Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling 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 judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement 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 judgement 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.
Message – “You Going to Eat That?”
Robert and I had a habit of meeting in the dining hall at Saint Paul School of Theology in the mornings prior to class. This particular semester, he was taking a New Testament class on one of Paul’s Letters, I believe it was one of the Corinthian Letters but not sure. Anyway, Robert came into the dining hall, poured a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table. We were talking about our classes that morning when Robert said to me, “Kent, I was sitting at home having breakfast when Paul showed up and joined me, and he talked to me.” I said, “Really? What did he say?” Robert replied, “He said, ‘Robert, it was just a letter, a letter to a church’.” Robert has a dry sense of humor and always makes me laugh. In his humor though, there is almost always an underlying truth. Reminds me of Marcus Borg’s writings when he speaks of Paul’s letters to the churches. “It is important to remember, we are reading someone else’s mail.”
In the selection from our scripture this morning we read some of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We are reading the church in Rome’s mail. Paul is helping them deal with conflict. Conflict in the church? Really? Following the history of the church, of our Judeo-Christian faith… we are inspired, moved, encouraged, do great work, connect with God, build community… AND we have had conflict… we still have conflict… I suspect we will always have conflict. What is the saying? Gather three United Methodists in a room and you will have five opinions? Paul… here in the early church… is dealing with conflict, with differing opinions… Some believe in eating anything, while others eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
All you have to do is peruse the healthy eating section in a bookstore, or google healthy eating and you find the same argument going on today… we find the same argument going on in the churches, …. We should be vegan because it is better for the earth and healthier. We can be somewhat vegan but still eat butter or cheese. We should be vegetarian or perhaps pescatarian, we should eat low carb and lots of protein, including meat, we should go Keto, or we should eat a balanced diet of grains, veggies, dairy, and meat.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. We humankind… we in the church, can find a lot of things about which to be in conflict. We like this music style better than that. The carpet in the sanctuary should be a different color. I like this preacher better than that one. We need more light in the sanctuary… I wish the light in the sanctuary was more subdued.
Or in the letter to the Corinthians when the church was arguing about who they follow, who they hold in high esteem, Paul says… “You are quarrelling about… ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’… what then is Apollos? What is Paul?”
The church, the faith, has always been fraught with conflict. I suspect it will always be. These things we have named this morning from Paul’s letters and from the church… are metaphors… they are symbols… they are images… they are tools to help the church think, and move, and believe, and remember what is important. They remind the church… diversity of thought, belief, practice… is to be expected. If it were not so we would not have 40,000 different expressions of Christianity in the world. It is when one expression decides this is the only effective way to pray and connect with God, this is the only way to celebrate communion, this is the only way to preach, this is the only way you serve… it is then conflict often becomes unmanageable.
These words from other people’s mail, are for the church to look back and remember… “Oh, we are not the only church that has ever experienced conflict!” I don’t need to tell you this… the history of FUMC is filled with its share of conflict. Perhaps even more than its fair share.
And especially in the midst of conflict, Paul reminds us, we are called back… we are called back to the center of our being. We are called back to our common purpose of being “passionate, challenging, and theologically progressive. Compassionate supportive and actively involved in mission and social justice to be the change we wish to see in the world.” It is who you claim to be until you decide to alter than vision.
However, in the church, Paul is reminding us in these letters to not lose sight of our core, our common ground, our common purpose. The church can get so caught up in the conflict that it forgets who it is and who has called it into existence. Paul exhorts us to remember who… to remember whose we are! He writes… “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to Christ, and if we die, we die to Christ; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are Christ’s.” “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as Christ assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
The Church belongs to Christ. Not me. Not you.
I remember a comment a clergy colleague made to me shortly after I declared my candidacy to enter the ordained ministry. Rev. Dr. Tom Schneider was a gentle, soft spoken pastor I had as my pastor in young adulthood. Gentle and soft spoken as he was, he was also a giant in ministry, in my humble opinion. Anyway, shortly after I had entered the process into the ministry I saw Tom at Annual Conference, he came and gave me one of his slow, gentle, all-encompassing hugs, stepped back moving his hands to my shoulders and looked, not just into my eyes, but felt as if he looked directly into my soul. Tom said, “Kent, in the churches you serve, you will be a leader among many leaders, however, you are not the captain, Christ is. Don’t ever forget that.”
I have never forgotten those words. Oh, I confess there have been times those words have not always guided my journey, sometimes I have wandered out of that advice, yet they always bring me back. My ministry, is not about me. The ministry of the church is not about the church. It is about God the Divine, Christ, and the people it serves. Those words are a good reminder for all of us, not just clergy, a good and necessary reminder for the church. Think on these things.