St. Stephen is hosting the Walk for Water Pittsburgh on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Walk for Water Pittsburgh benefits Water Mission, a Christian relief agency which provides sustainable water solutions in many countries and disaster areas around the world. You can read about Water Mission here.
Please feel free to join us the day of the walk. Registration is $20 and supports the ministry of Water Mission. Alternately, or additionally, please help sponsor the walk by donating through GoFundMe.
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink... (Matthew 25:35)
Monday, April 30, 2018
Sunday, April 8, 2018
The Rev. Maurice Frontz
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Easter 2 Year B
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Jesus says to the apostles,
‘If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them.
If you retain the sins of any,
they are retained.’
This seems to give a lot of power to the apostles.
If this power were used capriciously,
at the whim of the apostles,
if they could simply use this word at their own will
or for their own personal gain,
then it is a terrible thing that Jesus is doing.
But what is Jesus really doing?
Remember the man who was paralyzed,
whose friends couldn’t bring him to Jesus
because there was a big crowd around Jesus’ house,
and so they lowered him through the roof of the house
to where Jesus was?
When Jesus saw their faith (and those words their faith themselves are very interesting)
he said to the man, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
asked the scribes and Pharisees,
and to show that he had authority to do the greater thing, forgive sins in God’s name,
he healed the paralyzed man so that he walks away,
From years of hearing that God forgives sins,
we think the physical healing is more impressive,
but actually it is the lesser act of power.
The lesser thing, healing a body,
testifies to the greater thing,
which is that Jesus heals the relationship between God and a human being,
by speaking God’s word of acceptance.
But now Christ has died, and Christ is risen.
He will no longer walk amongst us in body,
but his living presence must be discerned by faith,
must be clung to in faith.
How then will he forgive sins, as he did for the paralyzed man and so many others?
By putting his Word of forgiveness in the mouth of the apostles,
he ensures that his work of forgiveness and acceptance
will continue on earth.
So the apostles do not forgive sins on their own.
It is not their word that they speak,
but Jesus’ word.
They forgive sins by the command of Jesus
and the authority of Jesus.
Why is it important that the apostles themselves are to forgive sins?
Shouldn’t we be able to confess our sins before God alone,
and believe in our forgiveness without another person?
This is indeed true, that we are able to do this.
Each time we pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’
we both confess that we have trespasses to be forgiven,
and can be certain that God forgives them,
for Jesus would not teach us to pray for something
that his Father does not delight to give.
when Jesus spoke these words to the apostles,
no written Lord’s Prayer for us to memorize,
no New Testament to tell us of Christ’s forgiveness of sins,
no liturgy where we could make a corporate confession
and receive a corporate word of forgiveness.
It was all up to the apostles to spread the word.
And the word was spread,
so that people were forgiven and believed in Christ
and the good news was proclaimed
and eventually written down.
But I can think of a few reasons
that it remains important that we hear another person
proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to us.
Firstly, in the book of James it says this:
‘Confess your sins to one another,
and pray for one another,
so that you may be healed.’
The written Word itself testifies that the spoken Word
both of confession to another person
and absolution from that other person
is still salutary.
It can be much more a sign of humility
to confess out loud that we are sinners,
and to confess out loud before another human being that we have sinned,
rather than just to keep it quiet.
And it can be much more liberating to hear another human being
say that God forgives our sins
than if we simply say it to ourselves.
There is another reason.
Some people are so afflicted by the knowledge of their sin
that on their own they cannot believe in their forgiveness.
Even those who know their Bible well
sometimes cannot make that leap.
Maybe none of us are in that situation.
But for those that are,
it is important for us to hear and trust the Word
that God indeed does forgive not only sin in general,
but our sin as well.
When the pastor or any Christian forgives us,
we are called to put our trust not that we have been good,
but that God has been good.
And that word that is spoken aloud
may have the power to break down barriers
that in themselves good thoughts alone cannot break down.
Why is it important that the pastor does it?
Luther said that any Christian can speak the forgiveness to another Christian,
but that so everything was done in order,
the pastor of the church was ordinarily the one who spoke the words.
The pastor speaks for the Church,
and the Church speaks for Christ.
But it’s never a matter of a special power of the pastor,
but simply the word of Christ given to the Church that does it.
On our own we all too easily forget
that God is not only a friendly God,
but a just God.
This is why God gives the apostles authority not simply to forgive,
but to retain sins.
