1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

Clearly, Jesus is in charge. The authority to order unclean spirits out of people sets him above all the other prophets. Still, this unclean spirit questions him: “What claim do you have on me?” Jesus might answer, “The same claim as this brother of mine has on me.” Jesus has power over the spirits, but no power to resist the claim of this person barging into the synagogue. Jesus kicks the unclean spirit out of this person because he has to. He can’t deny that he came for this one too. This one too is his brother.

It might be nice to quote the motto under the statue at Boys’ Town now: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” but having siblings is hard work. It doesn’t stop being hard as you grow up, either. Just think of your own brothers and sisters, people you can’t disown no matter how much you might like to. Think of your children and grandchildren, your spouses, employers, or neighbors (the first kind of “neighbor” that word means). We’re stuck with these people. We don’t always like them, but we’re bound to them. In Christ, we’re bound to them in love.

If we’re bound to each other, we’re not free. That’s hard for us to imagine as Americans, as Protestants – we like pretending that we’re in charge of ourselves. It’s hard for Paul to explain to the church in Corinth. They knew they were free in Christ, so they were asking, “what’s it to you how I act?” They really were free, too. They were no longer part of a world where eating meat sacrificed to idols meant that you were worshiping those idols. They were freed by the knowledge that an idol is nothing, so food offered to an idol was no different from food prepared according to the Law. The catch is that not everybody in the church knew that about idols, so they might be tempted to eat food they “knew” was idolatrous. They would sin. (There’s something remarkable buried in here, and we don’t have enough time to dig into it: is Paul implying that sin is different for different people? Not that we get to decide what sin is, but that what breaks my relationship with God for me might not break relationship for you?) Paul’s point is clear: if people can be drawn into sin by my freedom in Christ, I’m not really free; I’m claimed by the love of God.

We’re claimed by God’s love, by a world that God loves. It’s a world where people are treated unfairly, and that means that we have a claim – an authority – on power in this world. We have more claim than the rulers of this world, whether they be politicians, corporations, or even churches. We know these human institutions are nothing next to God, but that’s no reason to give up when they behave badly. Instead, we’re empowered to speak up because God’s love is in us. Not because our own power has been challenged, but because Christ’s power compels us.

Our authority looks like this table where we serve and are served. This is a table surrounded by your brothers and sisters, and you are theirs. This table is open to your family all throughout the world, with whom we share as we will today with the Souper Bowl of Caring.This table is set with the love of God made flesh, which is present for us today because love calls us in ways that we can’t ignore.

Here we receive grace again. Take a moment to look around at the others who are ready to share this meal with you. These are your brothers and sisters, because we are made one with each other in Christ’s grace. This is not just a sign of unity, but this meal makes us one: we have to accept each other (and all world) once again again in order to be part of this. So if you’re ready for that – if you’re ready to try that – this table is ready for you.

Amen.

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