There are some parts of the Christian journey that are too important to miss. In our time, one of these might be the relationship between freedom and grace. We see a lot about our rights and freedom in the news. For this newsletter, I have written the text for the message on Sunday May 24th. If you were able to tune in to the service, I am sorry for repeating myself. I feel it is important enough that I included it in this newsletter. The supporting Biblical text is 1 Corinthians 10:23.
Have you ever shared a meal with someone who had food rules? You know food rules; Some people put their meat at 6 o’clock, taters at 12. Others put the fork in their right hand and cup in the left, so they can eat two-fisted. The most common food rule that I know is “food can’t touch.” I have an aunt who is so given to this food rule that at the shared family cabin, a divided dinner plate is not too far away for young and old alike! Incidentally, this aunt realizes that not everyone shares the same food standards, and, fortunately for her, she has a golden sense of humor. So much so that she knew the young lady dating her son was her daughter-in-law-to-be only one month into their courtship! Why? Because, this young lady made sure to sit next to her at dinner. She then took her clean fork and pushed my aunt’s chicken into her applesauce and then into her peas, all with a big smile on her face. My aunt sat there and took it. She said to herself in her head, “So, this is the one.”
Her food rules are a matter of taste, not so in ancient Jewish times. The Old Testament has lists of lots of food rules that were not just a matter of taste; some were for health reasons, others for spiritual instruction. Then, through Jesus’ teaching, Peter’s preaching and Paul’s letters, followers of Jesus began to expand their diet to include previously forbidden foods. Still, others maintained the kosher laws. These groups agreed to disagree. Sooner or later the church in Corinth jumped into the fray.
In Corinth in the first century, farmers had two choices where to take their animals. They could take them to the butcher and get a price. Or, savvy farmers would take their best animals to the temples. Temples paid the better price. After the animals were used in rituals, they were then processed and taken to market.
So, first century Corinthians never knew if the meat in their dinner had been used in a ritual. Because of this, some Christian immediately became vegetarians. Others, convinced that idols were just statues and that there is only one God and that God wants you to be healthy, ate the meat in good conscience. When everyone had supper at home, there was never a problem. But, Christians are a gregarious lot, and we have always thought that the word fellowship means “You are going to eat a lot!” So, when the meat dishes started showing up at meals in the early church, eyebrows started to raise. What do you do? Do you eat the meat and risk crushing the young faith of a new believer? Do you abstain and miss an opportunity for some delicious supper? What do you do? Inquiring minds want to know! Paul says, “all things are lawful, but not all things beneficial.” I think that means, it’s a good idea to consider the effect your actions have on others. In a word, that is grace. He would say, it is better to pass on a piece of prime rib if it is going to cause your table guest to question their faith. Temper your freedom with grace. Or, in short, “it’s not always about you.” Jesus lived and died and lived again so that you may know love, wholeness, acceptance, wisdom, and grace. So, that you will know that you are a child of God. All of this is yours! No one can take that away, so you can skip that steak for a day and have a brother or sister in faith tomorrow. If you have the steak today, you might lose the brother or sister in faith. It’s an easy choice to temper your freedom with grace. It builds community.
This story plays out in real life. In the 70s, the denominations that make up this church chose to serve only grape juice for communion. The fear was and is that if they served wine, it might cause someone to fall off the wagon. The church didn’t have to make that choice, but it was an easy one to make. The choice was to protect the most vulnerable. Their choice was to temper freedom with grace. If you are thinking, “Okay, Pastor, this is all fine, but enough with the history lesson. We have this pandemic going on. Give me the goods for today!” Well, here it is. Just remember, you asked for it. In many places across the country, all guidance has been removed in terms of how to protect yourself and stay healthy in a COVID-19 environment. governors and courts alike have concluded you have the right to wear a mask or not wear a mask. You have the right to wash your hands or not wash your hands. You have the right to be a part of the solution or not be part of the solution. What do you do? Do you assert your rights and risk the lives of the vulnerable?
Paul says: Temper your freedom with grace. If we wait a bit to assert our rights, we can all get back together again, happy and healthy.
Live in God’s freedom.
Share God’s grace.