Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   12 comments

Above:  A Greek Lamb Led to the Slaughter, 500s BCE

Image in the Public Domain

Being Mindful of Others

JANUARY 28, 2018

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Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Moses speaking]

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.  This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said:

If you hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.

Then the LORD replied to me:

They are right in what they have said.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I have commanded.  Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.  But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die.

You may say to yourself,

How can we recognize a word that the LORD has not spoken?

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken.  The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols we know that

all of us possess knowledge.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Anyone who claims to know something does not have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

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.

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords–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.

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.

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.  But take care that this liberty of yours  does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  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?  So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.  But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  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.

Mark 1:21-28 (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John, sons of Zebedee, went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out,

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.

But Jesus rebuked him, saying,

Be silent, and come out of him!

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on talking to one another,

What is this?  A new teaching–with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.

At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Mark 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/week-of-1-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

Luke 4 (Parallel to Mark 1):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/week-of-proper-17-tuesday-year-1/

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There is a difference between restraining one’s self or one’s children from certain activities (at some or all times) for the spiritual benefit of others and kowtowing to the unreasonable expectations of spiritually uptight people.

I recall that, in the early 1980s, when I measured my lifespan in single digits, my father served the Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia (http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/vidette-united-methodist-church-vidette-georgia/).  The parsonage was next to the church building, with just a dead-end road running between the two.  For at least part of the time we were there (June 1980-June 1982), I was not supposed to play in the front yard on Sunday afternoons, lest anyone “get the wrong idea,” which I suppose, is that I was not keeping the Sabbath appropriately, i.e., dolefully.

I refuse to live in such a way that I run no risk of offending spiritually uptight people, some of whom take offense easily.  Nevertheless, I do try to live a good life, one of gratitude to God.  So I decide to do X but not Y, according to that standard, and to leave the taking of offense (or absence thereof) by the spiritually uptight to them.  If I were to try not to offend them, I would do little or nothing, and even that might bother them.  Even Jesus offended, and he was perfect.  How “offensive” then, will I be?

I am not a pietist, obviously.

Nevertheless, as Paul observed, Christian liberty is not a license to do everything which is lawful for one.  Sometimes discretion and concern for others dictates that one decide not to do something.  This something is not wrong in and of itself, but does the other person know that? Paul was dealing with the eating of meat sacrificed to false and imaginary deities, a circumstance which no longer applies in many cultures in contemporary times.  It has no bearing on me in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2011.  In fact, I cannot think of anything I do in public that would have a negative spiritual effect on anyone.  And my private life is mostly mundane, if one assumes that scandals are interesting.  (My life is far from scandalous.)

All this falls into the Lutheran category of “civil righteousness.” Yes, it is laudatory that I did not rob a liquor store last week and that I did perform many good works, but…

Our churches teach that a person’s will has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason.  It has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness.

Augsburg Confession of Faith, Article XVIII, as quoted in Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions–A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, Paul Timothy McCain, General Editor, Second Edition, Concordia Publishing House, 2006, page 40

I am mindful of the command not to lead the spiritually weak astray, which informs my decisions.  To the extent I have succeeded in following the spirit of Paul’s advice in my cultural context, I have done so by grace.

Grace is the work of God.  It precedes us and enables us to respond favorably to God.  By grace we have free will, so the misuse and abuse of free will is not what God has intended for us.  May we encourage and support each other in our Christian pilgrimages of faith, not throwing up road blocks consciously or unconsciously.  And may we not have hallucinations of road blocks, either.  Thus may we follow Jesus, our Lord and the ultimate authoritative prophet, successfully–by grace, of course.

KRT

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