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09.09.18 Why we Worship 1 Corinthians 10.23-11.1 Sermon Summary

by on September 12, 2018

“Do you have faith?” This was the question that preoccupied me as a young conservative evangelical. “I think I may be losing faith.” This is the statement that begins many conversations in my office as a pastor. A helpful approach to faith I’ve found over the years is, “How are your practicing faith?”

For several years our church has been focusing on Five Practices of Faith. These have arisen from our various church consultations and from within my various pastors groups. Our church leadership has asked that I do a sermon series on the Five Practices to remind the whole church of our mission. This we will do for the next ten weeks.

What are the Five Practices?

  • meaningful Worship
  • Prayer in private and public
  • Service in the church and world
  • having Spiritual Friendships
  • knowing and applying the Bible

There is no required order of the five. If you start anywhere, you’ll be led everywhere. In this series I’m starting with worship because many people’s church journey starts with worship. It’s also our most commonly shared experience. We’re also tinkering with the order of worship, and starting with the practice of worship may help us make the adjustments.

Worship is also the main point of at least the first four of the Ten Commandments. The first two commandments direct us to have nothing above God and not to make idols. One of the best ways to avoid letting something take the place of God and become an idol is to thank God for it. Then ask God to show you how you can use whatever it is to glorify God. This helps us keep God the object of our lives, the object of our worship.

Paul’s letters to Corinthians show that they wrote back and forth at least a few times, seeking Paul’s guidance on a number of conflictual issues like baptism, dress, and sexuality. Their correspondence shows Paul’s authority in the church, but also evidences diversity within the church.

Paul responds sometimes with specific practices, instructions that he expects the Corinthians to follow. Sometimes he offers principles that transcend the Corinthian churches and which we can apply today. This is a helpful insight to always keep in mind when we read any part of the Bible. Which things are historically bound practices, and which are more universal principles?

In our passage the issue is whether Christians can eat food that has been sacrificed to idols.

On one hand, Paul responds, is the recognition that there are no other gods. Idols are without reference or substance. The act of sacrificing to them is meaningless and so the food is fine.

Other hand, he says, some Christians are hung up on past convictions and actions. It’s a hard thought-habit to break. Someone’s eating food sacrificed to idols creates a distraction of faith at least and a crisis of faith at worst.

How does Paul work it through? First he instructs those without a crisis of conscience to, “eat whatever is put before you.” The principles underlying this practice include being a gracious guest, acknowledging that, “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), and receiving all things with gratitude (like the method offered above related to the first two commandments).

But then Paul says it is right to abstain from eating out of respect for the other person’s conscience. He anticipates the counter argument: “But all things are lawful!” True, he replies, but not all things are beneficial, not all things build up.

So there is a tension between what is lawful and what is loving. The Christian is free according to law but bound according to love. One of Luther’s great rediscoveries that fueled the reformation of the church is his statement that, “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”

The Christian standard is not what is lawful but what is loving. This is helpful to remember in conversations about economics, and politics, and parenting. Our standard is what love requires, not what the law allows.

In the end, Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Paul simply taught what he learned from Jesus, which is why he can write, “Imitate me, for I imitate Christ.” Love God, Jesus and Paul teach, but also love your neighbor.

And that’s what worship is all about—loving God and loving our neighbor.

The Confession of 1967, part of our denomination’s constitution, says, “The church gathers to praise God, to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to pray for and present the world to God, to enjoy fellowship, to receive instruction, . . . to speak and act in the world’s affairs as may be appropriate to the needs of the time.” (9.36)

Notice what worship is NOT. It’s not about:

  • my taste in music
  • my interpretation of Scripture
  • my political affiliations
  • my race, income, education level, or special needs

It IS about

  • loving God
  • loving our neighbor

In the words of Paul, worship is not about “seeking our own advantage” but rather “the advantage of others.”

That might mean:

  • I don’t eat the meat sacrificed to idols, though idols mean nothing to me
  • I don’t regulate what others do with their bodies, though my interpretation of Scripture regulates my choices
  • I show hospitality to people, though the law excludes them
  • I welcome families with children, though it is a distraction
  • I welcome people with disabilities, though it can be awkward
  • I sit through and sing music, though I don’t like the sound of it
  • I join in prayers faithful to the Bible and tradition, though they challenge my thinking and lifestyle
  • we reorder the way we worship, though it bends our habits

Since worship is the practice of loving God and loving neighbor, it means making room for God in our lives, and also room for others. We practice it over and over because it is our calling now and our destiny into eternity.

The Table of the Lord is the sacrament of the body of Christ and the symbol of the kingdom of God. Here we eat meat sacrificed not to idols but out of love for God and for the world. Here where Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave bread and cup, Christ’s life is rehearsed for us for inspiration and imitation.

Let us practice the faith in worship, let us imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, doing all for the glory of God, giving thanks for all God’s gifts, loving God and loving our neighbors.

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