Monday, February 02, 2009
Be Excellent To Each Other
1 Corinthians 8: 1-12
There’s a sense here that Paul seems to be micro-managing. He’s traveling all over the Mediterranean, trying to spread the word of the salvation through Christ, the love of God for all, and he takes the time to dictate a letter back to Corinth about what to eat and where to eat it. Really, the Corinthian church may be thinking, don’t you have more important things to do?
Well if that is all this was about, they’d be right. Imagine, for a minute, that Bishop Hassinger wrote us a letter saying that there is a problem, and that it’s entirely possible that we could be causing people to warp or even lose their faith because of the meat that some of us are eating. Because some people still labor under the superstition that meat that is alaid out for Gods that we believe don’t exist, by any measure don’t have any power over us, avoid trouble-just don’t eat that meat. A traveling Bishop (and that’s he closest thing that we have in the modern church to what Paul does) just doesn’t do such a thing in this time and place, even if they did start the church, which we’re pretty sure Paul did.
If this letter when to all churches, that’s one thing. If the pastors there were acting like Eli’s sons and skimming off the top of the offering for their own greed, that’s one thing. But hey, so my meat comes from the temple down the street? It’s cheaper, it’s pretty good quality, aren’t I being a good steward?
Paul’s tactic is to make sure that people who are on journeys of growth to understanding the love of God and the love of Christ are not diverted or distracted by other things.
There are other ways in which we do this today. There are places where our customs and the pure gospel do not mix, but we favor the local customs over the pure gospel anyway. Paul has a message for those who want to live by love and not just by the knowledge; Care for those who are less aware of things, who are still growing towards reflecting the love of the Lord. Don’t get in their way, help them. Correct them when they are in danger of falling into error, when they are in danger of making themselves stumble, but don’t throw stuff in their path, just because you know more than they do.
Be excellent to each other. I can’t hear that phrase without thinking of it’s unlikely source, the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was the first movie that Keanu Reeves was known for, and in many ways, even through the Matrix series, he has not been able to shake the image of the slow slacker who cares a lot about his music, but doesn’t care that he’s not good at it. We laugh at guys like Bill and Ted, we watch three whole weeks of people like him at the beginning of every American Idol season.
Somehow, though, I think they know something we don’t. Or they’ve kept something we’ve forgotten. If you haven’t seen the movies, these two guys travel through history in a magic phone booth, collecting historical figures like Napoleon, Socrates (whose name they persist in pronouncing “So- krates”) and Billy the Kid for a report in class, so they can pass history, not be sent to different schools, keep their band together, and save their friendship. “Be excellent to each other” is the philosophy of their lives, and they live it perfectly. Everyone is respected, each of the two of them supports the other, and conflicts are resolved with these principles. They believe that they are great musicians, even though the way the currently play leaves something to be desired.
You begin to realize, as the movie comes to its conclusion, that this attitude of theirs is less delusional and more about believing in their own and each others, and the whole worlds’ potential. And the way for everyone to grow, to achieve what it is they are meant for, is by caring for each other. Parents and teachers have them pigeonholed into roles, and they find a way to live the way that makes them happy, and still gives room for others to live.
Paul, the busybody Apostle of Christ, is really saying the same thing, here. All of you in the Corinthian church; some of you may believe, still, that the meat that is sacrificed to idols, and then sold in the market, is somehow tainted. The true knowledge tells us that the only taint meat can experience is being out in the sun too long, that there is no God but one. If folks want to sacrifice, let them. But for us believers in Christ, if there are those among you who believe in the spiritual taint of meat bought from the temple market, then you should avoid that meat, because it will cause distress to those who haven’t grown to that point yet.
Think about it this way—Do parents discuss the particulars of marital relations with their young children? No, we simply say that parents love each other, and avoid actions that would cause our children to be troubled. More information becomes available as the children grow.
When we are excellent to each other, we do live as if we and everyone else around us have potential. We know that God’s Prevenient grace will lead them to a greater understanding. We know that there is no secret, any more than algebra is a secret to kids who are just learning multiplication. It is no secret, but you do have to build to algebra, and that takes time and effort. So we provide the supportive environment, the tools necessary, and the encouragement. We turn off the TV when it is homework time. We make sure that when they get tired, they get a break. And we watch the growth.
I know it’s hard to do that. It’s hard to get Christians, both in Paul’s time and in ours, to stop believing in things that are more cultural than faithful. But look at the evidence—who sacrifices meat to idols anymore? It’s hard to get kids to do their homework, but look at the evidence. The overwhelming majority of kids pass Algebra, and go beyond it, and pass calculus.
When we have faith in God and God’s motivating grace, wonderful things can happen.
Bill and Ted do a spectacular report, save their friendship, their band and their grades.
Be Excellent to Each Other. Give God’s grace room.