Compromised

Compromised

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-15,Galatians 2:11-21, Matthew 14:1-12


Is there anyone among us who hasn’t at least once held their tongue or behaved, if not contrary, not quite in alignment with their beliefs to keep the peace? Maybe we didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by responding to inappropriate comments from our racist cousin. Maybe we didn’t want to alienate a boss and agreed to a decision we knew was unethical. Maybe we grabbed a cigarette behind the elementary school with friends. Young or old, in large ways and small, peer pressure impacts all of us throughout our lives.

Though they had little else in common, Peter and Herod both found occasion to sacrifice their principles on the altar of appeasement.

In the years after Christ’s death, church leadership was up for grabs. Peter may have been Jesus’s rock, but many disciples considered James, the brother of Jesus, a more natural successor.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes a confrontation with Peter, who “lived like a Gentile” and was not overly concerned with observing Jewish laws until the arrival of some representatives from James (Paul calls them the “circumcision faction”). Suddenly Peter put up a good Jewish front in an attempt to please James and preserve unity in the fragile young church. Paul did not feel the same need for deference – since it bowed to the exclusion of Gentiles from the faith – and accused Peter of betraying the spirit of Christ’s teaching.

King Herod didn’t make good decisions. Contrary to Jewish custom, he divorced his first wife to marry his sister-in-law. John the Baptist publicly spoke against this arrangement. At a drunken party, Herod foolishly promised his step-daughter anything she wanted. At her mother’s urging she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod didn’t want to kill John and feared the consequences, but he was more afraid of losing face with his guests.

Giving in or going with the flow may feel easier in the moment, but it doesn’t sit well with our consciences later. In some cases it backfires and delivers trouble on a silver platter. Even with the best intentions, we must be careful how we compromise. Turning the other cheek is not an excuse for being two faced.

Comfort: You don’t have to make everyone happy.

Challenge: When you are torn between speaking your mind and keeping the peace, ask yourself what will be sacrificed if you say or do nothing.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me at all times in the balance of being faithful to you and loving toward your children. Amen.

Discussion: Is there a situation where you regret not sticking to your principles because you didn’t want to cause trouble?

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The Balance

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, Ezra 7:(1-10) 11-26, Acts 28:14b-23, Luke 16:1-13


The Parable of the Unjust Steward (or Dishonest Manager) isn’t one that gets trotted out for sermons as frequently as some of Jesus’s better known parables. Maybe this is because it differs structurally from the others, and is less obvious in its intent, though Jesus does follow it with some application.

In short, a wealthy man discovers his steward/manager has been mishandling his estate. The steward gets wind of this, so he goes to several of his master’s clients and gives them discounts on the debts they owe while he still has the power to do so. Effectively, this obligates them to him so he might call on their generosity and support after he’s fired. His master commends the steward’s clever response. Jesus then tells his disciples to also be clever with how they handle their wealth, for while unbelievers are more shrew in worldly financial matters, believers should handle wealth (which ultimately belongs to God) as a tool for serving more eternal purposes. If they can be trusted with little, flawed resources, they can be trusted not to ruin the larger, better ones.

Jesus isn’t recommending or condoning shady business practices, but he is telling us we need to deal with the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be. We don’t influence the world for the better by withdrawing from everyone and everything who don’t meet our litmus test for worthiness. If we can close the gap between where we are and where we’d like them to be by eight, fifty, or even twenty percent, we have accomplished something. In such transactions and relationships we definitely do need to cultivate some shrewdness so we don’t end up being manipulated to move beyond what it acceptable.

This balancing act is on full display in elections, where we have to balance what public policies and values we believe a candidate supports against her or his personal peccadilloes and misdeeds. If a person is on “our” team we’re inclined to excuse many flaws we might use to disparage a person on the “other” team. Each of us must decide where that tipping point is, and we should apply it without hypocrisy.

Of course the factors leading to that decision began long before we got to the voting booth. What have we tolerated or promoted that results in so many choices between less-than-great options? Are we focused on the little things of the short-term – like the steward was before he got caught – or on the larger things of the longer term – like he was when trying to secure his future? Real shrewdness lies in not selling out long term principles for short-term gains.

Whether we are making decisions about politics, health, personal relationships, finances, or most importantly our eternal souls we are doing so in a broken world. Even Christian communities with the best intentions must deal with brokenness – inside and out. Perfect choices are extremely rare, if they exist at all. God has trusted us with stewardship – not possession and not perfection – of the imperfect. Just because we can’t get one hundred percent of what we want doesn’t mean the remainder isn’t worth loving and tending. Let us live as though those accounts are coming due any minute.

