Sermon; Holy Trinity Church, Lakefield; January 28th, 2018
Knowledge is neutral; it is how you use knowledge that makes a difference. Using it to deceive or laud it over others is not displaying love for others or for God. If you have love for others, you will use your knowledge to help them, to further their understanding of life and of the Kingdom of God. That’s one message I see in todays readings. Using knowledge as a tool to help others rather than using it as a weapon to gain position over others.
In our readings today the Bible projects an ambivalent message about knowledge. Paul seems to be critical of knowledge. “Knowledge inflates a man” he says but then he juxtaposes that against love which “builds a man up”. It seems an odd pairing, knowledge and love; they are not opposites or even particularly similar. Love can lead to knowledge and knowledge can lead to love; you can have both or neither. They are not like love and marriage or horse and carriage; you can have one without the other! Knowledge and love are not directly connected.
Later Paul is critical of those with knowledge. “This knowledge of yours destroys the weak, the fellow Christian”. He is talking about the knowledge that God is the sole God and that the many idols are not really Gods. He is talking about using that knowledge in a way which leads others into error. The example he gives is a little complicated. Meat which has been consecrated to a non-existent God has not in reality been consecrated and so you can eat it. But someone who doesn’t realize this thinks that it is permissible to eat consecrated meat, which it was not.
Clearly knowledge in itself is useful and leads to positive outcomes. After all, Jesus was a teacher, one who imparts knowledge, leads others to understand things they did not previously know or understand. Even more, “people were amazed with his teaching for unlike scribes, he taught with a note of authority.” Jesus spent his whole ministry teaching about the Kingdom of God, helping people know and understand the Kingdom of God and what it means. He wanted to increase their knowledge of the Kingdom of God and therefore have them act in what we now call a Christian way.
His reaction to the possessed man is interesting. You would think that Jesus would want people to know he was the “Holy One of God”, but no, he tells the possessed man to be silent, and Jesus cures him of his illness. We might think of the possessed man as being mentally ill, perhaps having epilepsy or being bi-polar, and in that vein, we could say that Jesus cured both the mentally and the physically sick. He did not want his true identity revealed through what would be perceived as the ravings of a mad man and so he both cures the man and tells him to be silent. He did not want the possessed man’s knowledge to be misused.
There is a similar theme in the 1st Lesson. Because the Israelites are fearful of direct communication with God, they are sent a prophet to who will speak for God. He will teach them because God will put words in his mouth and his words will turn out to be true. Imposters, who are not really God’s prophets will say they are speaking in God’s name, but their words will turn out not to be true. They are using their supposed knowledge to deceive others not to enlighten, not to increase people’s knowledge and understanding of God. They are misusing their knowledge. The real prophet will only speak the truth, the true words of God; he will speak knowledgeably.
It is not hard to find examples of Christian using knowledge to gain power over others. We only have to think about the brutality with which the colonizing forces used Christianity as an imperialistic tool to destroy whole cultures. The Spaniards did it in South America, most of Europe did it somewhere in Africa, the Puritans did it in the United States and previous generations of English and French did it here in Canada.
The psalm said it this way. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding.” If we interpret “fear of the Lord” to mean knowledge of and love of God, holding God in awe, then I think we are starting to get closer to an interpretation which is helpful today.
What if the fear of the Lord isn’t first of all an emotion, but an action, or a set of actions? Fearing the Lord means living by his precepts, putting his will at the centre of our lives and acting accordingly. Being wise, understanding how to live in the world, begins with being obedient. Life would be so much simpler, so much richer, so much happier, if we would just follow Jesus’ example.
Our rights or privileges are called into question in these readings. The educated and the wealthy are called to be careful about how they rationalize what they do in order to ease their conscience and still claim to be loyal to Jesus. In other words, our education and wealthy life style can easily become idols and thus prevents us from living a life of discipleship, of increased knowledge and understanding. Anything can be a stumbling block to faith and Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is also a caution to us 21st-century Christians to be aware of their affluent life.
You may say “I don’t have an affluent life” but compared to the homeless woman or man on the streets of Montreal, you do. Compared to someone living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, we do. Compared to a refugee from Syria, we do. Compared to our Syrian refugee family in Montreal, the Mickaeel’s, we do. Our lifestyle can prevent us from thinking of those less wealthy than ourselves and prevent us from using our knowledge as a tool to help them.
So what is Moses in Deuteronomy or Paul in his letter to the Christians living in Corinth or Mark in his recounting of the ministry of Jesus, what are they all trying to tell us? They are emphasizing that the misuse of knowledge, which inevitably leads others into error is unacceptable. It is not knowledge itself which is reprehensible, it is the misuse of knowledge, the swagger from excessive pride in knowledge, the flouting of knowledge, which is reprehensible.
Have you seen that ad for National Car Rental? The big man who likes control and seems to be in control of his own destiny because he knows what to do whether at work or at leisure? The man with the white suit, flowery shirt and high heeled boots? He is the perfect example of someone flaunting their knowledge. The arrogant know-it-all. “If anyone fancies he has some kind of knowledge, he does not yet know in the true sense of knowing. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Flaunting your knowledge or misusing it and leading others into error is not exhibiting a good understanding of what loving God, or behaving as a Christian, means.
If you have love, you will not misuse or abuse your knowledge to deceive others or gain advantage over them. You will not use it as a weapon but as a tool. You will use it to teach, to further the understanding of others in whatever way they need or you are able.