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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Year B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1 Corinthians 8:1b-13
Mark 1:21-28
Psalm 111

Today is our Annual Meeting. We gather to worship today, as we do every Sunday; but this is also a time when we come together in a special way. We consider our past, we select parish leadership, and we envision our future. It’s good, healthy work-- the work of community.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, from which we read this morning, also deals with community. In this epistle, he addresses the behavior of believers toward one another, and toward the larger (secular) community of which they are a part. In this particular section, he speaks specifically to concerns about eating food sacrificed to idols. In doing so, he is also addressing a larger issue: that what we know, or what we believe we know, affects how we behave.

He reminds us that, although knowledge is good and important (after all, Paul spends an awful lot of time instructing new Christians how to live as disciples!), our love for one another, and for God, should be the crucial factor in our behavior and our decisions. As fine as it may be to understand things, it is our love for others that builds up Christian community.

This is the reasoning behind his dietary instructions. He well knows, as some believers did, that it doesn’t matter if food they eat was sacrificed to an idol-- since the God he knows, and that we know through Jesus, is the only God there is. It doesn’t matter what other people may think. Food is just food. However, there are new believers who are not so solid in their faith, and who may be confused or misled. So, for their sakes, Paul urges that the community in Corinth be aware, and perhaps selective, in when and where and what they choose to eat.

This is a lesson for us, brothers and sisters. We also do not need to worry about what others think; it is only God to whom we have to account for our behavior. However, it is a good thing to be concerned about doing things for others' sake.

Here at St. Andrew’s, there is much we do that demonstrates this. For example, the work that the vestry does, working and praying and planning together. These men and women did not accept these positions to impress anyone, so others might think well of them. Instead, I have seen them continually work to consider the decisions they make by the standards of the Gospel, and by what they hope will be best for the sake of the parish. They disagree upon occasion, certainly; but they are also concerned to be careful with how they treat one another. They try to act first out of love, and then secondly from what they think they know.

Those who serve on the altar guild also show this. They faithfully work behind the scenes, setting up for our worship, and then cleaning up afterwards, making sure that all we need to celebrate the Eucharist together is provided, and well-kept, week after week. This is work done for the sake of the community.

Likewise, this is true of those who make the effort in even the littlest things. Even something as simple as arriving a few minutes early to prepare for worship. And by this I do not only mean those serving in specific roles-- the lectors, praise team, or acolytes. It’s also a gift to the community when each of us comes a few minutes early. This isn’t something that we do because of anything others might think, as though an additional 10 minutes might impress someone with our piety. But it is a small thing that we can do for others’ sake, as well as our own. For the sake of preparing our hearts and minds for godly worship. For the sake of our regular community, being ready to begin without having to be distracted with a last-minute scramble. And even for the sake of newcomers and visitors-- being present and available to them, so they aren’t intimidated by the idea of driving into an empty parking lot and walking into an empty church (a daunting prospect!).

My brothers and sisters, I have learned, and continue to learn, a great deal from you in my time here. I will know a lot more than when I started about the way a community works; about the needs of leadership and service; about the way I function as a priest; about the challenges and joys of parish ministry. And this knowledge will continue to affect me in ways I likely don’t even know yet.

However, the things that I will intentionally carry with me in when I leave St. Andrew’s are the ways you have loved. The care and concern that I see in Pastor Carol, and the way she serves here; and the reflection of God’s love that I have seen in so many of you, in so many ways. The ways that we do things for the sake of one another.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” This is my prayer for you, and for us all, that we continue to remember this: to work in love to build up one another, and this community, and the Kingdom of God.

For Jesus’ sake.


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