Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:12 -10:33
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 1 Cor 8:12
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 1 Cor 10:23-24
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Cor 10:31-33
As you all know, St. Aidan’s church, and indeed all churches in Manitoba, are currently under a Code Red lock-down, with no in-person worship services allowed. This is based on the latest provincial government health directives designed to help keep our pandemic from becoming worse, and as directed by our Bishop. Most people understand the necessity of limiting our gatherings to less than 5 people within your own bubble. None of us particularly enjoy being in isolation, unable to participate in our favourite activities such church, movies, sporting events, concerts, or even Christmas shopping. Well, okay, perhaps Christmas shopping isn’t on your list of favourite activities, but shopping in general has become more restrictive. Nevertheless, most of us can agree that in these unusual times, these are necessary precautions in order to try to keep our families and fellow citizens safe from the virus, especially those who are most vulnerable, our elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
It is beyond disappointing, then, to see the number of people, some Christian churches among them, who insist that these restrictions are too much to bear. That their right to freedom of expression is somehow greater than someone else’s right not to be abused and sworn at for abiding by the law. That their right to gather in large numbers is somehow greater than someone else’s sorrow at not being able to hug a loved one who died from COVID-19. That their right to not wear a mask is somehow greater than someone else’s right to simply breathe.
All this week, I’ve struggled to reconcile how people who would call themselves Christian can display such disregard for the well-being of their neighbors. When we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, do they just see these as meaningless words on a page to be recited at rote with no connection to their actual life? While we do get glimpses of true love from time to time, they seem to be exactly that – snapshots of perfection, but not the full experience. Yet as children of God, we are called to demonstrate our genuine fellowship and love in ways that benefit all members of our community, not just to fulfil our own needs and desires.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorted them to go beyond doing what was permissible to doing what was right for the community. He called on them to do those things that brought glory to God, not simply call attention to themselves.
Jesus demonstrated by his very life what love should look like. First, He loved us without expecting anything in return. Secondly, His love was sacrificial. In 1 John 4:10 we get a clear picture of what agape love means for God: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”. Third, He modeled God’s perfect love for us by showing it to others by His concern for the lonely the, the outcast, and the sick. How can we do otherwise?
God is the source of all love; God is love; and as we grow in our fellowship with Him, our love for others must surely grow too. But, when we see the kind of careless and selfish acts demonstrated in our midst, when we see others place themselves and their own interests first, we must ask what kind of witness this is to our loving Lord God. Make no mistake, the world is watching us, and they will be quick to condemn our hypocrisy if we say we love our fellow human beings but contribute nothing to their well-being.
Regardless of what we may personally think, Paul says that we should not lead our brothers and sisters astray by our insensitive actions. If I can save one person’s life by wearing a mask, keeping my distance, and not gathering in large groups, it’s worth the small sacrifice. When others can observe our sacrificial love, they will see a small demonstration of the Father’s love for us, a love that sent His only begotten Son into the world to save the world through His own sacrificial love on the cross. Praise be to our gracious and merciful Father in Heaven.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.