Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"loving when we disagree," 11.4.12

Romans 14:1-13
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If 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. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God. 13Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:3-5, 9-11, 16-23
10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth…. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 16Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

            The early church was an amazingly diverse community. In the months after Jesus’ death and resurrection the first few disciples became hundreds and then thousands by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even in the beginning, when everyone joining the community was Jewish, there was a wide mix of different cultures and languages. Soon the church was discussing whether there was a place for people to follow Jesus and the God of Israel without keeping the laws and traditions that shaped the Jewish community. When the first church council decided that the gospel of Jesus was for everyone, with or without Moses’ law, the church’s diversity became dizzying.

            This early church contained Jewish priests and tax collectors. It contained scribes who had copied and preserved Israel’s law and people who couldn’t read. It included a few government leaders, some financially comfortable people, who supported the church by providing space to meet, and many people who struggled each day to survive. The church contained teachers and scholars as well as servants and widows. It contained slaves and slave masters.

            With all that variety, it’s no surprise there were conflicts and differences within the church. Paul spent lots of time and lots of ink advising different communities on how to stay united in the face of serious differences within the church. Paul’s wisdom is helpful for us, especially this weekend, as we face differences and division in our community.

            In the early church there were a number of important leaders who traveled to teach about Jesus. It seems some people thought a lot about which leader they felt closest to and looked down on people who identified with a different leader. That still happens in the church now as we all have favorite speakers or writers or churches who guide us in our faith. Of course, it’s great to connect with teachers and learn from them, but it’s a problem if we judge other people because of what we’ve read or who we listen to.

            Paul puts it well: Jesus Christ is the foundation for every Christian. Paul and other leaders play a part in building up believers, so each believer is a bit different, but we all have the same foundation. The buildings might look different; each teacher emphasizes different things, but the core beliefs are the same. The point is Jesus, everything else is just details.

            This emphasis is especially important in an election week when it seems like the only thing that matters is red or blue, Romney or Obama. If you’re on facebook, you probably see both funny and mean posts exalting one candidate or political party and tearing down the other. Each candidate argues that if they are elected the US will be on the right path into the future while their opponent will lead us into disaster. Don’t get me wrong: this is an important election; there are big issues ahead of us as a country and it matters how you vote, but let’s slow down for a minute and breath.

Paul reminds us not to boast about human leaders. Presidents, senators and congressional representatives are simply people called to do a challenging job. Who we support for office doesn’t define us. We don’t belong to Obama or Romney, Brooks or Slaughter. We belong to Jesus Christ. Politics and our favorite candidates are just a small piece of the story of our lives. Regardless of who wins the election, I will be the pastor here, and this church will still be standing on this corner. Your children will still be your children. The laundry will still have to get done. Jesus will love you just as dearly regardless of who you vote for and regardless of who the majority of the people of Ohio vote for. Most moments of our lives have nothing to do with who wakes up in the White House.

Our leaders aren’t even the whole story in our political life. Sometimes the president has great ideas they can’t execute because congress opposes them. Many of our biggest challenges are beyond any government’s control. The president cannot force other nations to do what we want, nor can he order the economy to improve. Our global and national life is complex, and government is only part of the puzzle. The US has had good presidents and bad presidents. We’ve gotten through it before. The sun will come up on November 7th, no matter who wins the election.

More to the point, presidents, like the rest of us, are a mixture of good ideas and bad ideas, good intentions and temptation, wisdom and shortsightedness. No matter who wins, our president, our congresswoman, our senators and assemblymen will be human. They will lead well at times and they will make mistakes. I have been disappointed in leaders I voted for and inspired by leaders I opposed. We are all human, so we all have good and bad within us.

Regardless of who wins, I hope you will pray for our new president and his family regularly. I hope you will pray regularly for our congress, our senate, our state and local government and our nation and world. No matter who you or I want to win, we are all in this together. The nation needs our prayers, our ideas, and our engagement.

There’s another area where the church can make an important contribution to our nation. I’m convinced that one of the things that allows our nation to be so divided is that we are quite segregated. Our work and social relationships are often with people who have a lot in common with us, so we often have our own perspectives echoed by those around us. In the church we become family with people who are often quite different. That can be challenging, but it can also help us see things from a different angle. The more diverse we are as a loving community of faith, and the closer those relationships get, the more likely we are to be transformed by our community.
            Paul takes up a different side of living in a diverse community in the piece of his letter to the Romans that Scott read this morning. Different people in the church had different beliefs about many things. Some though it was very important to worship on the Sabbath, as their Jewish ancestors had for thousands of years. Others thought Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead, was the most important day to worship. Still others thought you could worship God any day, they were all the same.

            When it came to food, some Christians refused to eat meat because it might have been sacrificed to other gods before being sold. Others kept Jewish Kosher law and still other Christians felt like they could eat anything because God had made it all. Paul advises the church to follow their conscience and avoid judging others. Each person’s beliefs on these things mean something to them and can bring them closer to God, so those beliefs should be respected. At the same time, each believer needs to respect other people’s beliefs because difference is a part of life, and judgment is for God alone.

            Paul is not saying that it’s fine to believe whatever you want. He tells the Corinthian church to expel a believer for sleeping with his father’s wife, for instance. He is very critical of teachers who teach wrong ideas about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth of our faith matters a lot, but the details of how we practice are up to each of us to decide with prayer, scripture reading and discussion.

            The trouble is that it’s not always easy to figure out what’s essential and what is a matter of personal preference. On different questions of faith and practice, some Christians will think something is very important, while others will believe it is a detail. Our human imperfections rear their head again: we will not always be sure what the right decision is or whether it is crucial for the church to agree on a certain issue or not.

            Jesus said the most important commandment is to love God with all our heart and mind and strength, and the second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means when we’re not sure if a difference is essential or not, we give each other the benefit of the doubt and try to learn from each other. Whether we agree about something or not, we assume our brothers and sisters in Christ are trying to follow Jesus, just like we are. We can talk about our differences, about why we believe or practice like we do, but if we’re going to talk, we should be ready to listen as well.

            That’s true in terms of our faith: we have different interpretations of scripture, different convictions about how we govern the church, different strategies about how we reach out to others and serve our neighbors, but we share the same God. It’s also true in our political life: we have different understandings about taxes, freedom, foreign policy, and other issues, but we share one nation. When we disagree it doesn’t mean the other person is trying to wreck the church or the country. In fact we should assume other people in these debates want to serve the church and the nation, we just see different ways of doing that.

            Sometimes talking about our differences helps us learn, other times we do better to leave our differences aside and talk about things we agree about. Republicans and democrats might have different beliefs about how public schools should operate, but we all agree that tutoring to help our children succeed is a good thing. We have different theories about the role of welfare and social services, but we all agree that we are responsible to feed those who are hungry. There are many areas in which we can work together even when we disagree.

            On Tuesday, some people in this sanctuary will vote for President Obama and some for Governor Romney; some will vote for County Executive Brooks and others for Congresswoman Slaughter. We may not agree on the best way to move our country forward, but we all want our country to move forward. No matter what we believe about the election, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God. We are united in our faith, even though we understand that differently too. Everyone is equal at the foot of the cross; everyone has a seat at Christ’s table.

            We are one family in Christ. Whatever our differences, we share one Lord, one faith, one Spirit and one table. So as we start what will no doubt be a divisive week in our neighborhood and nation, we come to this table to remember who we are and who’s we are. Jesus calls each of us here with our different perspectives and gifts and beliefs. Jesus makes us one in love, and Jesus sends us out to share that love with others.

            Thanks be to God.

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