Responsibility and Community
What is our responsibility to God regarding others? Of course, a core value for us Americans is individual responsibility and, this is goof insofaras we are each accountable to God. However, we do not live in isolation and God clearly intends that we have a sense of responsibility for one another.
I have been in ordained ministry, preaching and teaching the Bible for over 30 years now and one truth that becomes more and more clear is that God neither creates nor desires lots of individual followers. He wants a community. Abraham and his family. The nation of Israel. Jesus and the disciples. The Church. It is always about community, and community means not just individual responsibility but mutual responsibility for one another. Sunday’s Epistle and Gospel have two different, yet stunning statements about this responsibility:
James writes, “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20, click here for the full passage)
Mark records these words of Jesus, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, click here for the full passage)
So Mark reminds us that we have a very serious responsibility to avoid causing another to sin or bringing scandal to the cause of Christ in a way that drives people away. Think about that. It would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a great millstone! Yikes! Apparently, this is really serious.
Not only are we to carefully avoid behaving in a way that pushes others away from Christ, but James reminds us that when another slips away, we ought not just respond with a “tsk, tsk” and comfort ourselves with the idea that they are responsible for their own choices. Instead, we are called to pro-actively work to draw our brother or sister back to Jesus. What that might look like, of course, will vary widely depending on circumstances and personalities involved. But we are not to just wash our hands.
There is no easy formula for how to live this out, but the imperative is clear. We have a responsibility to one another before God, and we are to build a pattern of life that expresses that truth.
This column appeared in the September 30, 2018 issue of St John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.