I’ve Got a Friend Who…

Monday, October 3, 2011 — Week of Proper 22, Year One

George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958

John Raleigh Mott, Evangelist and Ecumenical Pioneer, 1955

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 986)

Psalms 106:1-18 (morning) // 106:19-48 (evening)

2 Kings 21:1-18

1 Corinthians 10:14 – 11:1

Matthew 8:28-34

Paul instructs his congregations that they are free from laws and superstitions. They can live in the spirit, responding to the moment as Christ leads them. Throw out the scruples and legalisms. Simply be who you are — you are Christ’s.

Nice advice, but then comes the real-life application.

One of Paul’s disciples in the congregation in Corinth seeks Paul’s direction: I’ve got a neighbor who believes that the sun god Apollo oversees our town. He goes to the city convocations when the community thanks Apollo for defending and protecting us. It is a great festival, with abundant food and wine. He brings home some of the food, the meat from the slaughtered bulls that have been sacrificed to Apollo. He gets some of the best cuts. Delicious stuff. He’s invited me to dinner at his house tonight.

I know there is no such thing as Apollo or any other god, except the God of Jesus Christ. So if the meat has been sacrificed to Apollo, that is meaningless to me. All of the butchers in the public marketplace offer prayers to Apollo each morning as they put out their wares. I eat it without scruple because I know there is no such thing as Apollo. Doesn’t bother me. But my friend really believes that Apollo protects us. He takes this stuff seriously. I’m going over to his house tonight. Any advice?

Paul confirms his freedom. You are right. There’s no such thing as Apollo; you are free to enjoy the meat sacrificed to meaningless idols. But, your freedom stops where your neighbor’s conscience begins. If your neighbor believes in Apollo, and he knows you are a Christian — he might be troubled should you eat meat sacrificed to Apollo. He might think you that believe in Apollo too, and so it would confirm his superstition. He might worry that your conscience would be violated if you ate the meat of the sacrifice.

So feel free to eat the marketplace meat at home. It is meaningless that it has been offered to an idol. But when you are with those who believe in idols, and they tell you that this is the meat of Apollo, for their sake and the sake of their scruples, politely decline. You are free, but your freedom should not violate the conscience of another, even one who is so weak that they still believe in idols.

It was a serious discussion in Corinth. And Paul’s advice is also food for our thought today.

I follow his advice whenever I’m asked to pray in public. If I am at a church function among fellow believers, I pray in the name of Jesus. But if I am in public, where there are those who may have many other faith practices, I limit my freedom out of respect for their consciences, and I pray “in the name of all that is Holy,” or with some other more inclusive invocation.

I won’t ask for a glass of wine at a Baptist’s home, unless they offer first. I don’t serve pork to Jews or Muslims. I try not to talk politics at the Thanksgiving table. I turn the football game off at dinner, unless I am given explicit permission. If I smoke a cigar, I do it outside. I don’t repeat racist or sexist jokes, even if they are funny.

Paul encourages us to limit our freedoms out of respect for other’s scruples, conscience, or even their superstitions. It is a generous practice.

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