This woman has a point. Today the subject is stumbling blocks. If you think certain practices are fine, but your behavior might cause some people to question their faith, then take the more conservative route and join in solidarity with those folks. Lose the argument for the sake of your friend’s faith. Don’t be a stumbling block. In the case of the 104 year old woman, if she has been a rock solid Christian for decades, there are likely few stumbling blocks that could threaten her faith. I think I’m like the 104 year old woman! I see all sorts of people do all sorts of crazy things in the name of Christ and even though I don’t get it, there are few stumbling blocks to me! Just because I disagree with you, that does not make it a stumbling block. It is only a stumbling block if our behavior causes another person to be shaky in their faith.
As an old Christian if I see young people adopt patterns of the world that seem contrary to Christian values, that is no stumbling block to me, because I am not tempted. There is less peer pressure on me than many people just because I’m old and stubborn! But there are people that look up to me (I think). There are people who look up to you! Rom. 14:1 says “accept him whose faith is weak.” Weak and strong are not really defined with precision, but you know what this is saying, it is talking from the perspective of the strong. There are people who you impact, who need your example, who are looking to you.
One of my worst jokes is when I am standing around with a group of people that are smoking, including several people from the church, so I will sometime say to one of them, “can I have a cigarette.” They know it is a joke, but often they don’t like the joke and choose to scold me and tell me they would kill me if I smoked. Just because of who I am, that would be a stumbling block for them. Somebody is looking up to you….
If you soften some of your habits for the sake of others, that’s a good thing. It is NOT being phony, it is being understanding. Are you a stumbling block or a stepping stone on the path of the people who look up to you? Everybody is somebody’s hero. You are being watched. If you are a Christian what kind of testimony are you giving to your non-Christian friends? a stumbling block or a stepping stone? It is better to lose an argument, taking the more cautious way forward, than to stand up for your rights and strain the faith of those who look up to you
A couple of stories… then some observations from today’s scripture about what it means to be a stumbling block:
Story #1: “World War II produced many heroes. One was Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. One day while on a mission, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. Unable to complete his mission, he turned around and headed back for the aircraft carrier. As he headed back, he saw a squadron of Japanese Zeroes heading straight for the American fleet. All the American fighters were out on a sortie, leaving the fleet virtually defenseless. He dove into the formation of Japanese planes in a desperate move to divert them away from the fleet. After a frightening air battle, the Japanese airplanes broke off their assault on the fleet. Butch O’Hare’s tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. He was recognized as a hero and given one of the nation’s highest military honors. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is named after him.
Story #2 Some years earlier, there was a man in Chicago called Easy Eddie. In those days, Al Capone virtually owned the city. Capone’s mob was involved in bootlegging booze, murder, and prostitution. Easy Eddie was Al Capone’s lawyer and kept Big Al out of jail. In return, Easy Eddie earned big money and lived like a king on an estate so large it filled an entire city block.
But Easy Eddie had one soft spot—a son whom he loved dearly. Eddie saw that his son had the best of everything: clothes, cars, and a good education. Despite Eddie’s involvement with the mob, he tried to teach his son right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.
But there were two things Eddie could not give his son—a good name and a good example. Deciding that giving his son these two things was more important than lavishing him with riches, Eddie had to rectify the wrong he had done. He went to the authorities and told them the truth about Al Capone.
Easy Eddie eventually testified in court against Al Capone and the mob. He knew the cost would be great, but he wanted to be an example to his son and leave him with a good name. Within a year of testifying against the Mob, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. He had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer at the greatest price he would ever pay.
What do these stories have to do with one another? It’s really one story! Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son. [Source: Bruce Cecil, Coachella, California] Easy Eddie realized the truth that he was going to have an influence upon his son one way or the other.
