January 31, 2021

Message for January 31, 2021- “Stumbling Blocks”

(From Scripture 1Corinthians 8: 1-13)

“[Paul] But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1Corinthians 8: 9.

     A few weeks ago, Peter and I decide to order take-out burgers from Applebee’s Restaurant.  I pulled into a “Curbside Parking Lot” space, where my food would be delivered to me, and then got out of the car to go inside to place my order. It was dark, and the cement parking space barricades were black with only a small line of yellow painted on the top.  My open car door blocked my view of the barricade in front of me, and I tripped right over it as I exited the car.  I tried to catch myself, but I wound up falling face-down onto the cold, dark sidewalk.  I had encountered a road block that, for me, became a very real and literal stumbling block.

     Stumbling blocks come in many sizes, shapes, and varieties; and they can have many different sources.  They can be literal and physical, like the one I encountered at Applebee’s, or spiritual and metaphorical, as we will now see.  Paul, in the portion of his letter to the Corinthians we read today, warned this church about the danger of their becoming a stumbling block to others.  As we have discussed, the Corinthian church was composed of some of the city’s more wealthy, cosmopolitan and educated citizens.  They were able to grasp quite fully Paul’s teaching of the truth that the Lord God Almighty was everything, and that idols were nothing.  Therefore, there was nothing sacred or special about food that had been sacrificed to idol gods. But, with this knowledge, and in practicing this liberty in eating, some members of the Corinthian Church were causing others who were weaker in their faith to adopt this practice against their conscience.  Although all were actually able to eat such food, some people still believed it to be sinful activity.   Paul warned the Corinthian Church that their liberty in eating was causing some weaker folks to believe that they were engaging in sin.  Thus, their own behavior had created a stumbling block to the faith journey of others. That behavior, Paul informed his Church, was a sin.  Knowledge, Paul told the Corinthian Church, puffs people up, while love builds them up.  He admonished the Church to avoid allowing their knowledge to become a stumbling block to others by practicing love instead. 

     As we discuss stumbling blocks this morning, I would like to us return to the story of Jonah we began exploring last week.  You see, the story I shared last week was only part of the story of Jonah.  So, let’s pick up where we last left off, with Jonah finally agreeing to follow God’s call upon him and go to the city of Nineveh.  Jonah went to Nineveh, and he walked through the city proclaiming, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  The king of Nineveh, and all the people with their animals heard Jonah’s words, and they immediately fasted in sackcloth and sat in ashes as a sign of their repentance for sin.  “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind,” they said. God saw their humble and sincere behavior, and God relented and did not destroy the city and people of Nineveh.

     God’s forgiving way angered Jonah.  He cried out, “O Lord, is this not what I said while I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  But God replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”  So Jonah went out of the city, made a booth for himself, and sat in the shade, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.  God provided Jonah with a large bush to cover his head with shade, and this pleased Jonah.  The next morning, the scriptures share with us that God appointed a worm to destroy the bush, and it withered away.   As the sun beat down upon him, Jonah cried out to God, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

     God replied to Jonah, questioning him regarding the fact that he became so upset about the destruction and loss of a mere bush; yet, he had no concern for the fate of the people of Nineveh.  You see, Church, ultimately we must confess that God is God, and it is God who knows what is right and good for all of God’s people.  Jonah had allowed his own pride and self-centered attitude of importance to guide his thoughts and actions toward others.  These became a stumbling block to Jonah’s being able to see the need of the people of Nineveh, to care, and to respond to them in love.  Prideful knowledge and action, like that which Paul encountered with the Corinthian Church in our lesson today, and selfish self-importance and its accompanying perception, like that of Jonah, are spiritual stumbling blocks to both the faith journey of God’s people and, often, to ourselves.  As Paul reminded the Corinthian Church in Chapter 13 of his letter, so let us all be reminded today; “As for knowledge, it will come to an end. And now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these [the greatest of these,] is love.”  Amen and let it be so.

“The Gift of Love”

(words- Hal Hopson; music-Traditional English melody adapted by Hal Hopson)

Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire,  and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.