We see this in the apostle John’s letter,
words that we say often
‘If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
But if we confess our sins,
God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
To those who say they have no sin,
or perhaps even no sin to speak of,
the word must be that we are in debt to a just God.
But to those who confess their sin,
that same just God justifies,
accepts, is friendly towards them,
welcoming them back into fellowship,
always calling them back to God’s justice.
Remember the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
The Pharisee who fasted twice a week and tithed believed that he was just,
the tax collector acknowledged that he was not just, but that God was just.
To one was shown God’s friendliness,
to the other it was not.
We must hear that we are the ones in need of the just God’s mercy,
and often simply our own thoughts deceive us,
that we are righteous.
Sometimes we even believe that because we are not like that condemned Pharisee,
that we don’t fast and we don’t give,
that this makes us worthy in God’s sight!
There is a story of a dying Lutheran pastor
who as point of pride said that he lived so much by faith
that he had never done a good work in his life.
Perhaps this was a long sermon, a boring sermon,
a didactic sermon,
a lecture full of declarative sentences.
So I’ll end with a word directly to you.
Because Jesus is living,
he can still forgive sins.
He reaches out in friendliness to you,
to accept you, warts and all.
to lead you into the path of justice.
He has given the Word of forgiveness to his Church,
to the people he has sent to be his hands and feet,
and yes, his ears and mouth in the world.
You can trust this word,
that the just God justifies unjust people,
that the just God justifies unjust you.
And if that’s boring,
then I don’t know what to do for you,
for it’s exciting news,
the kingdom’s ours forever.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
April 1, 2018 - Pr. Maurice Frontz
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
And Happy April Fool’s Day, too.
We are used to thinking of the Bible as a very serious book.
But among the stories of terrible rebellion against God
and the proverbs to make you wise and the songs of endless praise
are some quite funny stories.
The Bible has a sense of humor.
Consider in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John –
Andrew tells his friend Nathaniel that he has found the Messiah,
and his name is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.
Nathaniel can’t help himself.
‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ he chortles,
and from the distance of two thousand years
we hear the derisive laughter of a slick urbanite
making a wisecrack at the expense of a hick town,
much as we might if a friend told us that the next President
was going to be Hank from deepest darkest West by-God Virginia.
It was too funny for even a serious guy like John the Evangelist to leave out of his Gospel.
But it’s not just regional jokes which are part of the Bible’s act.
Some of the parables of Jesus are great stuff.
I absolutely love Luke 16 and the story of the dishonest manager,
who knew he was going to get fired and got his revenge
(and also made some much-needed friends)
by telling all his boss’s debtors that the boss was feeling generous
and there was suddenly a discount.
In the end even the boss had to admit he’d been had.
Jesus gets you with the sense of humor, see.
The kicker is then he tells you
to use your money where it really matters,
to make friends with the poor people,
the people whose prayers God listens to,
so when you don’t have any money anymore,
(and you know when that is)
you’ve got a place to live – in heaven with them.
Sometimes, you know, comics have got a point.
If you were not at the Easter Vigil last night,
you missed some great funny stories.
You missed the great story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
which I love every year.
The self-importance of Nebuchadnezzar,
the ridiculousness of his officials and courtiers,
all those satraps, prefects and governors,
and all the officials of the provinces,
bowing down to a golden statue
at the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble.
And then the great reversal,
where the three men who refuse to worship the idols
are joined in the furnace of blazing fire by a fourth who has the appearance of the god,
and they come forth, unharmed.
The great reversal when Nebuchadnezzar, the idolater, becomes a god-fearer.
There is one story which I think is hilarious
which isn’t in the Easter Vigil,
but should be.
That is the story of Queen Esther,
the Jewish wife of the King of Persia
who saves her people.
The grand Vizier Haman hates the Jews,
and conspires to have them killed
and Esther’s cousin Mordecai,
who has Haman’s number and whom Haman hates,
hanged on a gallows on Haman’s property.
But Haman gets what’s coming to him.
The king is told by others of a time that Mordecai the Jew
saved him from traitors in his midst.
The king asks ‘What has been done to honor him?’
Nothing, comes the reply.
And so he calls his counsellor Haman,
and asks, ‘What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?’
Haman, self-important blowhard that he is, thinks it’s all about him.
‘Whom would the king delight to honor other than me?’
