Do you love to eat? So do we! In fact, arguably, Christianity is all about food and table fellowship. Join us on Sunday to consider how food and eating connects us with God, with one another, and with those whom we are called to serve.
I Corinthians 8: 1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—
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.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
I love food. Anyone who has spent any extended period of time with me can attest to that. I never skip meals, and usually eat more than I should at each meal. And often times, while I’m eating my current meal, I’m already thinking about what I’m going to eat at my next meal. One could say that I have fallen for food. In many ways, food plays a starring role in the drama of my life.
But I know not everyone has a positive relationship with food. In fact, if the statistics are correct, there are people sitting in worship today who are struggling with food addiction or an eating disorder. And I want you to know that you are a beloved child of God, and because of that, if you aren’t already getting or seeking help, please do. Your health, your body, your well-being, you. You are worth it.
But the fact that we have those struggles points to the reality that food is more than just a basic need. Food, I think, is and can be a very personal thing with deep roots that are often intricately tied to the very fabric of who we are.
We have emotional connections to food. Sometimes negative but not always. If we can approach food a certain way, it can be a deep source of joy and pleasure as well.
I’ve almost always loved food, but in my more adult years, I’ve been able to start connecting my love for food with my love for humanity. I now see the two as quite related.
For example, what does it mean that I can have 3 square meals a day, but there are people right here in San Francisco wondering if they’ll have even one? My love for food fuels my love for God’s people as I join the fight against hunger to ensure that all have enough to eat.
Another way my love for food intersects with my love for people is by making the connection of where and how my food gets to my table.
So, confession time, one of the places I occasionally get my food, more so when I was a student, but still from time to time today, is at McDonald’s.
Now, I know I just lost at least half of you. Most of you who were all with me about loving food are now like, ew- no.
I know it’s bad, and yes, I have seen Supersize Me. But I’ve always held a special place in my heart for their fast food.
I blame it on my childhood, and my family’s frequent visits to the place. We would eat, and I would play there on their play structures. And it just holds this memory of being able to spend time with my mom who worked a lot. So, yes, I have this strange emotional connection with McDonald’s.
But while I was in seminary at McCormick, I learned that McDonald’s wasn’t paying their tomato pickers a living wage. Some of you may have heard about that.
A petition came around, demanding a fair wage for those who were literally slaving away in southwest Florida for our extra value meals, and those who signed it also committed to boycott McDonald’s until it changed its unjust policies. Despite my love for the Chicken McNugget, I knew that I had to sign that petition and commit to abstain from their food until they changed their ways.
Soon after I began my boycott, McDonald’s agreed to pay more for their tomatoes, so lucky for me, I didn’t have to go very long without their greasy fries and big macs. But I learned a lifelong lesson to stay aware of where my food comes from and who that affects.
By the way, they are now boycotting and working on the fast food chain Wendy’s. And you can learn more about that on the Coalition of Immokalee workers website: ciw-online.org.
You see, in the end, our lives are dependent on one another, and our actions here in San Francisco affect workers in Florida whom we’ve never even met. Whether we realize it or not, we are all interconnected and woven together into this tapestry called life.
And in a lot ways, we are woven together through food.
Here, at Calvary much of what we do together involves food or eating: our deacon & session meetings begin with a meal; we have community potlucks and lunches; we gather at Crissy Field for barbecues, and our coffee hour treats are often home-baked by church members or created by Chef Erica who has used food to move into a new career and a new life.
A lot of our outreach also centers around food: we cook dinners at the Interfaith Men’s shelter; we volunteer at St. Martin de Porres and the food pantry at Old First; we do Pack-a-Sack at least twice a year. These programs help feed people who are hungry, and I’m proud to be a part of that.
Food can be very powerful. It reminds us of how interconnected we actually are. And sometimes it can even unite us or divide us.
The community in Corinth to whom Paul is writing to in today’s passage was dealing with exactly that. The church in Corinth was rather diverse.
There were some who were very wealthy, educated, and knowledgeable. But then there were also those who were the day laborers, the working class; those who were uneducated in the traditional sense, and rather poor. Because of this diversity, they were struggling with how to be one community, and a lot of issues came to head, one of which was food.
There was one camp, the wealthier, more powerful and more “knowledgeable” ones that said, “Idols aren’t real, so eating their food isn’t a big deal- it’s just meat.” But then there were others, the “weaker” ones, according to Paul, for whom eating this meat really disturbed their conscience.
The text doesn’t say exactly why, but these idols had been a part of their lives long before the message of Jesus Christ had. And perhaps for them to follow Jesus in a way that felt authentic and true, they had to turn completely away from those idols, including the food sacrificed to them.
