Sermon from this past Sunday based on revised common lectionary for Feb 1. The first letter to the Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul in about 54 CE to a congregation he had founded several years earlier. At the time, Corinth was a large and prospering urban center with an ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse population. While the congregation in Corinth was predominantly Gentile (non-Jewish), it probably mirrored the diversity of the city’s population. In his letter, Paul is writing in part to provide some guidance to the Corinthians who are seeking his views about several disputed matters. He is responding to reports, conveyed by word of mouth, about serious disorders within the congregation: rival groups fighting for control, a disregard for those who are not fully enlightened about “appropriate Christian conduct,” including the marginalizing of the congregation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged members. – sound familiar? As the Church, do we not still struggle with these things? Overall, the letter instructs the people of Corinth to manifest the unity and harmony that, in Paul’s view, necessarily go along with their “belonging to Christ.” In other words, if you claim to be Christian, start acting like it! With this in mind, the letter opens with a call for unity and closes with an appeal to “let love be the governing power in the life of the community.” Is this not similar to the words we just heard the children sing in “I have a dream;” that is, “to overcome the fear and hate, our hearts can love, it’s not too late.” Hear now, Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth:
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]. …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 [the] One God.” Hmmm, but who is that God? [The letter continues], 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 [but] 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. “[This] 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.
Apparently Paul wants all of us to become vegetarians. That’s right, no more McDonalds or Italian beef or Chicago deep dish with sausage and pepperoni. No more steak and eggs or whatever else it is you meat eaters eat. Actually, what Paul is addressing here is the question of whether it is appropriate “Christian conduct” to eat the meat that has been left over from pagan sacrificial rites. This “food sacrificed to idols” refers to the animals that had been ritually slaughtered and ritually offered up to the gods by the priests. There was this section of the temple – imagine if you will a dining room of sorts, where the meat was later consumed. I’m not even sure whether they cooked it or not, but either way, the letter seems to indicate that as pagans, they had become accustomed to eating this meat. However, now, as Christians, this is a serious struggle for the community. So much so that they write to Paul, their founder, and ask for his advice. Paul is careful in his response—reminding them that there is no god but the one God and that to know and love God is to be known and loved by the one who calls everything into existence.
So who is this God? What does HE or SHE look like?
A few weeks ago, I invited the Sunday School children to draw a picture of God. It was fun to see what they came up with. [One child] drew a picture of God as everything and no-thing—very profound. [Another] drew God as an animal and a sun, “because God is a big ball of light shining on each of us and every animal.” [The three girls] drew God in human form; as such, God was pictured as an older, white man with a long beard. Much like the one [our pastor] rocks around this time of year. However, what was even more interesting was when one of the girls called out another because her God was starting to look “too feminine.”
“Why does your God look like a girl?” she said.
Her image of God was still male, however, God had on something that appeared dress-like, with lipstick, and maybe heels? It was somewhat queer, I suppose; a cross-dressing, drag queen god, if you can imagine. However, sadly the exchange between the two girls became quite painful as I watched the “girly God” become hidden under scribbles. Its artist seemingly ashamed of the way in which her image of God had been interpreted or misinterpreted as ‘not the right kind of God.’ When I asked them where these ideas of God being WHITE and MALE came from, they had no answer. So, who taught them this? Is this the God we worship or an idol we have become accustomed to? Paul writes to the Corinthians, “in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, from whom are all things and for whom we exist… It is not everyone, however,” he says, “who has this knowledge…some have become so accustomed to idols [that] they still think of the food they eat as food offered to a [so-called god]…” We have become so accustomed to idols. And if ever there were an idol or false god – the old, white, male god is most certainly it. And its food? Patriarchy and white supremacy.
Indeed, the idea that men should have power over women or the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially those who are black; these realities continue to crucify our communities today—so much so that our littlest ones, yes, our children, internalize them. To be white and male is to be closer to God. This idea goes way back to the body and soul divide, to thinking that to be white is to be closer to the light and therefore, closer to God. These “foundational” beliefs festered for years, ordering our North American society as we know it today. And regardless of whether you worship these idols or not, these beliefs run so deep that they reside deep within our bodies and institutions; deep within our subconscious and the subconscious of our children. So much so that when I asked them to draw an image of God, they in fact, reproduced an idol. Eventually they will come to know, just as many of us have come to know that this white male God indeed an idol, one that our society feeds every day. Every time a female identified person is disempowered or worse. Every time a black person is profiled and killed by police. Every time a queer person is made to feel ashamed about their body or gender presentation. The list goes on and on…But again, Paul writes, “[This sacrifice] will not bring us close to God.”
