Monday, March 03, 2008

Freedom to Serve

Monday, March 3, 2008 -- Week of 4 Lent
(John & Charles Wesley, Priests, 1791, 1788)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 955)
Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) 89:19-52 (evening)
Genesis 49:1-28
1 Corinthians 10:14 - 11:1
Mark 7:24-37

"Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other..."

Paul is the apostle of freedom. Fundamental to his teaching is the conviction that we are not constrained by laws or traditions for our relationship with God. We do not have to perform up to some standard of ethics or piety to be acceptable to God, for "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God chooses to love us as we are; it is God's gift to us through Christ. All that is necessary is that we accept God's gift of acceptance, and we are justified -- we are in a right relationship with God. This is the gift of liberation.

Yet Paul insists we are freed for service. Since we are secure, loved and empowered, we need nothing. Therefore we are free to look to the needs and concerns of others. Not because that gains us credit with God, but because serving others is the most natural expression of our praise and thanksgiving for all God has given us. Serving others is our joy -- a spontaneous response of gratitude for the love that is ours.

So he stays away from legalities in this extended argument about food sacrificed to idols. On the one hand, he tells the Corinthians to "flee from the worship of idols." Our sacrificial meal of the Eucharist makes us one with God and unites us to the Christian congregation, for "we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." It makes no sense then to participate in the worship and ritual meal with idols, for we do not partner with those gods, whom he calls demons. Those gods mean nothing.

So he doesn't give a thought to eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. It is meaningless. If you are eating with unbelievers, he tells his congregation, eat and enjoy. Don't get scrupulous and start grilling them about their meat -- "Is this meat part of the sacrifices? I don't eat that stuff." But if someone else might be bothered by the sacrificial meat. If it might offend their conscience and possibly cause them to stumble in some way, out of service to and respect for them, you might refrain from eating meat at that table that day. Do what is most generous for the others, and give them no offense, Paul says.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."

These are important issues for Paul as a Jew living among Jews and Gentiles, and as the leader of a congregation that includes both Jews and Gentiles. The feast of Christ transcends the differences, and the differences are profound. The traditions of Jewish purity laws are ancient, Biblical and complicated. Paul believes he and other Jews have been liberated from these traditions and laws. He doesn't want the new Christian community to create similar scruples regarding the food sacrificed to Apollo in the Corinthian Temple which is then sold in the Corinthian market. Paul wants those boundaries erased, but he is careful not to cause offense, if possible, while erasing boundaries.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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