Being the Epiphany

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on January 31, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

1 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 God.

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 Creator, 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.

This passage reminds me of evangelism, which if I’m honest, that word leaves a not-so great taste in my mouth. My initial reaction to the word brings me back to my campus ministry, which was extremely fundamentalist and revolved around the idea that only certain people get to have a relationship with God, and that those who do not believe in God are inherently bad. Too often, evangelism is improperly used as a way to separate Christians and non-Christians, or the privileged and the non-privileged. 

In reality, evangelism is a word that means something very different, when we’re using it faithfully. It simply means sharing the gospel. One major difference is that sharing the gospel doesn’t place judgment on those whom the gospel is being shared with. It doesn’t mean those people are bad or not good enough or broken. Because the truth is, none of us would know the gospel, were it not revealed to us. Therefore, evangelism is a means of sharing God and God’s word with those around us. Simply put, it’s connecting, and remembering that the one who connects us is the Holy Spirit.

What is a positive way you’ve seen the Gospel shared?

Our scripture today comes from a letter Paul writes to a church in Corinth. He’s telling the church what it means to be the body of Christ, and this portion is a reminder that we can often get distracted from our innate need to connect.

A major thing Paul does is put two terms in contrast: knowledge and love. While in our context, both of these things are good, Paul’s making the point that knowledge, when it involves our ego or arrogance, does not serve us. When we use our knowledge to be elitist or braggy, then it no longer is helpful. Love on the other hand, is all about giving of self to someone else. This is the kind of love that God shows us, the kind of love Jesus constantly poured out. And so, these two words, knowledge and love, contrast one another to say that knowledge (remember, the braggy kind) leads to an inflated ego, and love leads to a healthy community and mutuality in relationships.

When sharing the gospel, evangelizing, we can look at folx doing this and see a few strategies, which I believe sum up to the same premise, knowledge vs. love. On TikTok, an app for making videos, there’s a large community of Christians, and they tend to fall into two camps. The first, knowledge. You’d see people who make videos about why exactly they are right and others are wrong, citing specific verses and using them to put others down or convince them that they are not Christians. This is a form of evangelizing that falls under the self-inflating knowledge category, and why it’s not helpful, is because it paints the community of faith as an exclusive system, where only the very best are included. And with that rationale, it paints a picture that God is like that too, picking and choosing who belongs and who needs to do better to be a part of the kindom.

I don’t share this to place judgment on that camp of Christians. I believe there is space for scripture being shared as a means of sharing the gospel. What I am saying however, is that when our goal truly is relationship, the love route is the most effective way to go about it. When we are able to use the Holy Spirit to remind others of their belovedness, we make clear the message of Jesus Christ; to love others as God loves us. Even the greatest biblical scholar is no match for that message. 

So Paul in this passage uses several examples, namely rules or traditions that some follow, in order to make his point, that we are a community, and are charged with lifting each other up as a way of sharing the gospel.

Of course, there are many ways to share the gospel, as you all stated above. We can tell stories about Jesus. We can read the bible and pray for people, etc. But one of the fundamental things we as a community can do, is to lift each other up. When Paul talks about the freedoms we have, he shares that sometimes, for the sake of the community, the things that we can do are different than the things we should do. For instance, just because we ourselves are not struggling with addiction does not mean that we should be drinking or smoking around our loved ones who may be in recovery. Just because we can does not mean we should. If us abstaining from doing something helps someone else in their faith journey, perhaps it doesn’t matter anymore what we technically are allowed to do. 

So let’s connect these pieces. Using our two sets of words, knowledge vs. love and can vs. should, as we are sharing the gospel, living out Jesus’ teachings and helping our community, we have some choices to make. We can share the gospel through a self-inflating knowledge, telling people exactly the correct theological answer and using big words that may make someone feel less educated or worthy. OR, we can share the gospel through love, using Christ’s words and works to lift up the people we care about. And that is what I believe Paul is calling us to understand today. We were created to reveal God’s presence in love to those who need to see it. 

As we leave this place, may we remember that our role as Christians isn’t to be right. It’s to be faithful. May we look for those in our life who we are being led to journey with, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us in love. And may we remember the community to which we belong, a community where there is more than enough , and enough room for more.

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