you know that pangs of hunger can really mess with your day. Ask yourself, “Am I ruled by my gut?” That might sound like a pretty strongly-worded question, but it’s one that we need to ask. Even if you don’t struggle with gluttony or poor dietary choices, consider how much of your life is affected by what you’re eating – or not eating.
Food is a gift. Most of us aren’t in a position where food is merely something that keeps us alive. We’ve got choices. We’ve got abundance. We’ve got supermarkets that almost magically make food available for us to take home – or even to eat right there in the store. We’ve got cookbooks and cooking shows and entire channels focused on the food that we eat. The problem that we face in all this, though, is that we can focus on the gift of food, forgetting the Giver. Living with so many choices and such abundance, what was once indulgence can seem like business-as-usual. And when we start to indulge all the time, we lose sight of Whose we are.
How does our faith factor in to what we eat? The Christians in the city of Corinthwondered just that and wrote to ask Paul about it. Specifically, they put forward a concern about food that had come from animals that were sacrificed in the pagan temples of the day, as well as meals surrounding that food. To give you a bit of historical context here, the temples of the day weren’t reserved for religious activities. Some of them included large banquet halls that could be used for events like gatherings or wedding receptions. Those banquet halls, though, did also serve as the site for religious feasts that included sacrifices and meals for the pagan deities. (Some Christians even had been attending those feasts, a problem that Paul addresses later on in this letter.) Meat from the sacrificed animals was then taken and sold at the marketplace. Should Christians be eating the food that came from the pagan temples? The real issue, when it comes down to it, is how does eating affect others, especially those new believers who used to worship those same false gods in those same temples?
Paul wrote back, confirming that those Christians who apparently thought themselves “strong in knowledge” were correct: the false gods weren’t real; the one true God created everything, even those animals that were used in the pagan sacrifices. But those same believers were failing to regard their situation and recent history. They were using their freedom in Christ to eat without discernment, to the detriment of their fellow Christians. Paul puts forward the loving solution to this quandary. Though they were indeed free to eat that meat that had come from the sacrifices, they should refrain from doing so for the weaker (n conscience) brothers’ benefit so as not to bring harm. Instead of raising hurdles to others’ faith, they should seek to remove obstacles.
How you eat as a Christian – as a part of how you live – affects others. Jesus has set you free. And Christ is even more powerful than your gut!
We have a God who does something about hunger in our world. We live by God’s grace and His gifts. Paul writes in verse 6: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” God the Father has given us life, created us. God the Son has redeemed us, bought us back and brought us into life from death. And God feeds the world. We don’t live by bread alone. Our life flows from and through Jesus, as the river that flows from and through Jesus’ cross in the Being SJLC graphic depicts. At the cross, we have the solution to the deepest hunger that this world knows, a hunger that can’t be addressed by rice or burgers or milkshakes or pizza. We have a hunger for a restored relationship with God who created us. In Jesus, we have forgiveness for past indulgence and passing, shallow thankfulness.
Forgiven and freed in Jesus, we can live in true appreciation, mindful of God’s gifts and enjoying what we have before us. You and I can exercise discernment in what we do – even what we eat – practicing stewardship for the sake of others, especially for the building up of faith in the people around us instead of breaking them down. We are called to use God’s gifts, demonstrating what His love is like to people who are hungry and in need.
This weekend our Being SJLC emphasis turns to “Hunger Serving,” coinciding with our congregation’s meal packaging event with Stop Hunger Now. This organization works with volunteers like you to assemble and package nutritious (if pretty basic) meals for people around the world who do not expect three meals – if any – each day. The meals we’ve packaged will go to children in schools in other countries, by design. Parents are more likely to send their children to a school where they’re guaranteed a hot meal, keeping them from having to forage or labor for income from the family. And through education, Stop Hunger Now seeks to break the cycle of hunger for those lives they touch. We’re not just looking to meet a temporary need, but to share what we have to show God’s love. We’re not serving because this is a nice thing to do for hungry people; we’re serving because of Whose we are.
Some of you might have taken part in our congregational juice fast, an event that took place from noon Friday to noon Saturday. This wasn’t just some kind of play-acting at being hungry; rather, it was hopefully a reminder of God’s grace as the absence of regular meals called to mind that to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s all too easy for us to slip into taking the food we eat for granted, as God’s good gifts surround us. We lose sight of that Giver who continues to provide and overcome our hunger.
We have a God who feeds the world both physically and spiritually. We affirm that even as we ask in the Lord’s Prayer (which we’ll be praying later on in this service), “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this isn’t just bread which we’re seeking; we need God to provide for all those things that sustain our bodies and lives each and every day. As you gather around a table before meals, you may offer up that prayer we know as the Common Table Prayer, acknowledging God’s gifts which are coming to us in the meal. (For a long time, I’ve thought that we should change the wording of that prayer to “Come Lord Jesus, we are your guests; let these gifts to us be blessed.” God gives food to the world every day. But today… today you get a special treat! Today, you get to come to God’s table and receive the food that He is giving here for both your body and soul, food to meet the hunger that is so prevalent in this word – hunger for a restored relationship with God.
This week, watch what you eat – whatever you might be eating. Not because you have to, but to remember your God who feeds a hungry world, who feeds you. Use your freedom in Christ with discernment and build up the people around you, even those people half a world away. God has come to bring the food that we all need. Come and eat!