4th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who knows us. Amen
“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.”
There’s a lot of knowledge
flying around our world today,
through the internet, radio, tv, social media
we know more than ever
what is going on around the world in real time
and in many cases this is helpful
as in natural disasters or other events
where people are saved from harm
by quickly relayed current information.
We also know helpful things
like how disease is spread,
and how to perform surgery
and how economies rise and fall and all sorts of other things,
and then we form opinions about what we know,
The shadow side
is that often we form our opinions first
and then find justification for them
among all the knowledge that is floating around out there
and once justified
we hold tightly to our opinions
that are justified by knowledge
refusing to relent when faced with other opinions
also justified with knowledge.
Now don’t get me wrong,
the more we learn about our world
and those around us the better
but in this flood of knowledge
we’ve forgotten about the reality of relationships,
how they are not always rational
how there is more to the way people work together
than the combination of facts and opinions.
As Paul says ‘Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.’
If you glazed over during the second reading
when Paul started talking about meat sacrificed to idols,
I don’t blame you,
it sounds like something that no longer applies to us,
we get our meat from the grocery store or the farm yard
not the leftovers from the sacrifices to the gods at the temple.
But Paul’s main point in this discussion
is more relevant than ever,
he’s ultimately posing the question:
what good is knowledge if it hurts our neighbor?
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.
Most members of the community to which Paul is writing
know that there is only one God
and so eating meat sacrificed to idols
is not an act of worship
because those idols don’t exist.
They have been set free by their belief in Christ
and so they can eat the meat without hurting their conscience,
meat is meat, and that’s great Paul says and all true.
But there are still some people in the community
who haven’t quite gotten to that point,
they believe in Christ
but they still associate eating the meat in the temples
with the worship of other gods
and if they see other members of the community
eating in the temples
their weaker belief might be shaken to the point of breaking,
causing them to sin.
This is why Paul warns those with knowledge:
“take care that this liberty of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
if given a choice between acting on knowledge
or with holding from acting on knowledge for the sake of the neighbor
Paul says he’ll choose not to act any time.
We have been freed in Christ
so that we may love our neighbor as ourselves,
as Paul says elsewhere in the letter
“all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial”
we have been set free so that the love of God
may overflow from our lives
into the lives of those around us,
this is freedom with responsibility
and this freedom comes from our relationship with God
and with God all relationships begin with love.
That’s why Paul says “anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
And this starts to sound confusing,
just using the word knowledge over and over again
but I think what we have going on here
are two different kinds of knowledge,
head knowledge and heart knowledge.
Even though there is only one word we understand the difference.
Head knowledge is the facts and figures,
heart knowledge is the emotional reality of those facts and figures.
For example, it is one thing to know with head knowledge
that 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage,
it is an entirely other thing to know with heart knowledge
the experience of a miscarriage whether yourself or alongside family and friends.
It is one thing to know with head knowledge
that poverty exists and have ideas about how people in poverty could get out of it.
It is quite another thing to know with heart knowledge
those who live in poverty
to walk alongside people as they struggle with the reality of never having enough.
It is one thing to know someone with head knowledge,
their name and occupation,
where they live and a few other facts about them,
it is quite another thing to know someone with heart knowledge,
talking with them,
learning their sense of humor, their hopes, fears and motivations.
As humans, we long to be known with heart knowledge
and God knows us.
God knows you,
not the face you put on for other people or even yourself,
the real you,
your hopes and fears, your strengths and failings
God knows all this
and God loves you
and nothing will ever change that.
To be loved in this way is powerful,
it builds us up
and it frees us to take risks,
risks like getting to know our neighbor with heart knowledge,
sharing the love of God with them
so that they too are built up and set free.
And if we don’t have the direct heart knowledge,
God calls us to act from a place of love that builds up the other.
This year my hope for our community
is that we grow in heart knowledge
building up our community
through deepening our relationship with God,
our relationships with one another in this congregation
and our relationship with the community around us
And I know,
with both head knowledge and heart knowledge
that we are able to do this
because God knows and loves us first. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.