A sermon on culture versus God, from 1Corinthians 8:1-6.
Aim: To show the limitations of ‘culture’ as a substitute for loving God.
Paul talks about Jewish food rules getting in the way of the Christians worshipping God. These rules, which were helpful for living in the desert a thousand years before, have no power to help anyone.
Paul names this: mere superstition.
Meaning for Today: culture
Today we call this superstition ‘Culture’. This word used to mean making people better, educating them, but now we use it to describe all the things we do for no logical reason.
For example on Australia Day speeches all started by acknowledging Aboriginal Culture. This is a well-meaning but empty gesture, as it does nothing to improve anyone or to correct real inequality (e.g. an indigenous woman’s life expectancy in South Australia is the lowest in Australia, whereas a western woman’s life expectancy in South Australia is the highest).
Using the culture label for other’s religious beliefs avoids difficult questions like: are they true? are they real? By focusing on Culture we can paper over the cracks: safe but superficial; however, it’s patronising, even cowardly.
I was talking to a friend having a tough time, he’d had some time off work with stress. We talked about how we have to wear a grown-up mask to show other people, versus the real person underneath, which was formed when we were children. We have to maintain this pretence because our western culture won’t accept or value our real child-like selves (is this something we could learn from the Aboriginal peoples?) Maintaining this false mask causes real mental health problems.
It made me think how helpful our relationship with God is. We can be ourselves – weak, childlike, silly – but even so, we are accepted and understood. We can understand our place in a family, in society, in this false culture (Jesus calls it ‘the World’) and the universe. It is real, not culture. It causes people to admit their mistakes, to be true and real, to right wrongs and do amazing things to educate themselves and improve the lives of others.
Let us enjoy and value culture, but keep it in its place. Let’s not accept the superstition of culture – giving it power over people, or the idolatry of culture – allowing it to be a substitute for God. We are created in God’s image, to have a relationship with God.