And he suggests that the king’s robes and the king’s horse and the king’s crown be brought,
and the honored one to be paraded around the city,
as he is acclaimed with the proclamation:
‘Thus shall it ever be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’
Of course, what happens next?
The king tells the flabbergasted grand Vizier to bestow this honor upon Mordecai,
and to lead him around the city, acclaiming him as he goes.
And Haman gets worse, too;
he is hanged on the gallows he has set up for Mordecai.
Mordecai is honored, Esther is honored,
the Jews win, and everyone lives happily ever after.
A charming comedy indeed.
Isn’t this supposed to be an Easter sermon?
Why all the jokes?
Certainly Easter is serious!
But it is God’s greatest joke of all.
In all of the stories of God’s deliverance,
there is always a bit of humor in there.
And theologically at least, God saves his greatest gotcha for the third day,
the day after the Sabbath was over,
when the evil one, who thought he had gotten rid of Jesus once at for all,
is hoisted on his own petard.
His greatest weapon, death itself,
is used against him,
and it is the death of him.
Just like that grand Vizier Haman,
who thought he had the perfect plot
to wreak vengeance on Mordecai and destroy the Jews,
and who is double-crossed and forced to honor his enemy
and is hung on the gallows he had intended for him,
so is the evil one finished on that same cross
which he has intended to destroy God and humanity.
and death has become not his greatest weapon,
but the salvation of God.
The devil is pictured all too often as a powerful force,
but to our eyes, he should be a ridiculous figure,
a dupe, an ape, a punchline,
truly a fool.
For Jesus is the one whom the king delights to honor,
and through him, God has acted to save us.
And so sin is forgiven, hope is restored, death is destroyed,
and it’s time for a feast.
The feast of victory for our God!
‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongues with shouts of joy’
The worship that the devil thought was owed to him,
is given to Jesus.
‘Thus shall it ever be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Monday, March 26, 2018
We of the St. Stephen Faith Family hope and pray that you will join us
as we celebrate the solemn mysteries of Jesus Christ's Passion and Resurrection.
Maundy Thursday - 7:30 p.m., March 29
The Proclamation of Forgiveness
The Gospel of the Foot-washing
The Holy Eucharist
The Stripping of the Altar
Good Friday - 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., March 30
The Passion according to St John
The Solemn Reproaches
The Adoration of the Crucified
The Great Vigil of Easter - 6:30 p.m., Saturday, March 31
The Lighting of the New Fire
The Readings from Salvation History
The Affirmation of Baptism
The First Eucharist of Easter
Easter Sunday - 10:30 a.m., April 1
(Easter Breakfast, 9 a.m., Children's Egg Hunt, 9:30 a.m.)
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. - John 12:20-33
Lent 5 Year B/March 18, 2018
St. Stephen Lutheran Church
Pastor Maurice Frontz
I have a book on my shelf –
well, actually I have a lot of books on my shelves.
This book is called What Was the World of Jesus?
and it goes into detail about the hopes and realities
of people 2,000 years ago.
The hopes were that God would act to fulfill his promises,
one of which we have today in our reading from Jeremiah,
that God would make a new covenant with his people,
that he would forgive their sins
and put new desires in their hearts,
so that they would finally fulfill their destiny,
to be a people of God not only in name, but in word and deed.
Monday, March 12, 2018
Lent 4 Year B/March 11, 2018
Pastor Maurice Frontz
When we look at the cross,
we see darkness and death.
But worse than even having to contemplate the act of crucifixion,
we must contemplate who is on the cross.
If it were Hitler, Castro, or Madame Mao,
Jerry Sandusky, Harvey Weinstein, or Bernie Madoff,
we might take some grim satisfaction from the sight:
but this is the One who spoke words of hope, peace, and life.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Wednesday in 3 Lent;
Sermon based on Discipleship, chapter Ten
Pastor Maurice Frontz
Though he is alive, we no longer have the body of Jesus with us.
The church confesses that he bodily ascended into heaven
and ‘is seated at the right hand of the Father,’
which means that he has been given all the authority of God.
We also confess that he will come again from heaven
to judge the living and the dead;
his authority, which now we acknowledge by faith,
will be seen by all.
Those who have rejected the rule of God,
who have done evil and loved falsehood,
will continue in that rejection,
and those who have sought God
will find his mercy in the glorious and gentle rule of Christ.
But still, his disciples are called –
and they are called to be in community with Jesus.