So when will it stop? When will we stop feeding false idols?
As a country we have been wrestling with these issues for a very long time and more recently, in the wake of Ferguson and the killing of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd and countless others, it has become quite clear that there is no justice when it comes to the sacrificing of Black life in America. Not when an unarmed Black body can be gunned down without sufficient reasoning and left in the middle of the street on display for hours.
“Stop telling me that ALL lives matter.” Julia Craven writes, “Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already…but, police violence and brutality disproportionately affects [Black people.] Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally and neither is our outrage.” Which is why recently we [as a nation] have had to assert over and over again that “black lives matter,” and why, as a predominantly white community of faith, we must seek solidarity in ways that require risking relationship with those who are Crucified in our community. In Lakeview, this necessarily means, welcoming and celebrating [young] people who are black, queer, and struggling with housing instability. You might recall the Sunday before our annual Christmas pageant—when we took worship to the streets. We were responding to a video call-to-action by seven South Side Chicago ministers, which led to coordinated actions by about 100 churches across Chicago. On that Sunday in December, churches held a variety of protests; from sermons to marches to street takeovers. South Side pastors called for actions, “As a symbol, that as we interrupt traffic, we want to interrupt this racial profiling, interrupt an (in)justice system that is not working in this country,” in hopes that we might bring attention to the unjust killing of so many black youth. But don’t all lives matter? Yes! However, you may recall that on that same Sunday, an older, white man walked through our public witness screaming, “black lives suck!” These are the words that our children remember most, which is why, until our world reflects this divine truth that black lives matter, we must not only boldly proclaim it, but find ways to embody it too. So, I’m here to tell you, “I met God, she’s Black.” Some of you have seen the shirt that bears witness to this, maybe you’ve even read about it in the paper, since the creator of the shirt was recently interviewed. “The shirt’s message speaks to a deep desire for people to see God in their own image,” the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, a Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church who has been involved in protests against Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD writes,
God is too mysterious to truly know, so we make God accessible to ourselves by conjuring, imagining, speculating, and guessing… How we image God helps us to image ourselves. There is power in thinking of God as a little like us, just as there is power in thinking of ourselves as a little like God. It does not change the fact that God is mystery, it just makes God more accessible.
It’s important for people to keep the contemporary conversation going about who God is, what God wants and how we relate to God. Lewis went on to say, “The good outcome” or the Good News, if you will, “is if [a] black child bumps into it and goes, ‘Well maybe. . . maybe God’s not an old white guy and if so, what does that say about me?'”
Our children are watching, listening, and waiting.
When will we stop offering them up as sacrifices on the altars of patriarchy and white supremacy?
STOP FEEDING FALSE IDOLS.
Remember, Paul’s words, “[This Food] will not bring us close to God. We are
no worse off if we do not eat [it]…so take care that this liberty of yours…for if others [such as the children] see you…eating in the temple of [these idols], might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?”
Who is this God we worship?
Please join me in prayer: God of Justice who declared black lives matter at the dawn of creation by scooping up a handful of black earth with which to craft humanity in the image of divinity, we thank you that your radiant blackness is neither accidental nor incidental to your glory. We join you, Holy One, in your lament for the stolen lives of your precious children: Trayvon, Rekia, Mike, Renisha, Tamir, Ayanna and so many, many more. And we partner with you in righteous action to transform this sin-sick world. We pray your heavenly benediction on those assembled [here], those who protest and those who cannot. We pray you bless those protesting in other places around this nation and world, proclaiming that black lives more than matter but that black life is sacred. We pray your protection and know that you are with us in the streets. We pray for the transformation of society and the culture of policing, prosecuting and the entire unjust justice system. Help us to stop feeding false idols, O God. We pray for those whose hearts are full of hate and fear. Touch them with your love so that together, we might dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy, and boldly proclaim the Good News that all black life: gay, straight, bi, trans, male and female may not only survive but thrive because yes, all lives matter. Amen. Real t, alli