During my final interview for ordination, I was asked if I would serve communion to someone who was not baptized. I answered that not only would I serve someone who is not baptized, but I would serve anyone who came to the table looking for nourishment.
The table is not ours, but Jesus’s, and the food may be the only piece of bread that someone may get that day- it is not my understanding of the Gospel to refuse them. The answer was well received by most, but there was also push back as I am sure you can imagine. Scripture can be confusing and sometimes offer contradictory understandings of what God wants from us. Throw in human translations and cultural understandings and you can have a real theological mess on your hands. For example, I am a minister of the Gospel and yet I cannot receive communion in Catholic worship. I don’t blame them, we just have a different understanding of communion. And even though we are growing in God’s love together in this world, it can still be confusing.
This week’s scripture touches a little on just this topic. Not communion exactly, but who gets to eat what and when. It’s reassuring to me that these issues of interfaith sacraments that we have today are remnants of similar conversations and confusions that our biblical ancestors had. Paul in his letter to Corinth reminds us that God doesn’t care what we eat, but God does care that we are fed – in every way possible. Let’s read together these words from 1 Cor. 8:1-13.
1 Now, concerning food sacrificed to idols.
We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up. 2 You may think you know something, but you still won’t know it the way you ought. 3 But anyone who loves God is known—completely—by God.
4 Well then, what about eating food sacrificed to idols? We know that idols have no real existence, that there is no God but the One. 5 Even though there are so-called gods in the heavens—and on the earth as well, where there seem to be many gods and sovereigns— 6 for us there is only One God, Abba God, from whom all things come and for whom we live; there is one Sovereign, Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made and through whom we live.
7 Some people, accustomed to idol worship until recently, are consumed with guilt every time they eat meat they buy in the market, because they know that the meat had been sacrificed to idols—and their conscience, because it is weak, gets defiled every time they eat. 8 But food cannot bring us closer to God. We lose nothing if we refuse to eat. We gain nothing if we choose to eat.
9 Be on your guard, however, that this liberty of yours does not become a pitfall for the weak. 10 Suppose someone who has this knowledge sees you eating in some idol’s temple, won’t this person be tempted to eat meat offered to idols? 11 Realize that your knowledge—that idols are nothing and thus it is all right to eat this meat freely—might be the ruination of a weak sister or brother, for whose sake Christ died. 12 By sinning against your sisters and brothers in this way and injuring their weak consciences, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if meat causes my sister or brother to stumble, I will never eat it again—I don’t want to be an occasion for sin to them.
[1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (ILB)/ 1 Corintios 8: 1-13 (NVI)]
Did you read the confusion within this community? Can you eat sacrificed meat or not? The truth is some people were eating the sacrificed meat and others had a deeply embedded theology against it. Some people had access to this knowledge earlier than others and it takes time to change, even when the scriptures tell you to. So, I am empathetic to their confusion and willing to journey with anyone in the same space. What I find helpful in this passage is that Paul reminds us that we gain nothing and lose nothing in terms of what we eat, but if what we eat causes harm to our community, then what we eat matters. This isn’t really about food. It’s about God and community. What matters is our intentionality to our community. How we love each other. How we serve each other. How we grow with and toward each other. That has always been my understanding of Christ’s table but even more so – the feast of God’s love.
Friends, how do your choices around food reflect your commitments to God’s community? What food brings you closer to God? How can we be sure that everyone is fed in both body and spirit? We don’t have to have the answers today, but I hope we can think through this together and set into motion a vision of equitable and communal nourishment, so that Christians 2000 years from now, see even more clearly God’s love for us in how we nourish ourselves, our community, and our faith.
A quick prayer for your week: O Lord, We give thanks for all the ways you nourish us and call us to help nourish each other. Amen
Children and Youth Ministry Update
from Kelsey Creech, Resident Seminarian
On Sunday January 24th, the older students and I met at 10 AM and discussed the story of Jonah. I gave a summary of the story, and then we read this week’s scripture, Jonah 3:1-5,10, and spent time thinking about the details of the passage and the characters’ motivations throughout the story. We were particularly curious about why the people were so easily convinced to abandon their old ways and turn to God. We pondered the factual accuracy of Jonah and considered if perhaps the Book of Jonah might be a parody of the life of a prophet. Ultimately, we concluded our study grateful for the wisdom the book gave us and encouraged by the tremendous love of God witnessed through the story.
At 10:30, our younger students gathered to read the story of “Jonah and the Big Fish” in our Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible. We read the story in turns and were moved by God’s great love and capacity for forgiveness. In particular, we dwelled on the notion that God loves even our enemies, and the children drew connections between the story of Jonah and some other books they had read that week.
I sent the children home with a discussion question and asked that they and their parents spend time chatting about moments where God asked them to do something they didn’t want to do, like show kindness to an enemy, how they felt about it, and what the process was like as they prepared to do it. We talked about our weeks, prayed, sang, and said goodbye with a blessing to have fun and grow.
This Sunday at 10 AM, the older students and I will read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 in our Inclusive Language Bibles, then we will discuss what meaning we find in these instructions from Paul and what we imagine the situation may have been at the Church in Corinth for Paul to write so much about eating food from sacrifices to false gods. We will pray and talk about what we might write in a letter to the Church in New York City if we adopted Paul’s letter writing strategy and used his words, “knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up” as a guide.
At 10:30, the younger students and I will gather and read 1 Corinthians 8:1-3,6 in the New International Reader’s Version. We will spend some time discussing God’s love for us and how knowledge that makes us proud is different from knowledge of God’s love and actually loving others. We will talk about ways we can love others this week and what we would say to our Church Community if we wrote a letter like Paul.
This month with the children of the Park has been such a blessing, and I look forward to the year ahead and the many other Sunday Mornings I will spend with them.
Well, it isn't food for your stomach (though when we are able to meet again in person, we will share a brown bag lunch right after church), but it is food — almost a banquet — for your soul.
SoulFood Fellowship is a gathering of The PARK members and friends who get together from near and far after worship on the third Sunday of each month. We engage in conversation that is bound to get you thinking and talking. We discuss and reflect on books, articles, documentary films, or plays —in light of our faith, Bible Study, and concern for social justice.
Right now we’re focusing on Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for our Own, by Eddie Glaude, Jr. Don't worry if you haven't read the book. It is a slow read that calls forth loads of discussion and reflection on our country, racism, and what God requires of us. We would love to have you join us and share your perspective, experience, hopes, and concerns.
For more information, please contact either RIchard Sturm or Stephanie Wilson at the church.
Pandemic of Love is a mutual aid community of care that was started in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. It humbly began on March 14th, 2020 by one person and was intended to help her own local community. But, like an epidemic, the act of love and kindness spread quickly and is now a beautiful movement helping those in need throughout the world.
What is a mutual aid community? It connects people in need with patrons who can help with that need. This is a tangible way for people to give to each other, quickly, discretely and directly.
What’s the catch? There is none. Kind people are introduced to kind people which results in an act of kindness and human connection.