Brothers and Sisters
As I write this letter, I am preparing for our November 14, 2020 GLG (General Leaders Gathering) where the Senior Leadership Teams of all of our Branches come together (via zoom this year) to approve the final version of our new City of the Lord Governing Statutes (Constitution). While this may not sound like very interesting or exciting news, it is a milestone in our journey of refounding that our Community began several years ago. I also received a very nice letter from Bishop Olmsted yesterday approving our Statutes and encouraging us in our mission as a Community. He remarked that our new Statutes “are well done, with greater emphasis and clarity on the City of the Lord’s core mission and identity..”
This weekend is also a Gathering weekend with our GCG this Sunday at 3PM. With the spike in Corona Virus cases in Arizona and the fact that we are entering cold and flu season, the Senior Leadership Team strongly requests that the wearing of masks and 6’ spatial distancing be observed at GCGs for the near future. Although I realize this will not be a very popular policy to many in our community, we believe it is the right approach at this time, so that we can have more of our members feel comfortable attending in person. Again, if you feel unsure about your health condition or you have been exposed to Coronavirus recently, please participate remotely in the Gathering via live-stream at home.
The idea of wearing a mask in public is rapidly becoming symbolic of more than a measure to help control the spread of disease. Many view it as “submitting” to the will of an unjust governmental system that wants to control it’s citizens. Compliance seems to be the goal of wearing masks not the real efficacy against the spread of disease. It doesn’t help that the science on this is not conclusive.
I have my own opinions about the efficacy of wearing masks, but what I realized as I prayed about this issue, is that we are in a moment similar to the early church where there was a dispute about eating meat sacrificed to idols. This may seem like a stretch but stay with me! In 1 Cor:8, Paul reminds us he is not defiled by eating this meat because the idol means nothing, but in eating this meat, a person of weaker faith may be harmed by his disregard of appearances.
1 Corinthians 8:1:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." "Knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth -- as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords" -- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol's temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.”
We all have the “right” in our country of free expression guaranteed by the first amendment (at least for now!) But do our “right’s relieve us of the obligation to show deference and love to others that have reached different conclusions about things such as wearing masks? This really goes to a deeper root of the issue. Christians are inherently “counter cultural” as witnessed by the life of Jesus. We are actually at our strongest when the culture around us is the most against us. But do we want masks to become an “idol” so to speak that we rally around to show the world we do not conform to it? Or do we want a lifestyle of love, service sacrifice to be the counter-cultural witness that identifies us? It’s something to consider seriously.
On a lighter note, Pam and I were blessed to attend the ordination of Dave Knebelsberger (now Deacon Dave!) last week. One thing that stood out to me was the thematic scripture for the mass: Matt 20:
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Brothers and sisters, as I reflect on this scripture it convicts me to my core. It is all too easy to revert to the strategies and approaches of “ the Gentiles” as Jesus puts it, and in our day and age “the World”. Although we need to exercise our lawful civic duties in advocating for just changes in our society, we can’t let the nightly news and anxiety of the world and the current political unrest dictate our attitudes and approaches to life. We are called to be servants to one another, and as leaders we are called to be the “slaves” of those we lead. It doesn’t seem very appealing, but martyrdom seldom is.
I want to conclude with this scripture that says it all. May God give City of the Lord the grace to live it:
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I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.