Souper Bowl Sunday

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Baseball may be America’s Pastime,
but football has become America’s religion.
I suspect that there will be more fervent, passionate prayer
during tonight’s Super Bowl game
than in most churches and cathedrals around the world
this morning.
Can you honestly say that,
if you are a Patriots fan and the game is on the line,
you won’t – maybe even unconsciously –
be breathing a quiet prayer
for a Hail Mary pass into the end zone to fall
into the arms of a Patriot receiver?
Or for Gostkowski to nail a miraculous,
winning field goal
as time runs out in the game?
The players themselves aren’t shy
when it comes to giving credit to God
for what happens on the field;
whether it is with pointing to heaven to celebrate a touchdown
or thanking their Lord and Savior for a victory
during a side-line interview.
Following the NFC Championship game,
which the Seattle Seahawks won
in with a dramatic comeback,
victorious quarterback Russell Wilson,
who is outspoken about his Christian faith,
gave an emotional testimony to his conviction
that God had had a hand in how the game turned out.
In the losers’ locker room,
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers,
who also identifies himself as a person of faith,
expressed a different theological perspective on the game.
“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome,” Rodgers said.
“He cares about the people involved,
but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”
The question of what role, if any, God plays in sports;
or whether it is theologically correct,
or just silly superstition,
to invoke God’s help for the home team,
may seem like a trivial matter in the larger scheme of things.
But I guarantee that tonight in Arizona,
and in living rooms and sports pubs around the country,
people will pray first and ask questions later.
There’s another religious controversy
I want to talk about this morning;
one that was simmering in the early Christian church of Corinth.
The debate there wasn’t over whether or not
God is a fan of football,
but whether God is a fan of Christians eating food
that has been sacrificed to pagan deities.
Not exactly an earth-shattering issue for
21st century Christians like you and me.
When was the last time you were grocery shopping
and had to ask the person behind the deli counter
if the pastrami you wanted to buy had been sacrificed
to Jupiter or Apollo?
But it was a pretty big deal to the Corinthians.
And I think it holds an important lesson for us,
particularly on S-O-U-P-E-R Bowl of Caring Sunday.
At that time, Christians were a minority
in a culture dominated by pagan religions and superstitions.
Much of the food sold in the marketplace came from animals
that had been sacrificed to pagan gods.
Some believers were convinced
eating these foods was like worshiping the false gods
to whom they had been sacrificed.
These Christians avoided eating food offered to idols
because they felt it violated their profession of faith
that Jesus alone was Lord.
Others in the Corinthian church did not share the belief
that God was overly concerned
about where the food they ate came from
or what pagan rituals might have been part of its preparation.
Not that they felt any less passionately
about Jesus being their Savior.
What that meant for them, though,
was that if there was only one true God,
then those pagan gods did not really exist.
Therefore, sacrifices of food,
to gods who were not real,
did not count as real sacrifices.
And so, Christians had nothing to fear,
or feel guilty about,
with regard to eating these foods.
The Apostle Paul, finally weighed in on the subject.
His verdict was based on the belief
that God knows us intimately,
even down to knowing our motives for what we do.
If a person’s motive for eating food sacrificed to idols
was not to worship those false gods,
they were free to eat without fear of compromising
their relationship with the one true God.
But Paul also warned the church to consider
how eating that food could jeopardize
their relationship with sisters and brothers in Christ
whose conscience might lead them to a different conclusion.
Paul’s argument could be summed up in one verse:
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
In other words, certainty about what we believe
can overinflate our sense of having
the freedom to do what we want,
while deflating our sensitivity to how our actions
can have a negative influence on others.
Let me give you an analogy that might be
more relatable for us today
than the “food sacrificed to idols” scenario.
Tonight I will be going to a Super Bowl Party.
It’s also what is known as a “Sober Party.”
Which means there will be no alcohol served there.
Not because the host considers the consumption of alcohol
to be immoral or sinful.
But, because some of the invited guests
are recovering alcoholics,
or people who have bad experiences
as a result of other people’s drinking.
Now, I am personally secure in the knowledge
that I am able to drink responsibly.
But if, based on that knowledge,
I show up at the party with say, a bottle of wine,
while technically I would not be doing anything wrong,
it would be insensitive to the person whose sobriety
could possibly be jeopardized my my actions.
There would be an inverse relationship
between my overinflated sense of what is good for me,
and a deflated awareness of my responsibility to another.
A former colleague once explained to me that
whenever knowledge alone failed to provide
a black and white solution to a problem,
he always chose whichever course of action
seemed to him to be the most compassionate option.
When it comes to living as a disciple of Jesus,
following your heart can be more important
than following your head.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
In that Corinthian church there were not only differences
in how people applied their faith to the way they lived.
There were differences in the quality of lives they lived.
Some of them were wealthy.
Others – not so much.
Those who were well-off might have received
frequent invitations to public banquets
or to dinners in the homes of neighbors
who were not Christian.
It was reasonable to assume that
the food served at those occasions
would have been sacrificed to idols.
So, abstaining from such food would have meant
something more than a dietary sacrifice.
It could also mean abstaining from certain relationships
and sacrifices of certain social privileges.
Paul reminded the more privileged Corinthians,
who might understandably be reluctant
to give up those kinds of perks,
the importance of being mindful about
how their actions could impact others.
In today’s world of global connections
that could translate into altering our consumer consumption
in order to minimize our participation
in the exploitation of others
or the degrading of Creation.
It will likely involve learning to live in ways
that are oriented more toward building up
rather than puffing up.
The Souper Bowl of Caring originated
with the vision of a church youth group,
captured in a prayer asking for God’s help –
not to win a game –
but to be mindful of the needs of others.
A puffed up, overinflated knowledge
of whatever God might or might not be up to
on the field at the Super Bowl in Phoenix,
might be a matter of debate
depending on the player or the fan you ask.
But, the Souper Bowl of Caring reminds us
that love expressed through the simple sacrifice
of donating a single canned good,
or dropping a dollar in a soup pot,
is an act of love that, we can all agree,
builds up the Body of Christ.