How can this happen,
when Jesus’ body is ascended into heaven?
For to be in community means to be in bodily community.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Based on Chapter Nine of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer
Have you ever wondered when the apostles were baptized?
After all, it is not recorded that Jesus baptized Peter, James and John,
or Levi when he was called from the tax booth.
This seems to contradict the doctrine of the church that baptism is necessary.
If it wasn’t necessary for the apostles,
why is it absolutely necessary for us?
But Eberhard Bethge, a student of Bonhoeffer’s who became his best friend,
wrote in his study notes on the call of Levi,
“By being called, Levi has become a ‘baptized disciple.’
The encounter with Jesus is what happens in Levi’s call and in our baptism.
The same Jesus who met Levi at the tax booth
is risen and meets us in Word and Sacrament.
If in his call, the incarnate Jesus ‘baptizes’ Levi,
then in his church’s baptism he calls us.
Baptism is not something we offer to God;
it is something that God offers to us.
Just as none of the disciples could ‘choose’ to become a disciple,
but were called to follow,
so none of us choose baptism,
but are chosen.
Those who are infants are chosen, those who are adults are also chosen,
for it is never a matter of us nominating ourselves,
no matter our age.
[This is why it is problematic for peo[ple to say
that we need to make a ‘decision’ for Christ.
In Baptism Christ decides for us,
he is always the subject of the active verb.
It is also problematic for well-meaning parents to say
that they won’t raise their children in the church
because they want them to ‘decide’ when they’re older.
No one, whether child or adult, can follow Jesus
without the call of Christ,
and children are called just as they are;
there is no age of reason for disciples.
Indeed, children may well be more faithful than parents.
Finally, it is problematic when we teach
that when infants are baptized, it is the parents’ decision,
and that when teenagers are confirmed, it is their decision.
We want to give children a sense of responsibility –
but actually we let both children and their parents off the hook.
We are not glorifying Jesus,
but the decision-making independent self.
Whereas if we had taught rightly,
we would have taught that in baptism,
Christ has called us by his own name,
and we are never independent from him;
our God-given freedom is to be used for him.]
Just as Levi was called from the tax booth,
our baptism into Christ calls us out from the world.
Baptism implies a break between the old life and the new.
It is not a chronological break,
as if before baptism we were one self
and after baptism we are another.
This helps us to understand why an infant is baptized for sin not yet committed,
and why an adult must still struggle with sin even when the new life has begun.
The old life is the life of self-interest that clings to us throughout our lives,
and the new life is the life in Christ which we are given by grace,
in which we may love God and neighbor.
In the old life we relate to other human beings, money, time, talent,
nation and community on our own,
but in the new life Christ always is involved in the relationship.
It is never just my life, but my life in Christ.
The old life and the new life are always at odds,
but Christ is constantly at work in us to drown the old and to bring forth the new.
Baptism is death for the old self and life for the new.
Just as Jesus’ call required a public act of following in front of everyone,
so in our baptism we are called to follow publicly.
Our faith is personal but never private.
Baptized people become visible in the community of the church.
In the service of baptism, the parents are instructed
to bring the children into the community of the church.
In the service of affirmation of baptism,
the first thing we are asked if we will ‘continue to live among God’s faithful people.’
The life of baptism is neither merely an assent to certain truths
nor is it simply a vague commitment to doing good deeds.
Rather, it is to associate with Jesus,
and that means to be a visible participant in the Church of Jesus Christ.
In some places in the world, that visibility can lead to physical death.
But the break with the world in baptism requires and causes our death,
whether or not we are given the grace of martyrdom.
Bonhoeffer writes, ‘Every call of Christ leads to death.’
It means that in baptism we live under God’s word,
seeking his will and dying to our own,
and we are commanded to bear the cross,
that is, to deal with and bear others.
If they wish to maintain community with Christ,
Christians cannot wall themselves away from others,
whether they are secure in their posh resorts
or living in whatever fantasy they can afford,
but must encounter the other
who makes claims on their time, energy, and resources.
That too is death of the old self.
But this death is a gift of grace,
it is not a punishment.
It is a gift because we are with Jesus,
who is the way, the truth and the life,
and if we are with him now, we are with him for time to come.
If, in Jesus’ call of the disciples, they were baptized,
then in the baptism of the Church, we are called.
This baptism is God’s grace which we receive.
