Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those 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. Who 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.
Some 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. Those 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.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 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, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why 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 judgement 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 then, each of us will be accountable to God. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Burger King got it right a few years ago with their ad campaign “Have it your way.” They recognized that all the other fast food chains had a standard way of dressing their sandwiches. The sandwiches were prepared and ready for the consumer to buy them. Burger King recognized that all the other fast food chains were organized for the workers’ convenience and efficiency, expecting that the consumers would mostly ‘go with the flow’ and order their sandwiches as they were designed. Granted, at any of the places, you could place a special order. It would take a little longer, because they had the others made up already, but you could do it. Burger King turned the equation around. They said, we will tell all the consumers they can order the sandwich dressed how they want it. We’ll go out of OUR way so you can have it YOUR way.
So for the past 14 weeks, we have been focusing on Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have used one general title for all of them, Romans: Peace With God, Peace With Our Neighbor. The theme of this letter to the faithful in Rome is being in relationship with God through Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection. The good news is that Jesus went to his death without flinching to break the bonds of the transactional system, the system that says “I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.” by which the world works. Keep the law, get God’s favor. But through Jesus we know God’s grace is the operative power. There is nothing more powerful… not the law… not empire…nothing. Jesus showed us that God’s love is powerful and sufficient through even the very worst—being put to death by the powers that be. Their hatred and fear could not overcome love. Death could not overcome love.
Paul’s letter to the Romans has been our guide, showing us clearly the good news that is the gift of Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen to be our example. Jesus showed us how to live loving God and loving the neighbor. This is the letter that Martin Luther was primarily moved by, that changed his whole perspective, and made the Reformation possible. This is the letter that in so many ways has been the catalyst for changing our whole way of looking at the world. Paul’s letter to the Romans is his most thorough expression of his faith and beliefs. He is trying to impress upon the faithful in Rome that he is worthy of support when he comes to them on his way to his 4th missionary journey to Spain. Of course he never made it to Spain. He eventually made it to Rome, but it was as a prisoner, not traveling freely, so he got no further.
Most of Paul’s letter to the Romans is universally applicable. It is filled with ‘big concept stuff.’ The letters to the Corinthians answer questions the people had asked about certain dilemmas. The letter to the Galatians was written in response to hearing that they had given in to other teachers who had come there twisting the faith. I could go on with the others. But Romans is more doctrine… until this section. Paul is outlining the controversies of the day: do they eat meat that has been offered as a sacrifice or not? Do they worship on Saturday or Sunday?
But the thing is, they really don’t resonate with us, because they are not our controversies.
In Paul’s day, the butchers were at the temples. That was the meat market of the city. So the issue was important for them. If you ate the meat that was from a sacrifice at a pagan temple, were you offering yourself to that god? That is not even a concern today. The issue of Saturday or Sunday worship was about focus. Saturday is the last day of the week, the day God rested, the Sabbath. But followers of Jesus wanted to honor the resurrection so they wanted to worship on Sunday. The underlying question was Does one need to practice the Jewish traditions—keeping the law, keeping the sabbath, eating kosher, having your sons circumcised— as a foundation to the Christian faith? Paul’s answer is No. So Christianity developed as a whole separate tradition.
These controversies were important in Paul’s time, but have since been resolved. This passage is important to us though, because in our day, we have controversies of our own. I hadn’t been here very long before I learned this congregation had its own battle in the worship wars. I won’t pretend to know all the arguments that went into it here, but in general the tension between music style preferences and worship order caused division in the church. Nasty things were said. There were hard feelings. Some members left. It wasn’t pretty.
In this passage, Paul gives us a case study for how to handle controversy in the church. Of course both sides think the other is the one that is weak in the faith. Those who favor traditional music and liturgy fear the contemporary stuff is watering down the faith. The ones who favor music written more recently think the traditionalists are being too rigid and inflexible. But Paul said, right up front in chapter 14 verse 1, Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. (NRSV) Can you think of what purpose he would have said to welcome them for? For the sake of hospitality? For the sake of fellowship? For the sake of growth? For the sake of practicing patience or tolerance or kindness?
And he went on in verse 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? (NRSV) and finally in verse 7 & 8 We do not live to ourselves… we live to the Lord,…so then, we are the Lord’s. (NRSV) Paul is saying, You, individual, you are not the center of influence here. Your wants and desires are not the most important thing. The key is honoring God, all the time.
But here lies the problem. How does one honor God? There are lots of ways, so don’t argue about it, Paul says. Live and let live. Trust one another. Tolerate one another’s differences. Be inclusive of one another. Say to one another, “Have it your way.”
But the rest of what Paul says in this passage is the most important of all…
Controversies in the church get very heated because people think what they think and want what they want. But most people already recognize that it isn’t about them. When they think their way honors God the best… that’s when it gets heated. You see, if we look behind what people are saying to why they are saying it, the argument can generally be divided into two camps: Group A is trying to protect God by resisting Group B’s changes OR Group A is trying to protect Group B from making a terrible mistake and incurring God’s wrath. Paul writes in verses 10-12 Why 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 judgement 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 then, each of us will be accountable to God. (NRSV) God doesn’t need our protection. And neither does our judgment help our neighbor. We are all better off when we can live for the Lord and let our neighbor live for the Lord as well. Life is short, but it is not so short that we can’t spare some time for the good of the neighbor.
My best metaphor for how this works is eating our meals. We eat every day. Not all meals are the same and not everyone likes the same thing. One member of a couple loves a certain dish that the other only tolerates… but they eat it when it is served because they know their spouse loves it. Same thing in the church… when your brother or sister in the faith loves something that isn’t all that meaningful to you, celebrate the fact that they love it. Give thanks to God for making this, whatever it is, speak to them so clearly.
Jesus prayed that his followers might all be one. There is nothing more important than our unity. Remember, that is different from uniformity. That is true here, within our congregation. And it is true across the whole spectrum of Christianity. Our witness is strong when we can get along, celebrating our diversity rather than being threatened by it. Our witness is strong when we work together, when we help each other, when we say, “Have it your way this time.”
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.