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January 28, 2024

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Psalm 111

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who knows and loves us. Amen


“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.”


There’s a lot of knowledge

 flying around our world today,

through the internet, radio, tv, social media

we know more than ever

 what is going on around the world in real time


and in many cases this is helpful

 as in natural disasters or other events

where people are saved from harm

 by quickly relayed current information.


 We also know helpful things

like how disease is spread,

and how to perform surgery etc.


Now when I say “we know”

I mean we plural,

we as human beings.


Not everyone knows the specifics and mechanics

of how to perform surgery

 or how to do macroeconomic analytics

(I don’t even know if that is a thing but is sounds like one right?)


 specialized knowledge is held in trust

 by certain individuals who take the time study

 and intimately understand a topic,

who are prepared to apply their knowledge.


And generally we have trusted these people,

 these specialists

to be good stewards of their knowledge.


However, as we have seen

especially in the last few years,

the wide availability of facts about all sorts of things

 has led people to believe that they can apply the facts to life

without taking the time to intimately study and understand a topic.


 Or, even more common

We form opinions 

 and then find justification for them

 among all the knowledge that is floating around out there


and once justified

we hold tightly to our opinions

refusing to relent when faced with other opinions

also justified with knowledge

Bringing us to a stalemate over even the most mundane of topics


Now don’t get me wrong,

 the more we learn about our world

 and those around us the better

but in this flood of knowledge

 we’ve forgotten about the reality of relationships,

how they are not always rational

how there is more to the way people work together

 than the combination of facts and opinions.

As Paul says ‘Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.’



Especially love for the weakest members of a community

 is the antidote to this kind of stalemate,

as Paul explains to the Corinthians, who face such a dilemma.


If you glazed over during the second reading

 when Paul started talking about meat sacrificed to idols,

 I don’t blame you,

 it sounds like something that no longer applies to us,

we get our meat from the grocery store or the farm yard

not the leftovers from the sacrifices to the gods at the temple.


 But Paul’s main point in this discussion

 is more relevant than ever,

he’s ultimately posing the question:

what good is knowledge if it hurts our neighbor?

Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.


Most members of the community to which Paul is writing

 know that there is only one God

and so eating meat sacrificed to idols

is not an act of worship

because those idols don’t exist.


They have been set free by their belief in Christ

and so they can eat the meat without hurting their conscience,

 meat is meat, and that’s great Paul says and all true.


 But there are still some people in the community

who haven’t quite gotten to that point,

 they believe in Christ

but they still associate eating the meat in the temples

 with the worship of other gods


 and if they see other members of the community

 eating in the temples

 their weaker belief might be shaken to the point of breaking,

causing them to sin.


This is why Paul warns those with knowledge:

“take care that this liberty of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”



if given a choice between acting on knowledge

 Or refraining from acting for the sake of the neighbor

 Paul says he’ll choose not to act for the sake of love.


We also see the interplay of the use of knowledge

 in our gospel for this morning.

Jesus goes to the synagogue on the sabbath

and begins teaching,


and the people are amazed,

 not just at what he knows

but how he applies it,

 he teaches as one having authority,


which I take to mean,

 that he’s not just reciting facts

but that he embodies his teaching,

he lives what he’s talking about. 


Think about the teachers that you’ve had,

I’m guessing the ones you are remembering

 are the teachers who loved and lived their topics

 and in doing so made them come alive for you

in a way you hadn’t seen before.


I think of my Old Testament professor in seminary,

 it wasn’t a topic I was particularly excited about studying

 but Dr. Klein loved the Hebrew Bible,

 he loved teaching future pastors about it,

 opening it to them in a way that the good news of God flowed through,

 and so it became one of my favorite classes.


Now did the Rev. Dr. Klein have knowledge,

oh yes,

 I have since found articles written by him

 published in learned commentaries,

but any knowledge he had

he used in the service of love.

That’s the kind of teacher I think Jesus was.


And the people who are listening are amazed,

but they don’t know what exactly is going on.


But there is someone there who does have the knowledge.

An unclean spirit residing in a man,

who decides to make itself known,

to make a scene and cries out “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.”


And Jesus rebukes the spirit,

silencing it

 then casting it out of the man.


If the spirit thought its knowledge

 would give it an advantage over Jesus,

 it was sorely mistaken

 and destroyed for it


 But maybe it had another motive,

to try to confuse people with the knowledge of Jesus’ identity,


 as we see again and again in Mark,

the people and even the disciples

 try to figure out who Jesus is,

 and each time they get close

Jesus tells them to be quiet,


 I don’t think he wants the knowledge to be a stumbling block

 to those he will encounter

because what the disciples and people think it means for Jesus to be the Messiah,

and what it actually means for Jesus to be the messiah

 are very different.


 For Jesus it means

going to the cross and the grave and rising three days later,

and in doing so setting us free from sin and death,

setting us free from needing to use knowledge

to crush the weak into stepping stones

 that allow us to climb higher and higher for our own personal gain. 


That is not the way of Jesus,

any building that is done is done for the sake of the neighbor,

to lift our neighbor up out of love.


We have been freed in Christ

so that we may love our neighbor as ourselves,

 we have been set free so that the love of God

may overflow from our lives

into the lives of those around us,


this is freedom with responsibility

and this freedom comes from our relationship with God

and with God all relationships begin with love.


That’s why Paul says “anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”


God knows us.

God knows you,

not the face you put on for other people or even yourself,

the real you,

 your hopes and fears, your strengths and failings


  God knows all this

and God loves you

and nothing will ever change that.


To be loved in this way is powerful,

 it builds us up

and it frees us to take risks,

 risks like getting to know our neighbor before forming an opinion of them,

sharing the love of God with them

so that they too are built up and set free.


And if we don’t intimately know them,

God calls us to act from a place of love that builds up the other.


This year my hope for our community

 is that we grow in the love that builds up

building up our community

through deepening our relationship with God,

our relationships with one another

and our relationship with the community around us


And I know,

 that we are able to do this

 because God knows and loves us first. Amen


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