Five years ago last night was my last night as a pastor. It was, I realized recently, the last time I was administratively in charge of anything organizational. (Not that I ever really was in charge) It was the last time I had a full-time job. It was a mostly exciting, mostly relieved night. It was, I confess, a little scary.
When I walked out of the church that night, I had no idea that I’d have a regular, enough-more-than-hall-time-to-get-benefits job as a chaplain. That I’d spend four years helping congregations in Indiana as a resource consultant. That I’d teach more, that I’d consult more, that I’d complete a marathon, that four of my books would be published since then. That many of the things I’ve worried about haven’t happened. That a bunch of my great ideas haven’t happened. And some better ones have.
I’m grateful for that life, and for this one.
For chapel yesterday, I was looking at Paul’s notes to the church in Corinth about the appropriateness of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols and was now available in the market. What was most compelling to me were his comments about how to think through the issue.
To set the scene, there were some people in the church who knew that idols weren’t real gods and so knew that the meat was okay to eat. And there were people who had grown up believing that the idols were real and for whom the meat brought back memories and feelings.
People talks about the latter group as people who are weaker, but he’s not using that as judgment. Instead it’s a reminder to love.
He says they are people “for whom Christ died.“
He reminds the first group, so confident in what they knew, that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.“
He cautioned the first group to “be careful that the exercise of your rights doesn’t become a stumbling block to the weak.“
He cast the relationship in the language of sin: “When you [knowing the “right answer group”] sin against them [the so-called not as strong as you group] and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.“
And he offered his own response: “If I what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” Not just meat offered to idols, Paul says, but ANY meat.
I could write a whole post, a whole sermon, a whole book, a whole life on this approach of compassion toward others. But I’m guessing that I may not need to.
A few years back, I assembled a series of readings for Lent. Since Ash Wednesday (February 17) and Easter come around every year, I share this every year. Since all of last year felt like Lent, maybe we don’t need help. But maybe we do. Lent for Non-Lent People.