Do you ever wonder how to know what is the right thing to do? What should I do to help this situation? Looking at this sticky mess---what is the right thing? Confession time: I often feel this way right now because there is so much in upheaval: the climate crisis, the economy, the pandemic, our great political divide and politicians who refuse to work together, poverty, racism, insurrection, violence....unfortunately the list goes on...And then we have those more personal upheavals: broken relationships, trauma and tragedy we know personally, illness, loss, grief, isolation.....
How can we know what to do or how to move forward or what the right thing is for each struggle, each upheaval, each weary battle?
Now, Beloved, I know this reading from 1 Corinthians might seem really strange and distant to us, Paul talking about whether it’s right or wrong to eat meat that had been offered to idols and other gods; we might think this really has nothing to do with our lives today. But, Beloved, Paul is simply trying to help out folks in this new church of Corinth when there’s a conflicting issue in their society, in their community—trying to help them determine what is the right thing to do. Like us, Paul is helping the Corinthians to answer the question: How do we live as followers of a new way in the midst of followers of the old way? So, let’s set aside the particular (whether to eat meat or not) and get at the Gospel Truth Paul is offering.
Paul says: You might know a lot about this situation, but knowing alone isn’t enough to determine what is the right, the just, the good thing to do. Paul says the right and good (or we might say: what is meet and right so to do) is found when we look through the lens of Jesus and ask: What will help my neighbor? What will hurt my neighbor? Knowing what is right comes from considering what will be the ramifications of our choices on others. Not how will it work out for me, primarily, but how will it affect my neighbor and the world in which I live?
And Beloved, Paul isn’t just talking about your besties, the fun neighbors you like to hang out with, Paul is talking about the neighbor you don’t understand or who has a different world view or with whom you vehemently disagree. So, maybe, Beloved, this strange reading about eating meat has a lot more to do with us and our reality than we would think.
And here’s the thing, this putting each decision in the context of neighbor requires a great reversal---a metanoia—turning from an inward, self-centered stance to an outward, other-centered posture. And this metanoia requires a letting go of my view and living into a wider view, a Creation view---God’s view.
And here’s where the Gospel Good News comes into the mix. In Today’s Gospel, we are the man with the unclean spirit, the demon-possessed one. Because the truth is, each one of us has our own demons; those sharp edges and ragged corners within us that allow us to believe some folks are less worthy or unworthy. Not worthy of our time, our compassion, our patience or our listening hearts. That some folks don’t know better or do better so their lack of what’s needed to thrive is on them. Those jagged bits of us that knows there is inequity in our society, but it doesn’t affect us personally so we’re willing to let it slide. The bits that let us sit in our comfort while others know no comfort. Those judging, condemning morsels within us that relish in pointing out how others are so very wrong (thank God we are in the right!), and making sure they know we know how very wrong they are.
Beloved, we have demons that keep us separated from friends, families, neighbors, community members; demons of self-righteous anger, pride, lack of humility, unwillingness to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced, and of course, let’s not forget delicious gossip. Yep, we’re that guy---the demon-possessed one. But, Beloved, let us not wallow in regret, shame or guilt. That won’t get us anywhere. That, Beloved, that is a waste-land.
Today’s good news is that Jesus, this Holy One, has authority over these demons. God has sent a prophet among us who can show us how to be truly human, how to be authentically human, our best selves: people who can live into the dream of the Beloved Community.
And our first step toward the Beloved Community is to name our demons, expose our demons to the light and love of this Holy One, this One who saves and restores. This revolution we long for, Beloved, this new world we desire that can transform community, nation, and Creation---this revolution begins small, not big, it begins within us. Begins in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies. If we truly desire to live into the wholeness and abundance of God’s promises, into this dream of Beloved Community, then we need to be willing to be vulnerable with God: the God who is Spirit and the God who comes to us in the form of our neighbor. God with skin on. This God who longs to know us and to be known.
This year we are calling one another, as the Beloved Community, to take intentional steps into this vulnerability with God through prayer. We are calling on each other to commit to a year of intentional and formational prayer that can strengthen our bonds to one another, to our neighbor and to God. You will hear more about that next Sunday.
Beloved, God is calling us to Galilee---where the Christ heals and restores---heals and restores us, our neighbors, our relationships, our communities, our nation, and this world. Healing and restoration that require our participation, our engagement, our commitment. Come, Beloved. Come and see. Come and follow. Yes, it is hard to walk a new way amidst those who still cling to what has been, but the Holy One is with us. Leading. Walking alongside. Lightening the path and shadowing our footsteps. So, come. Let us walk each other into wholeness; let us walk each other home. Home to Galilee.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.