Comfort: Everyone falls short of the glory of God, but we are still to love each other.

Challenge: Unless you withdraw entirely from the world, you’re going to have to compromise. Do it with mercy, love, and integrity.

Prayer: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. (Psalm 67:4)

Discussion: When do find it difficult to compromise?

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Compromising Positions

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, 2 Samuel 1:1-16, Acts 15:22-35, Mark 6:1-13


The word “compromise” has multiple meanings. In one sense it refers to the give-and-take between parties negotiating an agreement. For example, if a couple planning a wedding disagrees on whether the event should be held at the beach or in a hall, they may compromise on an outdoor venue which faces the beach but provides shelter from inclement weather.

In another sense, compromise means to weaken or undermine someone’s strength or credibility. If a pharmaceutical researcher fails to disclose his study is funded by the company who wants to take the drug to market, we might say his conclusions about drug safety are compromised.

We may be willing to compromise. We are almost never willing to be compromised.

In the first case, active participants seek accord. In the second, the consequences are one-sided so it may seem like the comprosmised party is a passive participant, but very often they are a victim of their own misdeeds.

As more and more gentiles converted to Christianity, Jewish disciples didn’t agree on whether these believers needed to follow Jewish customs, particularly circumcision. In the end, they officially agreed that the rules for gentile believers were “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Why was circumcision taken off the table? Because Peter reminded the Jewish Christians that they were saved by Christ’s grace since they had failed to bear the yoke of the very law they were trying to impose.

Having compromised themselves, the disciples learned to compromise.

We don’t need to impose our rules on the world around us. Let’s not blame Christ for our compulsion to condemn and shame others we call sinful.  Didn’t Jesus say “judge not lest ye be judged?” Your sins and mine helped pave the road to the cross just as much as anyone else’s … and Jesus died for all of us.

Yet overlooking the broken state of the world does it a disservice. Perhaps the compromise between ignoring sin and condemning people is sharing with them the good news that Christ loves us all.


Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s passage from Mark, see A Burden Shared, Faith in the Familiar, and Expect the Unexpected.

Comfort: Compromising is not the same as selling out.

Challenge: In the newspaper, look for stories that result from people’s unwillingness to compromise. How could they be handled differently?

Prayer: O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Amen. (Psalm 56:2)

Discussion: When have you felt good about a compromise? When have you felt bad?

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Truth and Consequences

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, Job 38:1-17, Acts 15:22-35, John 11:45-54


For decades Judea was a fairly independent kingdom, but shortly after Jesus’s birth it fell directly under Roman administration. The Romans, aware of many Jews dissatisfied with the increasing restrictions, clamped down ruthlessly on any sign of insurrection. When a messianic, rabble-rousing Jesus grew yet more influential after raising Lazarus, the political climate had Jewish leaders worrying “the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”

We might be quick to judge the Pharisees (aren’t we always?), but the responsibility of protecting a nation against a threatening force strains ideals to the breaking point. Since the desires to keep people safe and to maintain personal power are not mutually exclusive, motivations become murky. This does not excuse the plot to kill Jesus, but it does put it into context. However, despite the Pharisee’s best efforts to appease both the Jews and the Romans, a Jewish revolt in 66 AD ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple.

The Pharisees illustrate a valuable lesson: how we defend a thing can be as important – maybe more so – than the thing itself. If our methods to defend a family, institution, or nation fundamentally alter its character – for example, covering up a scandal to avoid exposure rather than practicing the integrity we preach – we are left with a diminished thing that may no longer even be worth defending. How hard do we have to search for churches that have undermined their own moral authority, democracies that respond to threats by restricting personal liberties, and businesses which trade ethics for the bottom line? Not far enough. And in almost all cases, leaders somehow justified to at least themselves and often their people that survival was worth the cost.

Yes, the world demands compromise, but Jesus teaches us to face the consequences of integrity. He tells us it’s better to show up to heaven missing eyes and hands rather than let them cause us to sin. That goes for wallets, titles, and flags as well. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our eternal life; don’t sell him short out of fear.

Comfort: Integrity costs us a lot because it’s worth it.

Challenge: See above.

Prayer: God of all humankind, may my decisions be a reflection of your love for me and all people. Amen.

Discussion: What are you willing to sacrifice for survival?

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