Knowing God…Learning Love
I Corinthians 8:1-13
August 23 2009
The story is told of a University hospital that just bought a very expensive piece of medical equipment…in fact, it was the largest, most complex, and most expensive piece of equipment the University had ever purchased.
After just a couple of months, something malfunctioned in the machine. Nobody in the hospital could figure out what happened. Because of the problem, this big piece of equipment couldn’t do it’s job anymore.
So the University contacted the company, and had someone come out to fix the problem.
The technician came and looked at this very complex, very large, and very intricate machine. After just a couple of minutes, he took a screwdriver from his tool belt and made a minor adjustment to just one screw on the machine.
He then handed the chair of the department (who had been with him the whole time) a bill for $1500.
The chair winced when he saw the bill. In anger, he looked at the technician and said “$1500!! What for?? All you did was turn that screw a half-turn clockwise! I could have done that myself!”
The technician calmly replied “Don’t worry, doc…you’re not paying me because I turned that screw. You’re paying me because I knew which screw to turn!” J
J An education can be a valuable thing. J
It’s back to school time!!
Summer is winding down, and another school year has begun, or is about to begin.
And as we prepare ourselves for a kind of new beginning, I had to think about the role education plays here in our congregation.
We are teachers, we are administration and staff.
We are students and we are families of students.
We are the public schools. We are the private school. We are home-school and we are college.
We are both active and retired from all of those things.
We are many things to many people, here today.
But one thing I think we all have in common is the understanding that education is an important thing to continue our whole lives long…that education is a two way street, that teachers sometimes learn more than their students as they go through a year.
Learning isn’t just something you do…it’s an attitude you carry.
And, it’s never been easier in human history than it is right now to find information.
Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can find more information in seconds than they could read in a lifetime.
For example, as I prepared for this morning, I Googled the name ‘Jesus’.
As of Friday morning, there were 198,000,000 websites that I could have instant access to with a click of my mouse. It took Google .12 seconds to find and organize that information.
Twelve hundredths of one second to find and organize 198,000,000 websites related to the name “Jesus”.
To put that in perspective, I figured out that if I was able to spend only one second at each website that I found, if I never took a break to eat or sleep, if my internet connection never crashed…it would take me almost 6 years to click through each one. That’s not even looking at them.
And that’s just websites related to the name ‘Jesus’!
That’s a lot of information.
So, I had to wonder; with so much information available, and with so much of it available for free…why do we need teachers anymore? Why do we need to go back to school?
Why bother with the schedules, the homework, and the tests?
I think one reason is exactly because of how much information is available. Whenever I look something up online, I’m always surprised at how little of it is actually useful.
In other words, it’s one thing to look up ‘Alaska’ using Google.
It’s another thing completely to talk to Jerry and Lori Priebe from our church who travel there now and then for months at a time.
It’s one thing to look at websites about Spanish culture. It’s another thing completely to spend an hour or two at the Spanish service on a Saturday night.
How you learn is just as important…or maybe more important…than what you learn.
I remember very little of the information I learned in nearly 18 years of school.
But, I can remember each and every teacher I’ve ever had if you give me long enough.
Now here’s the thing as this relates to church, as we head back to school, and as we read
Paul writes: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. It makes me think of those big orange cheese balls that you can find in the store sometimes, the kind that rub off on your fingers and leave them stained orange. The kind that have no nutritional value, don’t taste that good, and end up just basically making a mess of everything within a 2 foot radius. That’s what I think of when I read in this passage, that knowledge puffs up.
And this morning I want to say that the last thing anyone needs is puffball Christianity. That is, Christianity that is sure of itself, puffed up with all the right answers, more interested in ‘being right’ than ‘loving right’.
That kind of Christianity has no nutritional value, it doesn’t taste good, and it ends up making a mess of everything it touches!
But Love builds up! The imagery is of a building; sturdy and lasting.
The picture that comes to mind is of bricks and mortar, nails and wood.
Love builds something that cannot be easily broken. It builds something that offers comfort and protection, something to return to night after night for warmth and safety.
*In other words, without love, knowledge has no home.*
You can know all there is to know about God, about Jesus, and about faith.
I could spend the next 6 years of my life clicking through websites, reading all the information I could find online about Jesus. I could take another 6 years to learn all I could learn about God, and I could do another 6 years on the Holy Spirit.
I could write papers and read books and conduct interviews. I could even pray and come to church every single Sunday seeking more and better knowledge of the Divine.
But after those 18 years of research were over, my knowledge would still be imperfect.
I might know a little more than I did when I started, but all that knowledge can only lead to being puffed up like a big cheese ball, and what I gained would be just as fragile.
But Love builds up! … and anyone who loves God is known by him.
So…Which is more important—to know about God, or to be known by God?
Is it more important to have 198,000,000 websites at my fingertips full of information about Jesus, or just one good Christian friend who can help me be known by God, through Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit?
Is it more useful to have a seminary education, to know Hebrew and Greek and understand ancient culture, or to have the ability to clean toilets in a spirit of love?
Our knowledge of God is only useful as far as it helps us to be known by God.
Our education; all the knowledge we can ever acquire is only useful as far as it helps us learn to love others as Christ loved us.
Paul goes on in this passage, to talk about eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. He basically makes the point that even though we might know that idols of wood and stone have no power to bless or curse, not everyone knows that.
It’s another way of saying sometimes you have to put your ego aside so that other people are served. A new Christian at that time was probably used to making sacrifices to gods he or she felt were very real and very powerful…gods who lived in the wood or the stone…gods that had the powers of life and death.
Those beliefs don’t just go away.
That kind of lifestyle doesn’t just change when someone meets Jesus. So Paul says,
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.
Liberty is a tricky thing for Christians. Especially Christians living in the “Land of the Free”. It is tempting to let our appetites rule and our knowledge support…after all it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
But woe to us when that liberty becomes an end in itself and our knowledge a base for power plays.
Appetites can be dangerous things when we fail to consider the weak among us.
Therefore, Paul goes on…if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
It’s not that eating the food is wrong–it’s how eating the food is interpreted by the weak.
Are we willing to give it up? Are you willing to forego your freedom for the sake of one weaker than you?
Are you willing to give up being right for the chance to love right?
For knowledge needs a home…a home built by love and not certainty.
As I close, I’d like to share one example we might be able to think about as classes start and a new school year begins.
I had a professor in college who was big on lists. I knew after just a couple of weeks in his class that I would be wasting my time reading the whole chapter for his class.
All I really needed to do was find the lists. Memorize those and I was good to go for test-day. His class was one to be endured, not necessarily enjoyed.
I had another professor, for the same subject. She was big on essays. The lists didn’t matter at all. She wanted you to prove you understood the subject and could dialogue with the ideas being presented. Her tests and her classes were difficult, but they were also enjoyable. She took us on field trips and she had people come to class to share their experiences. She got to know everyone in the class and she shared her personal stories freely. She eventually quit teaching in order to get back into the field, for she loved what she taught and it showed.
Which of those two professors do you think I miss the most?
Which one do you think taught me the most?
Which one do you think learned the most from teaching?
Knowledge needs a home. May love be our guide and our builder. May we humbly walk with one another in peace, learning as we teach and teaching as we learn.
So, as a school year begins afresh; may the same mind be in us that is in Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)