Friday, January 30, 2015

e-vo for week of January 28

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s epistle text is one about taking care to exercise the freedoms we have in Christ in such a way that they don’t pose a problem for other believers.

This is a message that starkly contrasts the me-ism of our consumeristic, turned-in-toward-self (aka sinful) culture.

May God help us get to the meat of this matter.



1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13, NRSV

So the circumstance in the church at Corinth is that a question has come to the fore. If a believer is knows that a piece of meat has been used in a sacrificial rite involving idols is it permissible to eat it or is it irrevocably tainted?

Paul answers this on two levels.

Level one: KNOWLEDGE: Idols are nothing of consequence. Therefore food offered to nothing of consequence is not altered (but it was perhaps “altared”) substantially. Therefore if one is inclined to eat such food that is permissible. Food neither draws us closer nor pushes us further from God. Jesus said as much as well when he said that it is what comes out of a person that makes that one unclean, not what goes into the mouth (see Matthew 15:11 and/or Mark 7:15). If we are mature and grown up in our faith we KNOW such things and we can eat with liberty.

Level two: COMPASSIONATE LOVE: Not everyone understands fully the freedom we have in Christ. Not everyone KNOWS that idols are powerless and able to be discounted. If one were to exercise liberty recklessly it could be harmful to another with a smaller understanding. It is loving to forgo that which is permissible for the sake of one who might stumble and fall away.

That is to say COMPASSIONATE LOVE should trump KNOWLEDGE.

The question that might be ours is “What are the idol meats of today?” What are things that some can partake of with great liberty and an untroubled conscience that would snare others watching such freedom at play? Are we the ones with KNOWLEDGE who need to grow in COMPASSIONATE LOVE? Are we the ones stumbling around with a weaker KNOWLEDGE? I suspect we are both at times. May God give us grace and wisdom as we seek to grow in KNOWLEDGE and more importantly in COMPASSIONATE LOVE.

God, help us walk with you with integrity when nobody is looking. Help us be mindful of what we might do to others who are looking as we walk with you. Help us grow in every way that you desire. Help us welcome and love all especially those we might suspect are not as far along in their growth. Thank you for loving us first and relentlessly. Grow us to be more like you in that regard toward others. Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

e-vo for week of January 21

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed gospel reading comes from the third chapter of Jonah

It recounts God's message to Nineveh through Jonah, the response from the people and animals of Nineveh and God's response.



The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

[6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8 Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”]

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Jonah 3:1-5 [6-9] 10, NRSV

When I was in seminary we were often reminded that the "ideal" Lutheran sermon had three points and was sure to communicate both Law and Gospel. This message of Jonah's didn't pass that litmus test. It was a 1-point, 100% Law message: In 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed. There is no explanation or justification for this imminent demise (perhaps none was necessary for the hearers). There was no whimsical or insightful homiletic illustration (such as Nathan's story of the rich man taking the poor man's sheep when confronting David about adultery with Bathsheba). There was no proclamation of grace or hope or redemption. There was merely the coldly-stated matter of fact statement of a woeful end. I suppose it is most akin to the doctor saying "Your days are short. You best get your affairs in order."

But the people of Nineveh did more than divvy out their estates and write parting missives to their families spread far and wide. They proclaimed a fast. Everyone put on the clothes of mourning (sackcloth). They put on an attitude of at least desperation if not outright contrition. Everyone throughout the power structure.

The lectionary left verses 6-9 on the cutting room floor. I don't begin to understand this. This is not a lengthy reading and the epistle reading for this same Sunday is only 3 verses. I do not believe brevity was the goal. Perhaps it was distasteful to emphasize the king and his nobles declaring the fast. I don't know. I do find it powerful that not only the people but all of the animals (herd and flock) participated in the repentant act in ashes and sackcloth. No food or drink was to be theirs. All, people and animals, were to cry mightily to God.

What is most puzzling about leaving verse 9 outside of the assigned reading is we miss the intent of the fast. Perhaps God might relent if we do such a thing was the thinking. And God did. God changed God's mind. God turned in the other direction. God repented. God defied God's own words through the prophet Jonah. In Deuteronomy 18:20 that exposed Jonah to death since he spoke words on behalf of God that did not come to pass (there's some law for you). You can read on in Jonah if you are so inclined to see how Jonah responded to God's merciful turn of events.

Perhaps this text sets us well for Lent. Soon (February 18) we will corporately and individually repent and receive the mark of the ashes (the fiery remains of palms from triumphal entries past). We will commemorate for 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter our brokenness and our need for God's mercy and grace. We know we have it in Jesus already but it helps us enter more fully into the good news of the empty tomb and our restoration when we have intentionally sought after God's mercy. We are the Ninevites and the dour Jonahs. Their stories are ours.

We don't know if our days are short or long. We really don't. So maybe we best get our affairs in order. What that means, primarily, to the Christian is that we draw near to God and lean hard on God's mercy--always making room for others who want to join the fast.

God, have mercy on us. Help us constantly cry out to you knowing that you are so much more willing to forgive than we are to cry out. Amen.