Baptism liberates us from serving the world
or making the world serve us,
and calls us to serve Christ in the world
Baptism requires public identification with
and participation in the Church.
And baptism puts to death the old self-seeking person
and brings to life the one who seeks God alone.
‘Having taken their life from them,
[Jesus] now sought to give them a life that was full and complete.
And so he gave them his cross.
That was the gift of baptism to the first disciples.’
And, may I add, his gift to us as well.
Put some peace and quiet in your Wednesday night.
Lenten Evening Prayer begins at 7:00 p.m.
The sermon series in Lent is 'The Way of Discipleship.'
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Calling Disciples, Dr. He Qui, 2001
Sermon based on Discipleship, chapter eight
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it starkly –
‘To his first disciples Jesus was bodily present,
speaking his word directly to them.
But this Jesus died and is risen.
How, then, does his call to discipleship reach us today?
He no longer walks past me in bodily form and calls, ‘Follow me.’
And this leads us to seemingly unending questions.’
I can imagine that some questions might be,
Where should I listen for the call of Jesus?
Should I listen for a voice inside my heart?
Or open the Bible to a random page and do what it says?
How can I tell which call is for me?
Can I say that I should leave everything and go like the first disciples?
What about those who were not called to leave everything and follow?
What should I do?
Where can I hear Christ, where can I encounter him?
‘What for the first disciples was so entirely unambiguous
is for me a decision that is highly problematic and fraught with uncertainty.’
But, he says, we need to remember and take seriously
that ‘Jesus Christ is not dead but alive and still speaking to us through the word of Scripture.’
‘If we want to hear his call to discipleship,
we need to hear it where Christ himself is present.
‘The preaching and sacrament of the church is where Jesus Christ is present.
Listen to the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord!
Here he is, the whole Christ,
the very same who encountered the disciples.
Indeed, here he is already present
as the glorified, the victorious, the living Christ.’
‘Christ can only be recognized in faith.
That was true in the same way for the first disciples as it is for us.
They saw the rabbi and the miracle worker,
and believed in Christ.
We hear the word and believe in Christ.’
But perhaps we think, still the first disciples have an advantage over us,
because they were told exactly what to do.
They heard it from his lips,
they did not have choices laid before them.
And perhaps this is why the church has such trouble with obeying Christ,
If only Christ himself would clearly speak to us,
and tell us what to do, or how much to give, or what to feel and think,
or maybe even for whom to vote,
we would be glad to do it!
or at least we would know that like the rich man, we cannot follow.
But we are seemingly left on our own;
without a clear command from the Lord.
Again, Bonhoeffer bids us put our faithless questions aside.
Jesus’ clear command to each of us always has the same purpose;
‘it demands faith from an undivided heart,
and love of God and neighbor with all our heart and soul.’
This indeed is unambiguous!
Faith and love!
‘He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?’
Jesus calls the disciples,
and they recognize him as the one who speaks to their lives,
the one who indeed has authority over them,
who speaks with God’s authority
When we come to hear his word,
we recognize in that word
the one who speaks to our lives
and has authority over us,
who speaks with God’s authority,
calling to faith and love.
So it is not a matter of taking on the same identity
as the disciples or other people in the New Testament:
to wonder whether we really should have been wandering evangelists
or to stay at home like the man cleansed of demons
and tell all one’s neighbors of God’s goodness.
Indeed, should we choose a particular course of action,
to leave behind everything
or to give away all our possessions
or to stay and have them,
without faith in Christ and love of God and neighbor.
it would be nothing.
‘If I speak in the tongues of men and angels,
but have not love…’
But do we really have no clear command from the Lord?
Do we not when we come,
hear Christ’s clear commands,
giving direction for our discipleship?
But it starts with faith that he is the one
who not only calls us but equips us for discipleship,
who not only commands us to follow
but shows us how, in and by his Word.
And so, concludes Brother Dietrich,
‘when we ask the question
of where we can hear Jesus’ call to discipleship today,
there is no other answer than this:
listen to the word that is preached,
and receive the Sacrament.
In both of these listen to Christ himself.
Then you will hear his call!’
|He, Qi. Calling Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46099 [retrieved February 22, 2018]. Original source: heqigallery.com.|
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
From our childhoods,
we Americans are taught that liberty is our greatest possession.
We have it as a gift from God.
Men and women have died for our liberty.
Patrick Henry is said to have proclaimed,
‘Give me liberty or give me death!’
