Have you ever had a discussion or even a disagreement with someone? You know what you’re talking about; the facts are on your side and you lay them all out and the other person even agrees that you’re right in the end. But as you walk away, you feel like you’ve lost?
On the other hand, have you ever shared what you know with someone? You explain how something works or how to do something and their eyes light upm and they see something knew; their world opens up in msome way. And you both walk away with lightness, a spring in your step.
“Love builds up,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. If it’s tearing down, it isn’t love, I would add. Knowledge, being right can be used to build up, but it can also be used to tear down. When knowledge is used to puff up, to make oneself seem superior, it tears down. When knowledge and understanding and wisdom are shared, though, making life better for the other person, then it builds up.
Likewise, lack of knowledge, or intentionally using inaccuracies, falsehoods, or misleading information tears down. Whether for the purpose of tearing down or to serve one’s own goals, or in the belief that it will make someone “feel better,” either way, it tears down.
One can’t build anything worthwhile on an unsound foundation; a foundation of ignorance or falsehood.
In short, Love builds up, but it needs a foundation of Truth.
It's the difference between Stumbling Blocks, as Paul puts it, and Love Steps, as I would call them. Love steps are kind of like the ramps or steps that people put up so their old or sick pets can get to their favorite napping spot. Or the steps in front of the bathroom sink so the children can reach it to wash their hands. Stumbling blocks hurt, they get in the way. Love steps help us along the way.
In our baptismal rite, we promise “to do everything in our power to uphold these persons in their life in Christ.” That’s the kind of love that Paul is writing about. Love that builds them up, supports them in following Christ. A Love through which we place limits on our own behavior, if needed, so that we do not become a stumbling block for others. So that we do not tear down or otherwise endanger our family in Christ.
Rather, we promise to be Love Steps – helping and supporting each other as we grow in Christ, as we learn to know and follow Christ.
Later this morning, we will hold the Annual Meeting of the Parish. It’s a turning point of sorts. It’s a time for looking back, taking stock, and a time for looking to the future, what’s next? Who are we now? Who are we becoming? What is God calling us to? Whom is God calling to serve with us?
It's a time for remembering all we’ve been through this past year, what we’ve accomplished and what we decided to let go of. A time to prepare for what’s next; soon we’ll form a Profile Committee, for example.
It’s also a good time to begin a period of self-examination and repentance as a parish. For what do we need to repent? In what ways have we been Stumbling Blocks? We can’t really relate to the idea of eating food offered to idols, but what about the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in the church? Or our image as being judgmental and shaming?
What does that repentance look like? Repentance means turning away from anything that draws us away from God in order to turn towards God. It can also mean seeing the world through a different lens; to see the world as God sees it. Repentance might look likem becoming Love Steps instead of Stumbling Blocks.
I’m thinking about Jesus in the synagogue in today’s gospel. It’s the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He enters the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and immediately he encounters an unclean spirit. This is where you go to learn about and be close to God. It’s not where you expect a to find a demon, an unclean spirit. This sets the stage for the rest of his life, really. He is battling the spiritual forces of evil in the world, proclaiming the kingdom of God is at hand.
Jesus casts out the demon and for that man, the whole world suddenly changed. For everyone who witnessed it, the way they see the world is forever changed; they see new possibilities in the world.
As we begin this new step in the life of the parish, how might we continue Christ’s life-changing, world changing work in the world? To tear down Stumbling Blocks and instead, build Love Steps.