Everybody has somebody that is watching them. Are you a stumbling block or a stepping stone to the people in your life who look up to you. Perhaps it is non-Christian friends. Children. Fellow Christians friends. Younger people. “If your brother is distressed by what you eat…” even though for you you have no problem with it and can justify it before God, do not argue endlessly, do not push so hard you cause your brother to stumble, but stand in solidarity… when it comes to movies, take the high road and do not make a habit of watching movies that perhaps you can justify but they are challenging to somebody who is “weaker”.
Take the role of the stronger Christian and help those who are weaker. Live a life that does not confuse them. It’s fine to give up some things that you think are OK. It’s imperative to give up some things that are bad habits which you know are wrong but somehow you have justified. I’m sure it’s a very old story because of the language, but an older man tells the story of when he was a teenager and his father told him over and over to not go to the burlesque show, because you’ll see things you should not see. After a time the temptation was too great and he went to see a burlesque show. “I sure did see things I wasn’t supposed to see,” the man explained, “I saw my father there.”
With freedom in Christ comes responsibility… Jesus never said to dig in your heels and argue endlessly about secondary issues. Jesus wants us to make sure that our lives, behaviors, and attitudes are not part of the problem. As I read this scripture, I have a responsibility to live a certain way, to not be a hindrance to the people who look to me as a model of faith. I desire to be a good model. That knowledge helps me to shape my decisions. I want to be a stepping stone for people. I want our church to live out Rom. 14:19: READ.
How do we get along with each other? We are not called to live for ourselves alone, justifying our behavior, but we are to live knowing that there are those who are watching us … Call me a prude if you want. I know I am silly. Sally has taken up gardening this year. we have a lot of slugs. Sally read slugs are attracted to beer and will drown. I make Sally buy her own beer for the slugs! Can you imagine if somebody questioned me about buying a six pack and I had to explain it was for the slugs? I don’t know why I don’t care if you catch Sally buying beer... Probably because you’d somehow think the best of her no matter what! I can just hear it in the store a friend greeting Sally in the grocery check out line, spotting the beer and saying, “Ah, lots of slugs this year, huh!”
In this sinful world in which we live, and temptations will come, but we do not have to be the channel for someone’s downfall. Take the more conservative road. Be a stepping stone. Here’s a well known poem that describes the two choices:
Isn't it strange how princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common people, like you and me,
are builders for eternity?
Each is given a list of rules;
a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.
And each must fashion, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone. (J.L. Sharpe).
With freedom comes responsibility; others are watching, and we help shape their journey towards God by how we live our lives.
The stumbling block principle is a brake to help slow down our lives and consider the impact we are making on others. How do others perceive us? It’s an important question. Peace will come when we let others win the argument. After all, the entire chapter is about secondary issues, so what difference does it make if we let others have the last word, if we put on the brakes. When I used to climb Mt. Baker I was often the person who led the way on the slopes. I learned quickly that as I cut the steps in the snow (made the path) that others followed, I needed to space the steps for the shortest person in the group…, otherwise the whole group would be hindered. Isn’t that the way it is with the stumbling block principle? Consider the one who is weakest, the one who is struggling, who has the most uncertainty, and cut the steps so that they can easily be keep up.
You know what the text is saying in Rom. 14:16-18? If you think my choices are wrong, rather than argue, I don’t allow them to be spoken of as evil by letting them go. If it is a secondary issue then it is not important and I can let you win even if I think you are wrong. I let you win the argument. I refuse to be a stumbling block sidetracking your faith. I need to see through your eyes, your experiences, do my best to figure out how you think. I need to walk in your shoes. Even if I think I am right, if I allow secondary issues to become the main focus in the name of being right, then we are sidetracked. What does Paul say in this scripture? Rom. 14:17. The main thing is righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!
Somebody is watching you. Somebody is watching how you are living your faith. Take every measure to remove any stumbling blocks that may hinder their faith, even if it means giving up practices that you can justify. May we never lose sight of the goal of bringing righteousness, peace and Joy to ourselves and others. Amen.