Pastor's Corner: The real meat of community
Last updated 2/5/2021 at 7:55am
When my husband and I moved to Havre last year, we had just missed the 87th Annual Swedish Meatball and Norwegian Lutefisk Dinner held at First Lutheran Church in early February of 2020. Neither of us have Scandinavian heritage, so we aren’t too familiar with lutefisk or the other delicacies offered at the annual meal. We knew we would have to wait a long time to sink our teeth into that delicious whitefish. But we didn’t know just quite how long we would have to wait.
Now among the many things that COVID-19 has disrupted we include the beloved annual Lutefisk Dinner, with the faithful organizers of the event making the prudent decision to postpone the dinner until next year. My husband and I will miss the lutefisk, but what we’ll really miss is experiencing the fellowship and communal connection that all the hard work of the organizers and volunteers leads to.
As I preached on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of the hard but right decision to postpone this year’s dinner and how that put the spirit of Paul’s message into action.
In Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in this passage, he addresses the way that eating or not eating meat has become a sticking point in the community. Now, there is a big difference between the meat that Paul’s talking about and the meat for sale at Walmart or IGA or that you hunted yourself. The meat that Paul’s talking about — the meat that is spoiling friendships and faith and possibly even families — this is meat sacrificed to idols.
In the ancient world, it was common to sacrifice meat to the gods. There were temples throughout the Mediterranean Basin devoted to gods, goddesses and the Roman emperor and his family, and these “gods” needed to be fed. People would come to these temples with animals, and, after sacrificing the animals, they would have a nice, meaty meal. The people sacrificing the animal couldn’t eat it all, so the extra meat was sold in the markets. Almost all the meat in the markets came from the temples’ leftovers.
For some of the Christians who came from a Jewish background, eating this meat that had been sacrificed to idols was getting close to breaking the first commandment: you shall have no other gods before me. Buying this meat was one step away from forsaking their God.
Some of the gentile Christians in Corinth had grown up worshiping the Roman gods and emperors. Now that they had committed to the faith of the one God, the Father Almighty, eating this meat would feel like backsliding, like relapsing after a period of blessed sobriety. Whether Jewish or Gentile in background, for some of the Christians in Corinth, eating this meat meant betraying their faith. And seeing their fellow Christians eating this meat from the pagan temples was proving just as destructive to their faith as picking up the knife and fork themselves.
But there were other Christians in Corinth who knew that these idols, these lower-case-g gods, were nothing but plaster and paint. They knew that meat sacrificed in the pagan temples was still just meat, and it had no power over their faith and no effect upon their lives. They knew better than those so-called weak Christians, and their knowledge gave them a sense of their own spiritual superiority.
These Christians knew that they had the freedom to eat or not eat. And Paul agrees with their position. He knows that the food sacrificed to idols is inherently no different than food not sacrificed to idols. What goes in the mouth can’t defile a person; it’s what comes out. But, Paul goes on to say, that’s not the point. Being right is not the most important thing. Paul tells the Corinthians he is willing to forgo eating meat entirely if it helps his siblings in the faith, even though he knows there is nothing inherently bad about eating the sacrificed meat. Choosing personal freedom over community well-being is directly contrary to the love of Christ that Paul is teaching the early church to embody.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians remind us that we are not independent individuals whose choices only affect ourselves. We are baptized into the body of Christ, enmeshed in a complex web of relationships that connect us to other Christ believers, obligating us to look to the well-being of our siblings in the faith and our neighbors in the wider world.
This coming weekend, we as a community have chosen to not eat meat, so to speak. We will forego the Lutefisk Dinner out of love and concern for communal well-being. As my husband and I wait another year to sample that delicacy, I hope every time we hunger for lutefisk we remember Paul’s message to the Corinthians, and I hope we take actions that embody Christ’s love, choosing care for the communal over preference for the personal.
Pastor Megan Hoewisch
First Lutheran Church