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Sermon for Sunday 28 January 2018

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 18:15-20

15{Moses said,} “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen — 16just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’”


PSALM Psalm 111

1Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. 2Great are the deeds of the Lord! they are studied by all who delight in them. 3His work is full of majesty and splendor, and his righteousness endures forever. 4He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. 5He gives food to those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. 6He has shown his people the power of his works in giving them the lands of the nations. 7The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; all his commandments are sure. 8They stand fast forever and ever, because they are done in truth and equity. 9He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant forever; holy and awesome is his Name. 10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding; his praise endures forever.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — 6yet for us there is 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. 7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.


GOSPEL Mark 1:21-28

21{Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James and John} went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath {Jesus} entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.



I came across a statement the other day that I though was very interesting. According to An Upbeat Word for a Downbeat World #5, the writer states, “I don’t know which is worse–to have so much knowledge that you come across as arrogant or too little knowledge so that you come across as dense.” Forrest Gump had a different way of saying something similar: “stupid is as stupid does.” I used to tell the guys that worked for me, I’d rather have someone who’s arrogant rather than someone who’s cocky. The arrogant person will prove they know what they are talking about. The cocky person will try to convince you without action. Someone who is brilliant may be difficult to deal with, but, there simply isn’t a lot you can do with ignorance.
A lady made her first visit to Yellowstone National Park. She asked her guide, “Look at all those big rocks. Wherever did they come from?” “The glaciers brought them down,” said the guide. “But where are the glaciers?” asked the persistent tourist. “The glaciers,” said the guide in a weary voice, “have gone back for more rocks.” A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it’s been said, but what about a little ignorance?
A man working in the computer operations department in the central office of a large bank receives calls from employees in the field having problems with their computers. Since their computers are tied in to a central server, he’s often able to help them online. One night he got a call from a woman in one of the branch banks who had this question. She said, “I’ve got smoke coming from the back of my terminal.” Then she added, “Do you guys have a fire downtown?” Well, I guess you could argue that makes sense. The computers are tied together via internet cables. If they get their information via the internet connections, why couldn’t they also get smoke? Which is more dangerous–a little knowledge or a little ignorance?
Many of you are familiar with the statement, “ignorance of the law is no excuse” and with TV personality Judge Judy. As presiding jurist on national television, Judge Judy Sheindlin draws more than ten million viewers to her show. What makes watching Judge Judy so interesting is that she isn’t one to accept ignorance as a defense. Judge Sheindlin remembers advice given by her father, which became the title of her best-selling book, Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever. He told her that a bright intellect, a curious mind and a passion for learning were priceless commodities. “I always thought the worst insult in the world was to be called stupid,” she says.
As Sheindlin became a lawyer and then a judge, she saw what happened to people who didn’t use their heads. “The fallout of their stupid decisions was the daily parade of misery that marched through family court,” says Sheindlin. “I’ve heard it all before: “’I didn’t think, I didn’t mean to . . .’ Ignorance of life is not an excuse in my courtroom.” I think she’s saying that a little ignorance is worse than a little knowledge.
Dr. George Gallup, responding to the request of the Dallas Times Herald, did a survey of students’ knowledge in eight industrialized countries. Sadly, those currently in school in the U. S. ranked either at the bottom or near the bottom of the list in mathematics, science, and geography. Now, as a disclaimer, I do not believe this is a reflection on our teachers. I absolutely believe that we have the finest educators in the world. I think the results found in this poll is proof that politicians need to let teachers do their job, rather than mandating new programs. With that said, here are some examples: Only one-fifth of the students tested couldn’t even locate the United States on a map. One-third of the teens didn’t know that Mexico is the country that borders on Texas. Twenty-five percent were unaware that New Jersey is on the East Coast and that Oregon is on the West Coast. And only 40 percent could name California as the most populous state. Gallup found that these aspiring high school graduates were woefully ignorant in three major fields: trade, travel, and culture.
Their answers to three questions illustrate: What nation in the world has the largest population? The preponderance of the students answered, “The United Nations.” Which were the last two states admitted into the Union? The majority of answers included Florida, Mexico, and Canada. What language is most widely spoken in Latin America? The common response was “Latin.” So, is it better to be knowledgeable and arrogant or lacking in knowledge and be taken for ignorant? I hope these aren’t the only two choices, but I do like those bumper stickers: “You think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
I ask this question because of something St. Paul says in our scripture lesson from the Epistle: “Knowledge puffs up,” says St. Paul, “but love builds up.” It’s a very true statement. There are people in our society who disdain anyone who isn’t as well educated as they are. For example, they’ll turn up their noses at anyone who isn’t precise in their use of grammar. I, for one, insist that people who feel this way grew up in the wrong part of the country: all y’all is plural for y’all and is a proper phrase. For many who disagree, they regard anyone as stupid who isn’t as well read or as sophisticated. Many of these folks are not only elitist in their cultural preferences, but also in their politics, in their social relationships and even in their religion. St. Paul encountered people like that in the early church.
