Warm-up Question: Share a rule you have to follow at school, home, sports team, or perhaps even at church that you feel is not fair. Why do you obey?
An Ohio man acting as the drum major for a band in the presidential inaugural parade nodded and gestured to President Barack Obama and was suspended from the band for his actions. The leaders of the Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums stressed to the whole band that they were participating as a military procession and all decorum would be required. The band leaders stressed not to look at or gesture to the president. During the parade, the drum major made eye contact with the president who smiled then waved at the major, and the drum major gave a wave in return.
As a result of the suspension, the drum major has resigned his place in the band saying that the glow of being in the parade has worn off and that he no longer wished to be in the band. The band has received criticism for their decision but has not wavered despite critical e-mails and phone calls.
- Share whether you think the decision to suspend the drum major was fair. What can you say about both sides of the argument.
- If this was you and you knew you were not supposed to look at the president, but he was walking right by the platform, what do you think you would do?
- Why do you think the rule was there to begin with? What reasons might you give to hold to this rule rigorously?
- When do you think it is OK to break a rule?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 1, 2009.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In the text in 1 Corinthians, the question is whether it is OK to eat food set aside for idols. What would happen is that an animal would be sacrificed to an idol. The animal would then be butchered for meat and sold. According to Jewish law, this food would not be kosher and therefore would not be food that a Jewish person could eat. But what happens when the rules change? What happens when following the law no longer defines you but something else all together? What happens when Jesus comes and changes everything?
Paul explains that the food has no intrinsic value, and is neither good nor bad — it is just food. They are free to eat whatever they wish and no law defines them. So you would think Paul is saying, “Go ahead and eat!” But this isn’t the case. He realizes that others who are hearing the good news and are Jewish may be put off by the apparent disobeying of a law by Christians that others may think of as very important. Just because they are free from this rule and it has no place in the new covenant in Jesus, he asks the church to follow the rule so that it does not become a stumbling block to others. In other words, the rule is silly and they don’t need to follow it, but they gotta so people won’t freak out and not listen to them anymore. It may seem silly that the drum major can’t make eye contact with the President of the United States, but for the whole group this was the rule and it needed to be followed by all.
As Christians, we know a freedom of living. We are free from the old rules and laws and trying to achieve perfection so that God will love us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the divide between humanity and the Lord is torn down and we are fully loved. This means we are free. Luther would say we are “Lord of all, slave to none.”
But this same freedom is not something that we take lightly. It comes with a message and way of living that reflects what it means to be free. Yes, God will love us even when we make mistakes. God will love us even if we make poor choices. These actions will not change God. We are free from any laws or rules that are meant to move or force us into relationship with God. But, if we ignore all the rules, we may forget that the world is watching us and we are communicating something important by our actions, words, and lives. They are looking for God and we need to reflect the goodness of God. Even though we are free from the law, we are still called to obey the law for the sake of the world.
Here’s another way to look at it: Imagine your parents or guardians have promised you a new car and purchased it for you. They have said that no matter what, they will always buy you a car and will take care of it, no matter what. Does this mean you drive it recklessly? Would you purposely drive your car into a tree just because you know your parents will buy you a new one? Do you take a milkshake and pour it on the floor just because your parents will fix it and clean it? No, you still follow some rules. You care for your life and do what you can to show your parents that you are thankful for their gift. You take care of the car as your way of saying “Thanks for the car!” How you drive is an expression of how you feel about your parents. And in all of this, others are watching too. They will know how you feel about them by how you drive!
How much more should you take care of your life? How you live expresses how you feel about God and your thankfulness for what God has done. Yes, the rules will not change how much God loves you, but we follow them as our way of saying thank you and as a way of showing our love and respect for God.
- What rules does your church have about the building or grounds? (e.g., no drinks in the sanctuary, no running around the altar, pick up after yourself, etc.) What are the reasons for some of these rules?
- What are some rules you have for yourself? (e.g., be kind to friends, listen when one is talking, return things I borrow, etc.) What are the reasons for these rules?
- What are some rules you think God may have for you? (e.g., praying daily, caring for our bodies by not turning them over to worldly things, worshiping, etc.) What are the reasons for these rules? Why would God want these things from us, even if they don’t change God?
Throwing it Away
Bring a bag of candies or a snack to church with you; something in wrappers like Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Cups, or snack chips. Before the class, set up with one student that when you give out the candies and promise them another if they ask, he or she will find ridiculous things to do with the candies like throw them away without unwrapping them, tossing them behind bookcases, stepping on them, or any other creative way to “waste” the snack. Before class, give each student some candy and promise them another piece if they ask. During the class and discussion, the student should be asking for more of the candy or snack and then obviously doing silly things with it. Be careful this does not go overboard to the point of distracting from the rest of class or causing chaos. Let it happen, then both student and leader should move on to the discussion.
- Discuss with the class how it felt to see the student waste the free gift of candy. Did it seem right? How should he have behaved?
- Since he or she received a free piece of candy no matter what, why would it matter what they did with the other pieces?
- What opinion do the other students conclude about the student wasting things?
- What does his or her behavior say about the person and how they feel about the teacher?
- Compare this to life and the decisions we make. If we are forgiven anyway, why do we need to respect, follow the rules, and live a life worthy and pleasing? What does our behavior say about how we feel about God?
God, there is nothing we could do to make you love us any more and there is nothing we could do to make you love us any less. With such a gift, how can we not praise and thank you! Give us courage to live lives pleasing to you, not to make you love us but because you already do. Help us to live everyday as a thank you for your gift of life. Amen.
Contributed by Jay Gamelin, pastor of Jacob’s Porch, the Lutheran Campus Mission to The Ohio State University, OH