“The Stumbling Block of Justice”

The black and white image of an open book with pages on either side turned into middle to reveal a heart shape. The words "Love above Knowledge - 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13" are written below the book.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem January 31, 2021

All of us possess knowledge. We know things. We know the reasons behind the conflicts last year. We know the reasons for the issues from the capitol conflict to the racial justice protests. We know their truth that feeds the movements…but, what is the Truth?

What is the Truth of God? What is the Truth of God and are we living that Truth? This question is where we must begin as disciples of Christ: What is the Truth, are we living that Truth, or are we doing the opposite by eating an idol’s food? Thereby, creating stumbling blocks for others to find their way to the Truth? These questions filled my heart this week as I continued to pray for all people. 

Would you join me in this prayer:

Holy God of Healing make us whole once more with Your Holy Loving Truth for all people. Heal us with Your Love, God, for Your people are broken and we need Your Love to replace what we think we know with that which is Your Truth called Love. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You.

Now in the UCC we do not usually speak about “the Truth” as we encourage each person to discern how they witness God in their lives. The problem with this practice is that we have, at times, been seen as wishy-washy, vacillating in our beliefs, not standing for anything. Many of us use phrases like my truth and your truth to demonstrate the variety of ways God is revealed through human beings. That said, there is the Truth – the Truth of God which was – is now – and will be forever – Love. God created all people as equals through this Love. That is the Truth – pure and simple. No one is greater or lesser than anyone else as we are all equally created in forgiveness, in brokenness, and in Love. 

This Truth, beloved, is why we, in this community, have sought out many ways to bring awareness to the issue of racial inequality over the month of January, why we are seeking awareness of this issue through studying a book on Anti Racism, why our confirmands are now seeking racial inequality awareness as part of their confirmation classes. We have witnessed this Truth of Love for all and are choosing to live that Truth as disciples who reveal God’s Love by loving one another. 

That said, there is a problem with the Truth that is revealed when humans get involved. When we think we know the Truth and we are really only speaking about our truth. We, as a community, have grown in awareness about racial inequality; but are we living in the Truth of Love for all people or are we simply shifting our Love to another group of people? Beloved, this question leads us to one of the great stumbling blocks in social justice. Basically, when we realize God’s Love is for everyone and we wish to stand up for that Love; we will come to the quandary of how do we Love all people even those who are the enemies of our truth – our idea of justice – our ideologies?

When we know their ideas are so hateful – how do we love them? When we know our truths are right – and their idea is wrong – how do we live in the Truth? When we know that the best way to move forward is by oppressing the other voice – how do we walk with God? This problem, beloved, is a stumbling block of social justice which happens whenever we forget to love God first – in all things.

We see this problem in the apostle’s First Letter to the Corinthians when Paul reminds the Church of Corinth about love. For you see, the Corinthians have a moral struggle happening within their community. A moral struggle as to what to do about those people – those people who do not believe as they do – those people who follow false idols. The other in this narrative are the pagan’s in the town of Corinth who have a set of sacrificial rites which directly oppose the early church’s belief of their truth according to the theologian Victor Furnish. Namely, the Corinthian truth is that with Christ we no longer need to sacrifice our livestock to God and are risking our immortal souls by engaging this practice with the pagan’s false idols. 

Now this may not seem to be on par with racial justice – economic justice – or any other justice in our world today; but that is because these justice issues are the ones affecting us today. In the time of Paul when the world was about to end and we had to be ready for the Parousia – the end times – the coming of Christ, this issue was just as important. This issue and the understanding of their truth was not only important, it was an existential crisis, a concern for their very existence. For, if the people of Corinth did not follow their truth – they believed they would be destroyed forever by God. Much like people today seem to believe that if their truth is not followed – the environment will be destroyed – democracy will be destroyed – all black people will be destroyed – free speech will be destroyed – their very ideology will be destroyed. 

To this idea Paul writes “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” To know – or rather think we know – Paul says is wrong, we do not yet have the knowledge. We do not really know the reasons for the issues from the capitol conflict to the racial justice protests. We do not know what truths people are feeding upon – we do not know what is within their hearts; but Paul says anyone who loves God is known by him. Known by her – known by God. This is not a simple phase. When we are known by God, we are called by him to be disciples following the way to the Truth – The Good News – The Love of God.

Paul even goes on to provide an example of how to reveal this Love when we are called – when we are called to engage with people who are our enemies – and who threaten our very existence; and this beloved is the Good News of our scripture this week. For, Paul says, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” In other words, the truths of the pagan and the Corinthians are not the Truth – neither makes us better or worse. However, if we eat that food, that truth, the divisions which continue to “other” people as enemies, even if we do not believe they are our enemies – will make “a stumbling block to the weak.” We will be revealing not an example of the Truth of God’s Love for all people but our truth that our way is right, and their way is wrong. To this Paul stands for God and says, “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”

As you may have guessed, I am using this food today as a metaphor in Justice issues – the food that feeds the movements and divisions is not the Truth of God’s Love for all people but it is our truths – our many varied truths, perspectives, and opinions. The food is heaped out in our silos and feasted upon by the many. But, to eat of that food and recite those same mantras from our silos is causing people to fall – is causing division – is causing people to move away from the Truth that God Loves all people and we are all equal under the divine. To share what I mean in the realm of racial justice it was only a few months ago when a woman went into a Walmart to buy a cake for her father retiring from the police department. She asked for a Thin Blue line cake which honors the people who serve our communities; yet the bakers refused her request by saying that the Thin Blue Line symbol is racist. Beloved, I must ask: is that love? Or did these bakers hear only their truth and ate only of the food of the racial justice movement? How can dishonoring someone they never met further racial justice or be loving to anyone?

More than likely, the weak who heard their truth will either eat of the same food and divide themselves even further from the police or eat of the food that racial justice is hateful to officers and divide themselves further from the people seeking racial equality. So, how does eating of this food help us come to the Truth of God? Let me say, it does not. “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” I will not eat that food that all police are racist – or all African Americans are criminals – All republicans or all democrats are bad – I will not eat food that will divide but instead follow the Good news – the Truth – the Love that God created us all equally; for, love builds us all up and that Truth will guide us as we seek justice.

For, each way to reach justice by way of the Truth will be different. It may be simply scrolling past the comments on Facebook – it may be turning off the News when the rhetoric begins – it may be simply changing the subject of a conversation. It requires us to live into the Truth of God’s Love and be an example of the Truth for all to witness. This Good News, however, does not mean we sit idly by as black people are oppressed for their skin color; but it does mean we do not demonize all police officers as racists because of bad actors. It means whatever we do, we start with the Truth of God’s Love for all people. And witness the whole of the issue – good and bad by all actors honestly to find a way to the Truth of God’s Love for all.

This Way is not easy, though – for, humans are broken, easily drawn into the conflicts, and quick to share the knowledge that we Know – but instead of that path, let us follow the way we are called the way of discerning what we think we know and ask if that is the Truth – if our truth is also Loving to all people – even our enemies – If so then we are following in the Way of Christ. If not, we are probably hitting a stumbling block of Justice and may need to consider another way to find God’s Loving Truth while seeking Justice for all. May your days be full of the Good News – the Truth – the Love of God for all people in all ways. Amen