Christianity had become a very liberating force in the lives of the earliest followers of Jesus. Most had been drawn from the Jewish faith. They had once lived under the law with the burden of the legalisms of that day. But Jesus had set them free from all that. And they were proud of their freedom and flaunted it. Paul could understand that. He himself wrote eloquently of the freedom that Christ gives. But Paul had a higher vision and an even more tender heart.
Paul knew that freedom had a double edge. Many of the more recent converts to Christianity had been worshiping idols before they came to Christ. And part of their worship involved sacrificing food to the idols. Afterwards, they would feast on that food. This was a social event as well as a religious duty. Should they continue to patronize these feast events after giving their hearts to Christ? Certainly, said some. After all, idols are an illusion. There is no reality to them. But the food and the fellowship are still good. What possible harm could it do for them to continue participating in the social part of these events even though they were now followers of Christ? Well, Paul saw the possibility of a great deal of harm.
What if a new believer, still insecure in their faith, saw them eating food offered to idols and thought they still believed in idol-worship even after becoming Christians? Then these newer believers might fall back into worshiping idols themselves. So, says St. Paul to Christians in Corinth, don’t let your superior understanding of faith cause you to be a stumbling block to others. Therefore, Paul warns, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
As members of Christ’s body, we are called to be people who build others up. It isn’t our intellect that marks us as a follower of Christ, but the love in our heart. This doesn’t mean that a Christian should park their brain at the door; just the opposite. God gave us our good minds. God intends for us to use our intellect to the fullest possible extent. What this means is, that one of the highest use of our intellect is to find a way to build up other people. As we have often noted before, Jesus was an encourager. Jesus lifted people up–He didn’t put them down. And that’s our task as well.
It’s not enough that we simply don’t hate people or that we do them no harm. We’re also called to be sensitive to the needs of others and find ways to do good for them. Luther in the Small Catechism comments on the 8th Commandment by saying, “We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor. Rather we should defend them, think and speak well of them and put the best construction on everything.”
In the book Letters to Phillip by Charlie Shedd, we read of a young woman who suffered a car accident. She called her father as soon as she could to tell him. Seemingly oblivious to her condition, he asked, “How much damage did you do to the car?” His second words were “Whose fault was it?” Following this, he suggested, “Listen, honey, don’t admit a thing! You call the insurance company and I’ll call the lawyer. We can beat this thing.” His daughter said little until this point. Then, she asked, “Well, do you have any more instructions or questions?” “No,” he said, “I think that about covers it.” “Oh, does it?” She fumed. “In case you’re interested, I’m at the hospital with five broken ribs.”
I’m sure glad we don’t have anyone here who would react like that. But, those people do exist. Christians are people who are called to build others up. As disciples of Jesus, we’re called to be people who are sensitive to the needs of others and seek to lift them to a higher plane of life. Christians are people who recognize that everyone needs encouragement in order to be all they can be.
It’s like the woman who brought her new baby to the office. She also had her seven-year-old son with her. Everyone gathered around the baby, and the little boy asked, “Mommy, can I have some money to buy a soda?” “What do you say?” she asked. Everyone expected him to say, “Please may I have some money to buy a soda?” What he said was this: “You’re thin and beautiful.” The woman reached in her purse and gave her son the money. Each of us need encouragement, that’s just human nature. And so do the people we live with, the people we work with and the people we meet each day.
My prayer is that each of us will take Paul’s words to heart and incorporate them into our lives. Knowledge is a good thing and is useful to us every day. I thank God that He gave each of us the ability to expand and effectively utilize information. However, if we let pride creep in and let that knowledge allow us to view others as inferior, as second-class people or worse yet, we judge them as stupid, then we’ve allowed our God given gift of intellect to make us proud. And if you recall, pride is on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Little people, that is those with issues of insecurity, tear others down.
People who live with insecurity abuse others and take advantage of them. My prayer is that, as a congregation, we will be a place where people find positive affirmations. That doesn’t mean that we fail to point out sin as sin. We are a welcoming congregation. But welcoming and affirming are two different things. Everyone is welcome, but we cannot, in good conscience excuse behavior that is counter to the teachings found in the Bible. As people who are called to build up, we love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31.)
Eric “The Swimmer” Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea was an unlikely hero of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim the January before. He had only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle. When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone.
Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, “charmingly inept.” He never put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown! Even though his time was over a minute slower than what he would need to qualify for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered Eric on. After what seemed like an eternity, this young African athlete reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”
It was the cheering of the crowd that kept him going. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our young people could say late in life, “It was the encouragement of my church that kept me going?” Wouldn’t it be great if a person who has been through a terrible illness could report later, “It was the loving support of my church that kept me going?” Knowledge puffs up, but loves builds up. We have many smart, well-educated people in our congregation and we’re thankful for that. The ability to learn and use that information is a gift from God and we need to use that gift for His glory, not ours.
Knowledge is much to be preferred over ignorance. But that won’t make us a great church. What will make us a great church is when we use our knowledge for God’s glory and become a church of encouragers, building one another up with the love of Christ.

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