XV Pentecost

September 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

When I was a seminarian at Nashotah House, we ate our meals in the Refectory.  The menu was set by the kitchen staff.  There were choices, but they were given to us by the kitchen.  The Dean at the time required that the choices on Fridays would not have any meat – observing the old Catholic discipline of no meat on Fridays.

After I graduated from seminary, I continued to keep this discipline, as best I can.  So for many years, with the exception of Eastertide and Christmastide, I do not eat meat on Fridays.

Many of the world’s religions have the abstaining from particular foods as a part of their spiritual discipline.  As we know, Jews and Muslims do not eat pork.  Mormons do not drink alcohol or consume any caffeine. 

Last week, I spoke a bit about the Church’s discipline and why it was that it exists -- for reconciliation.  But within the Church, and as I have given examples from other religions, there are person disciplines which individuals adopt.  I want to speak a bit about why it is that people adopt these disciplines.

I have been thinking about this idea of disciplines because of the reading from     St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In it St. Paul is addressing a problem which was occurring within the Christian Community in Rome – a problem that had to do with the observance of discipline.  St. Paul writes:

“As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.  One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables.  Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.   One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

Within the Christian Community, within the Church, one of the first disagreements which arose was whether or not a Gentile needed to first become a Jew before they could become a Christian.  There was much debate about that, but ultimately it was decided that a Gentile did not need to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian.

This meant that within the Church there were some who had been Jews, and who continued to follow dietary disciplines, and some who were Gentiles who did not.  Of course, I am sure that there were former Jews who were glad to eat whatever they wanted.

Whatever the case, St. Paul is addressing a matter of discipline.  He does not say that people should not observe discipline, but that it is a choice that is made, and that one person cannot judge another because they do not follow the same discipline.  St. Paul writes:

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;   for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

He also reminds us:  “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.   If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.   For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

Ultimately, the question of discipline for individuals is whether or not the disciple draws us closer to God in Christ.  I choose to not eat meat on Fridays.  This does not mean that I eat bread and water.  But in choosing this little discipline, it is a reminder each Friday that I am giving up something small to remember that Jesus gave up His life for me. 

Just as I said that the Church’s discipline is for reconciliation, our discipline is about our relationship with God in Christ.  For the Christian – everything comes back to Jesus.  I observe lots of little disciplines. 

But I do not observe them so that I can sit in judgment on those who do not.  That would ultimately lead to the antithesis of what disciplines are supposed to do.  If I observe a discipline so that I can sit and judge others, that would drive me farther away from Christ rather than drawing me closer to Him.

I am in mind of the story told by Jesus: 

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.   The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.   I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'   But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'   I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

What disciplines do we adopt for our lives?  And why?  AMEN.