Liberality Limited By Love, Sermon 01.29.12

Liberality Limited By Love, Sermon 01.29.12

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark1:21-28.

I begin this morning by asking each of you to bring to mind a situation …some time when you really wanted to do something, but decided against it, because you foresaw the negative effects or hurt
it could have on someone you love…

A few of us may be able to put our fingers on painful self-denials… dramatic cases of deciding against our own desire, in order to side with an other’s need. Self-sacrifice; in it’s most extreme form, martyrdom.

But there are surely less extreme, everyday examples as well… that are show the day-in, day-out, real-life outlines of the covenant that comes of loving. The commitment one makes in relationship to others,
giving up something that would please you in order to provide something that meet an other’s need.
It’s a most basic definition of service… and love

An everyday example for working parents is when you would like to take advantage of some job opportunity — a new position, or a great business trip, or maybe even just working late on a project because of its pressing deadline. But you realize someone needs you at home. So instead of whatever else you desired to do, you go do what you feel you have to.

Another example that comes easily to my mind — with all the alcoholism in my family — is when
I forgo the wine, beer or cocktail I’d like to have with dinner. I don’t have a problem with alcohol,
but many I care about do.

The food examples are the easiest perhaps… When I go out to dinner with my former colleagues, Rick and David, I don’t order seafood because I know they don’t even like sitting at the table with someone eating fish. Choosing not to eat something that you know your meal companion is allergic to or even really dislikes… Or deciding against ordering that dessert you want when you’re with someone whose really struggling with their weight.

These may sound inconsequential, but they’re not. Instead, they are just the building blocks of live together lived in giving and receiving because none of us does all that well all alone.

It’s the same dynamic that for many couples, monogamy is about– having made a commitment to someone, seeing someone else who strikes your fancy isn’t license to act on one’s impulse or desire.
Instead, it’s an opportunity to exercise self-control, out of love and for a purpose greater than one’s own wants.

Folks, this is what Paul was recommending to the Church in Corinth… limiting our liberty in order to meet the needs of those we love.

The occasion of his advice, as was said in the introduction to the reading this morning, might sound foreign, strange even irrelevant. Most of us and our communities don’t experience ourselves faced with the choice as Christians whether or not we should eat food sacrificed to idols.

I suspect, however, if we thought more clearly of the implications of our food policies, economics and practices — food transported around the globe; genetically altered seeds, and chemical fertilizers and
polluting and toxic pesticides; corporate farming; poor people growing luxury crops for rich markets (instead of staples for their own people); processed food, fast food, our eating and over-eating habits,
the effects on our health… I’m pretty sure there’s more of our food idolatrously dedicated than we’re letting on when we say we can’t quite make sense of what Paul is writing about!

Last year part of my Lenten preparations included the Lenten Carbon Fast, wherein I participated with others tryng to curb my North American penchant for high energy use. Beth Davis and I have been talking of a Lenten practice for this year that ties spiritual growth to healthier waistlines. Many of us would like to lose some inches, but a few of us would be healthier is we put on some weight. But maybe that plan needs to be widened (no pun intended!), to be about connecting food justice to spiritual strengthening…

But it’s really Paul’s practical equation I want to recommend to you today. It’s brilliant both in its simplicity and its directness. It helps me make better decisions in the midst of all life’s ambiguity.

Church, our faith doesn’t lend itself to many black and white list of do’s or thou shall nots. For us, the Bible isn’t for us some clear-cut, Divine playbook. Instead, in Christ, we’ve been set free — from our own pasts and from all other human’s authority that we might live only for God. We’ve been called to live bigger, freer, more creatively… to live lives grateful and responsible as mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

For us, the Bible, and indeed all our religious reflections, are encouragement to open ourselves to a Way
so much bigger than us and the lives we often lead. We’ve heard Jesus’ exhortation to commitments to God and our neighbor that make human life really worth living: humility, honesty, forgiveness, non-judgementalness, justice, service, love.

And we know as hard as the greatest things of God are to grapple with in our heads and hearts,
they’re even harder to be consistent about in our lives.

So Paul breaks it down. Sets forth a simple, straight-forward strategy, focused on the goals, even the points of our decision-making. He says, Keep yourself focused on calls the trade-offs between self and other. Not because you need to protect your own interests!But, because… given the choice between fulfilling your own wishes and caring for those we love, you’re free to opt for the latter, every time.

As free people of faith, voluntarily rein in your liberty, limit ourselves from actions that could harm others, directly or indirectly. …Even to the point of refraining from activities that could confuse, mislead or lead astray others in their weakness or lack of understanding. Even if it’s only because the kids can’t understand, maybe it’s not something you want to be seen doing…

Paul’s challenge to the church community in Corinth is a pragmatic practice: if you love each other,
surely you don’t want to undertake anything to that hurt an other. Or as Paul wrote later in the same letter, making clear that in faithfulness, love trumps self-will: “love never insists on its own way.”

Paul followed Jesus Christ into a life a mission service that led him to the ends of the earth… Jesus Christ, did not follow his own will, but God’s…did not act in his own interests, but sacrificed himself for a good much greater than himself.

May we also follow, even the smallest decisions, living up to such selflessness that we too might attain faith, love, service. Amen.