Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sermon 4: Need you to be patient

I'm this apple, this happening stone
When I'm alone
Oh but my blessings get so blurred
At the sound of your words
I'm gonna need you to be patient with me

- "Please Be Patient with Me," by Wilco

Gluttony, from The Seven Deadly Sins, Bosch
...there are some who are still weak in faith, who ought to be instructed, and who would gladly believe as we do. But their ignorance prevents them, and if this were preached to them, as it was to us, they would be one with us. Toward such well-meaning people we must assume an entirely different attitude from that which we assume toward the stubborn. We must bear patiently with these people and not use our liberty; since it brings no peril or harm to body or soul; in fact, it is rather salutary, and we are doing our brothers and sisters a great service besides. But if we use our liberty unnecessarily, and deliberately cause offense to our neighbor, we drive away the very one who in time would come to our faith. 
- Fourth Invocavit Sermon
C.S. Lewis once wrote about his culture's sexual corruption by making a contrast with the way they handled their desires for food:
You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?
Lewis obviously lived before cable and satellite TV! Nowadays food channels are all the rage, and people watch cooking shows and shows about restaurants and eating habits of every kind. Gluttony is the new lust. It may be that something has gone seriously wrong with our appetite for food in the 21st century.

In Martin Luther's day, the Church exercised a measure of control over what people ate and when. Various fasts and feasts were part of the ordinary calendar that Christian people followed each year. In his fourth Invocavit sermon, Luther takes up the matter of dietary rules, and says the following:
1. You have liberty to eat or abstain according to the needs of your own health. 
2. If anyone (such as the pope) compels you to eat certain things by law, you are free to abstain. 
3. We must be patient with those who are still weak in faith and who feel bound by such laws. We must not flaunt our liberty in ways that will cause them distress.
God has more important commands than the ones he gives about external matters such as using images or eating or abstaining from certain kinds of foods. God commands that we should be helpful to our neighbors. This supersedes whatever scruples we might have about ritual matters.
Thus we, too, should order our lives and use our liberty at the proper time, so that Christian liberty may suffer no injury, and no offense be given to our weak brothers and sisters who are still without the knowledge of this liberty.
Patience. Patience. Patience.

  • All you need is love. By this time, Luther is starting to sound a bit repetitive. Over and over again, like a Beatles' song, he pushes the refrain: "Love, love, love, all you need is love..." If we pastors could only learn that, in the final analysis, "love" is indeed the only command, a summary of everything the gospel is designed to bring forth from our lives and our congregations. Do you have a question about whether or not some practice should be taken up or maintained? In and of itself, the practice is nothing. The question is: will it promote love? Will it benefit the neighbor? As a pastor, I should be asking this question early and often.
  • Love is discerning and gives what is needed to benefit the neighbor. In this sermon, Luther distinguishes between the way we help the "weak" and the way we deal with the "stubborn." I would venture to say that, for most pastors, helping the weak is easier and more regularly practiced. Generally in such situations, the pastor gets to have some measure of control, the pastor gets to be the giver, and the pastor walks away with a sense of satisfaction that someone has been helped. Dealing with the stubborn is not so easy. The stubborn resist any authority the pastor presumes to have. They may challenge the idea that the pastor has anything to offer them. The pastor may have to say and hear hard words and walk away with unresolved conflict and hurt feelings. Still, love is willing to rebuke as well as affirm, put up with resistance as well as receptivity, and persevere through disagreement and pain. Love remains for the best interests of the neighbor, no matter how the neighbor responds. Love remains willing to be with the neighbor through thick and thin.

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