K. Dean Myers, interim pastor
Sunday, January 29, 2012 :: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fairmount Presbyterian Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Based on Psalm 111 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.

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 him.

Hence, 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 one.’ 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 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. ‘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.


How do you know you are a follower of Jesus? How do other people know you are trying to follow him?

Better: does it matter whether you know that you follow Jesus Christ? Does it matter to you…to others?

We assume so much about ourselves and our priorities! We can more or less “see” how we look physically to others, but it is far more difficult for us to “see” how our attitudes and our behavior look to others. No simple “mirror” reflects how those aspects of us appear. We hardly know how we regard ourselves – our self-knowledge is so insufficient – unless something forces us to stop and take a careful look.

Scottish poet Bobby Burns watched a louse crawl around the bonnet of an upper class woman one Sunday in church. He wondered if the louse knew upon what high status it was treading, then realized that to a louse we are all equal prey. So he wrote To A Louse, ending in the famous verse (in English, if you don’t mind):

And would some Power that small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

When others see us, do they see us as disciples of Jesus Christ? When we look at ourselves, do we say, “I see a person who follows Christ every chance I get?” We claim to offer a valid witness to Christ because we bear his name: after all, a Christian is a “little Christ.” But how often is that witness so blurred by our habits and compromised by our indifference that no one watching us could possibly know it?


Burns seeks “some Power” to give us the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us. I’m pretty sure he would not have granted the apostle Paul such power in his life, but Paul’s scolding of the Corinthian Christians for “eating meat offered to idols” has all the characteristics of a hard look at “us” by one outside of “us.”

“Do you know how unfaithful and confusing you look to others when you eat food that has been dedicated to idols”?

This passage often strikes us as obscure and irrelevant, but the point we cannot miss is obvious: if we do things that seem to others not to seem like Jesus, our behavior will confuse or put off those who do not know Jesus.

Paul says elsewhere that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been set free of the regulations of the Jewish law that at one time guided the lives of the faithful. But he also says we dare not use our freedom from that law as an excuse for lawlessness or even mere carelessness. Lazy discipleship is no better than no discipleship at all.

Remember “What Would Jesus Do?” You still see it sometimes on bracelets and other baubles. I always want to reformulate the question to a much more awkward, “What Does Jesus Want Me to Do Right Here and Now?” Either way the issue is conscious following that overcomes the pressures of habit and tradition that compromise effective and visible discipleship.

Some instances from daily living: If I see a person stumble on the street, do I reach out to help, or do I “cross to the other side?” If a neighbor’s home is visited by death do I stop in to express my care, or do I go about my business as usual, hoping a long time will pass before I see that neighbor again? If a letter or editorial in the paper seems to me to express views contrary to Christian good news or justice, do I write a response to express my viewpoint? If one employee in my office belittles the humanity of another, do I speak up? Most likely we all can convince ourselves we’d step up to the plate in each of those instances, but then, when they happen, we often are too busily distracted to act. Knowing what Jesus would do is one thing; that might be Paul’s “knowledge”. But doing it ourselves is often quite another; he’d call that “love”.

I suspect many Corinthian Christians just ate food that was left over from idol worship with hardly a second thought. It was habit, it was expected, and besides, since they knew their salvation was from Jesus and not from those false gods, what difference did it make? They smartly rationalized a practice that they rightly knew had nothing to do with the source of their salvation.

But were they being faithful to the Christian community when they kept on engaging, quite publicly, in that behavior? No, they were not. Outsiders, perhaps slightly interested in the new faith in Jesus, might well have looked at them munching away on that old food and concluded that Jesus really didn’t matter much to these self-styled “Christians,” so why become one? Even members of the church themselves might eventually give in to the careless practices of other members, so the whole body was compromised and weakened. It attracted no one new, and discouraged those who remained. Eating what they were free to eat because of Christ became a sin against Christ because it was a sin against his body, the church.


How do people see us members of this body of Christ incarnated as Fairmount Presbyterian Church as followers of Jesus? It’s the ages-old question: “If we were on trial for being Christians would there be enough evidence to convict us?” It’s not enough not to be as bad as some public officials and celebrities seem to be; question is not about what we are not, but about what we are. When our pew-partners think of us do they think, “Now there is a Fairmounter who displays the love and goodness of Jesus Christ every time I see her (or him)?” Or do they wonder sometimes why we are here at all? Does our participation in our church life and in our life outside the church, encourage others, or discourage them? Does it build up their faith practices, or does it knock them down? Are others lifted by what we say and do, or do they stumble over it?

We can be lifted by the ability of another Christian to listen to us, to understand us. We can be put down by someone who always has to have the last word, who always has to be right.

We can be lifted by the sister or brother who considers and works for the good of the whole church beyound her or his corner of it. We can stumble over the person who thinks and acts with tunnel vision about his or her favorite program or issue.

We can be encouraged to giving ourselves by those whose generosity is obvious even if we do not know the actual numbers. But when someone is always trying to cut corners or escape responsibility we can conclude their giving follows the pattern of their living and we don’t have to give much either.

We can be encouraged by praise and thanks, but put down by constant criticism and fault finding.

And as to worship: if enough of us decide week after week that it doesn’t matter if we are here on Sunday mornings, what does that say about Christ in us to our fellow members, and to guests?

Let no one ask of me, “Why should I try to follow Christ when he always acts the way he does and says the things he says?” Let all of us ask of ourselves, “Does what I say and do in church encourage brothers and sisters, or do they stumble on account of me, even over me?”


Going to church to be seen isn’t in fashion today, and that’s fine; it’s one of many ways Fairmount is different in a different world today than it was back in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Maybe people realized that when one is seen too closely too often louses are often seen lurking around their finery.

So, although few of us are here to be seen, all of us are being seen, or not. Others are watching us, interacting with us, evaluating us, measuring us, yes even judging us (un Christ-like as that is!). That’s just the way it is. And from what they see they make decisions about who they will follow and how.

Pray that God grant each of us grace to use the freedom Christ has given us to be signs of his presence in everything we say and do. Amen.