Patrick Henry did get his liberty from Britain,
but died believing that he was not free.
He was vehemently against the United States Constitution of 1787
because he believed it infringed too much upon liberty.
It’s also a great American tradition to argue about what liberty means
and be convinced that the system we live under now is not real liberty.
As we have heard the past few weeks,
the Corinthians were also very interested in liberty.
Not political liberty, but spiritual liberty.
Our section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today
Paul admonishes them about behavior regarding food.
This section of Paul’s letter makes little sense to us today,
but with a good study Bible we can begin to understand.
Very simply, the problem was this.
Many of the Corinthians would be invited by their pagan friends
to a convivial meal,
at which some food was offered in sacrifice to a pagan god
and the rest of it used for supper.
The Corinthian Christians knew that the idols were not real,
and so they reasoned that they were free to go to these meals
because they knew they were not really sacrificing to any god.
If they believed the gods had power,
then it would be wrong.
But since the gods weren’t real,
they could keep this knowledge to themselves
and in the meantime stay in good with their pagan friends.
Their knowledge of the truth
made them free to do what they wanted.
It seemed to make sense,
but Paul had a different view.
Paul wanted to make the point
that they were indeed free,
but they were to use their freedom in love,
specifically, love for their Christian brothers and sisters
who had until recently believed in the pagan gods.
Paul was concerned that if these people,
just coming into the church,
would see the already established believers
participating in these rituals,
it would perhaps bring them back into the world of sacrifice to idols.
Perhaps they would then believe that the God of Jesus was one among many,
instead of the only God.
While Paul grants the Corinthians their liberty,
he urges them to temper their liberty with love.
Indeed, love should guide liberty.
Liberty, freedom, is only good in Paul’s view
insofar as it can be used for God.
The great gift of freedom in Christ
is that Paul could freely give up his advantages
for the sake of God and others.
This is a very different view than many people have.
For them, liberty and freedom
means primarily self-assertion against others.
When I read books about the great wars of the twentieth century,
I am more and more grateful
for the political liberty we enjoy,
including the relative freedom from government.
However, I am also mindful that being free in a political sense
can be injurious to my spiritual health,
if I forget that true freedom is found in submission,
not submission to the power of others,
but submission to God’s power.
Paul would say that we are not truly free
until we are obedient to God,
acting out of love for our neighbors,
and Martin Luther would say the same thing.
He stated this paradox:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none;
a Christian is a perfectly dutiful slave of all, subject to all.
A truly free person in Christ
is able to freely renounce advantage and self-assertion
in order to do God’s will in whatever situation.
And yet it is not in our power to make ourselves free.
We say that whenever we make our confession.
We say, ‘we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.’
It is the unclean spirit of self-assertion and self-preservation
which keeps us in bondage,
the unclean spirit who would dominate our wills
and keep us curved in upon ourselves.
We need liberation from the outside,
and this is what we see in our Gospel lesson.
We see Jesus beginning his work of liberation among the people.
It is a work of authority and power.
He comes into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day
like a whirlwind,
like a superhero,
teaching what is right and true,
and with a word silencing the unclean spirit.
He frees the afflicted one to stand before him,
to be able to praise God,
which he could not do when the unclean spirit possessed him.
Instead of being possessed by the spirit,
he is possessed by Jesus.
And this possession makes him truly free.
Our political freedom gives us certain rights against others,
but our spiritual freedom in Christ gives us the right to be with Christ.
Can we assert our freedom from others
and at the same time be free in Jesus Christ?
Paul says no.
In fact, when we use our freedom against others,
we sin against Christ,
for Christ died for others.
All of us will be able to easily identify
how others offend against this principle,
how others misuse their freedom.
However, we do not hear today’s lessons
primarily to use them against others.
We must hear it upon ourselves
before we can identify it in others.
Jesus says in another place,
‘Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye
and not see the log in your own eye?’
Perhaps it was this very teaching with which Jesus
held the congregation in that synagogue spellbound,
that very spellbinding which liberated.
This teaching is a teaching of authority and power.
It exorcises the unclean spirit of judgment and contempt
which would dominate our hearts.
It is in hearing the word of Jesus that we know true liberty.
And this liberty can never be taken away,
for there is no condition in which we can exist
that we cannot freely serve the other.
It is this liberty that Christ gives us,
for the same Christ who died for others
also died for us,
that we might be free indeed.