We don’t know for sure. We just know eating that food was deeply problematic for that group. Now, to me, what Paul doesn’t say is just as interesting as what he does say.
While it’s clear that Paul agrees with the meat-eaters, Paul doesn’t say that they should splinter off and begin their own faction of “like-minded,” meat-eating Christians.
That probably would’ve been the easiest solution, and the first of many church splits to occur in Christian history. But in today’s scripture, we hear a different witness.
In fact, Paul also doesn’t say that the meat-eaters should try to convert or even convince the others to agree with them. The knowledge, power, money and numbers were probably on their side, but Paul doesn’t ask them to use that influence to make everyone think like them.
I imagine these meat-eating Corinthians believed that once everyone knew the same thing and believed the same thing, peace within the community would be restored. But Paul shifts their paradigm.
He reminds this young church in Corinth that community isn’t based on the fact that we all believe the exact same thing or that we all know the exact same things. No, rather, community is based first and foremost on love. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
In community, there is room for diversity. People can think and believe and know and vote and even eat differently, and that’s okay. That’s okay because at the core of our community is not uniformity but love.
Sometimes, that love demands more from us than we initially bargained for. It requires more from us than a lukewarm commitment, and it asks that we not only share a pew with those around us, but our very lives. And it directly conflicts with rugged, American individuality. It’s not always comfortable to share our burdens with one another in a culture that tells us to pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps. But a community based on love breaks societal norms and risks being both vulnerable and inconvenienced. Even to the point of giving up some of what we know we are allowed to do because here’s what Paul does say in verse 9, “take care that this liberty of yours [this freedom that you have] does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Paul acknowledges that we may have certain freedoms; but just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. It may not always be fair that the freedoms we know we have can’t be exercised how ever and whenever we want. But a community based on love also requires some sacrifice; it requires that we consider how our actions affect others in our community.
Now, this doesn’t mean we need to just bow to everyone’s whims and tread carefully so as not to offend anyone. And it doesn’t mean we should cater to those who have the strictest, most legalistic and fundamental understandings of our faith, particularly at the cost of doing what is just and right. That’s not what this means.
Because this directive is purposefully given to a very particular group by Paul: to the literate, the educated, and those who are stronger and more powerful in that community. Paul calls upon them to restrict some of their liberties, to deliberately choose not to do what they may be entitled to, in order to build up those who are weaker and more vulnerable in their society. For the sake of those who are powerless, voiceless and impoverished, Paul asks them to refrain from their behavior.
We are called to do the same in this church, in this time, and in this world. Because we live in a broken & fearful world where the gap between those who are rich and those who are poor only seems to widen; where our desire for cheap electronics and clothes is seemingly more important than the hands and health of factory workers who slave away in horrid conditions; where wealthy nations eat abundantly the food grown in parts of the world where people still die of starvation.
And we live in a country, where families are torn apart as undocumented parents are stripped away from their US-born children; where children are affected by gun violence in places that should be safe; where some of us eat fresh, organic produce from the grocery store or farmer’s market while others are left with the remnant of what couldn’t be sold.
We live in a world where it is more important than ever for the powerful to put aside some of our privilege; to lay down some of our freedoms; to sacrifice some of our conveniences and yes, even some of our pleasures for the sake of those in our global & local community who are in danger of falling from the stumbling blocks we’ve placed before them.
Today’s passage challenges us to make a faithful and deliberate choices to be a church and a people that builds up God’s kingdom here on earth; to be people of faith who are not satiated by comfort, money, status or power, but who hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice and peace for all people; who are fed not by the things of this world, but by the foretaste of the coming kingdom’s banquet.
Sally McFague, a feminist theologian, reminds us that “the church has as its central ritual a Eucharistic meal,” a meal of thanksgiving. Communion is at the heart of our faith tradition. And every time we partake in the Lord’s Supper, every time we approach the Table, we take part in a radical act of inclusion as we profess that we are a part of one holy, universal church, united by a meal to which Jesus Christ is the host.
To this banquet, both the weak and the strong; the meat-eater and the vegan; the powerful and the disenfranchised, the farmer and the consumer, all are invited to come. And with believers in every time and place, we are confronted and transformed by God’s love, God’s love not only for us, but for those whom we’ve exploited, disdained, ignored or harmed, both by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone.
And this love, made us and makes us one, emboldening us, despite our shortfalls, despite our complicity, to try, yet again, to love one another better, as God loves us.
And perhaps this great revolution of love begins with a meal, with food to bring us together and to teach us how we might love.
Friends, feast on God’s love. And then share that great bounty with one another and with the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.