Changing Eyeglass Prescription
1-28-18 Scripture: I Corinthians 8:1-13
Theme: We get things confused quite often in faith, thinking it’s about the right beliefs or the correct knowledge or the appropriate acts that bring us into grace. Above all of these considerations, Paul places a priority upon our relationships, especially our connection to those who don’t believe as we do, who may have a weaker or more uncertain grasp of the divine. They need us, indeed – but perhaps we need them more, to offer us the chance to demonstrate the extent of our love for all. The Body of Christ will not function without both an awareness and embrace of diversity, especially when it comes to beliefs.
I’ve noticed that others have noticed something about me that I’ve noticed for about two years now – notably, that I take off my glasses in order to read meeting notes or written information on paper. Think for a moment, now – I take off my glasses in order to see, at least in order to see things close to me. This is of course because I have glasses meant to correct my nearsightedness, which means they adjust my eyesight to register things which are far away, like mountain vistas or traffic signs on the highway or common sense in congress. Seriously, though, I have found that in my case, I have a condition that requires adjustment in order to see things clearly – my glasses for things far away, and no glasses for things under an arms-length away. Or, as my optician told me, “it’s probably time for bifocals.”
What does this have to do with our scripture lesson today? I’m glad you asked, for I think it has everything to do with what Paul is telling us not only about faith, but about life – that, for the Body of Christ to be what God desires us to be, we need a kind of spiritual bifocal lens to help us see those we are asked to relate to. And we are specifically asked in this passage to relate to those whose beliefs are different than ours.
All of a sudden, we are met with one of the greatest challenges to our faith in our modern world. I know you may not believe this, but it must be said – ALL CHRISTIANS DO NOT HAVE THE SAME BELIEFS! Some believe that baptism isn’t real unless you’ve been submerged; some believe pouring is sufficient; some think that sprinkling works just fine; some might offer a damp cloth as sufficient. Some Christians believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, impregnated by the Holy Spirit; some Christians believe that Mary became pregnant as a victim of rape, which was nearly a death sentence in those days, and that Joseph had pity on her, taking her as his wife. Some Christians believe wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, others see money as evidence of worshiping the world. Some Christians regularly attend worship services in a church, while others are what is termed “Blue Domers,” or people who discover God most profoundly in the natural world, under the blue dome of the sky, and never seek a different sanctuary. And the list goes on: there are pro-choice and pro-life Christians, Democrat and Republican Christians, proponents and opponents of the death penalty, teetotalers and bar-frequenters, and, perhaps most unbelievable of all – there are those Christians who think motorcycling is a sin (I kid you not – for they have told me so, to my face!). And yet, they still go by the label “Christian.” So much variety – so much disagreement – so much distance between us.
Problems arise when we give that distance power, says Paul to us in our scripture passage today – and this is something we are cautioned not to do. For the differences between people who claim Jesus as their Lord are never greater than the love that binds us to God. Let me say that again – the differences between people who claim Jesus as Lord are never greater than the love that binds us to God. If the differences seem insurmountable, then the integrity of the love we have for God falls into question. If the differences are listened to, challenged, interpreted, agreed upon, invited to change, or otherwise born with patience, compassion, and humility, then we are involved in the hard work of love. And this is always the work before us as the Body of Christ.
I recently experienced an example of what I think Paul is talking about. As many of you know, I was recently in Colorado, attending a meeting that created a draft plan for the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Annual Conference coming together as the Mountain Sky Area Conference. While in Colorado, I had the opportunity to visit my parents in Boulder. It is always good to see them; I love them dearly, and I am blessed to know I am loved fully and unconditionally by them at all times. And though we agree on 87.3% of all matters under heaven, there is 12.7% upon which we absolutely, definitely, and completely disagree.
We fully agree on matters like the value of honesty, the importance of family, supporting the marginalized, helping out neighbors, speaking a kind word to strangers, attending church regularly, praying every day, and the value of education.
We completely disagree on – can you guess? – politics and religion.
Well, maybe not completely disagree, but pretty close, in some areas. One of those areas came up in our conversation a couple of weeks ago – things were going pretty well, talking about family and friends and the church and the weather and our vehicles and the state of their health. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of my parents made a political comment. An unbelievable political comment. A comment that I found so offensive, so wrong, so blatant, so terribly misguided, that I felt I had to respond. I wanted to shout, “How can you say that?” I wanted to yell, “Are you crazy?” I wanted to scream, “You are so wrong that the word “wrong” doesn’t begin to describe how wrong you are!”
Can you guess what my response was? I REMAINED SILENT. I didn’t say anything, because my love for them was much greater than my offense at their opinion. I didn’t say anything because I knew they would register in my silence an abrupt dischord in our conversation which spoke loudest of my disagreement with them. I didn’t say anything because I knew they knew me all too well, and how I had in some ways become quite different from their child of long ago. And I knew that they knew that I would never, never love them less because of any of these differences.
Sometimes, this is the way it is – our love is put to a sort of reverse test. We are tested in our love for others when our extreme differences of ideas, opinions, actions, and words would seek the easy way out, the way out that so much of the world seeks – to dissociate, to separate, to compete and confront and undermine and otherwise seek the downfall of who we label wrong-minded or off-base. It is the major practice of many Governments right now, including our own; it is the practice that estranges families, raises suspicions against foreigners, makes us wary of our neighbors, and drives us to only dwell with like-minded people who reinforce our beliefs. But it is a practice that diminishes life, when we allow differences between us to separate our hearts from each other; and it is a practice deadly to the Christian faith, if not damaging to the world overall.
Paul is outlining the delicate balance between faith as it is and faith as it was meant to be. Faith — as it is — is tenuous at best: there are very outspoken Christians who condemn other cultures, promote a message of prosperity equaling righteousness, narrowly define those who are qualified for heaven, buy into prejudice, dismiss the marginalized as lazy or depraved, or see one life as more valuable than another. I reject these representations of my faith; but I do not reject the people who believe such things. Neither does God, I believe; even if such beliefs keep God up at night (and I believe they do!), the individuals who hold such beliefs are loved nonetheless. How dare I even consider withholding my love from them! For I need them, just as they need me; somehow, someway, we are incomplete without each other; we need each other’s checks and balances, each other’s discernment and perspective, each other’s experiences of God and life and love. Faith cannot be left up to any one individual or system to interpret; the body of Christ, with diversity and disagreements intact, is essential.
I’d like to leave you this morning with a reading that struck me along these lines – it’s by Psychologist Walter Tubbs, who wrote this in response to counter the me-myself-and-I mentality that paradoxically makes life empty. Here’s what he wrote:
If I just do my thing and you do yours, We stand in danger of losing each other
And ourselves. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations;
But I am in this world to confirm you — As a unique human being
And to be confirmed by you.
We are fully ourselves only in relation to each other.
The I detached from a Thou Disintegrates.
I do not find you by chance; I find you by an active life Of reaching out.
Rather than passively letting things happen to me,
I can act intentionally to make them happen.
I must begin with myself, true; But I must not end with myself:
The truth begins with two.
–Quoted in Thomas Ryan’s Fasting Rediscovered: A Guide to Health
and Wholeness For Your Body-Spirit (New York: Paulist
Press, 1981), 113-14.