September 13, 2020
(Minister – Rev, Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Welcome those who are weak in faith,[a] but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 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. 4 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[b] is able to make them stand.
5 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. 6 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.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 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. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?[d] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
We all have our differences. Our meditation today leads us in the direction of understanding that differences should not be feared or avoided but accepted and handled with love.
In the early church also, sometimes Christians disagreed with each other and created problems for one another. In Romans 14:1—15:13, Paul addresses this issue. First, he deals with differences of opinion regarding rules about food and days (14:1-12). He then asks Christians not to cause one another to stumble (14:13-23). He then tells them to focus on pleasing the other person instead of themselves (15:1-6). Finally, he makes it clear that the Gospel is for Jews and Gentiles alike (15:7-13).
Paul is more concerned about the manner in which we deal with differences than about the fact that we have differences. That is very significant especially as we know that we are not expected to agree on every issue, but we are called to love one another.
Paul begins by saying that we are to welcome the ‘weak in faith’. Paul is talking about the person whose faith in Christ requires additions—observance of dietary restrictions or other rules.
There are basically two reasons why we may be considered 4weak in faith’.
We have not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; we are at heart still legalists, and see Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations. Paul addresses this in Gal 5:1-6 –
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You w/io want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
We may believe that we can gain God’s favour by doing certain things and abstaining from others. Basically we may still be trying to earn a right relationship with God, and have not yet accepted the way of grace.
Of course, that is not to say that we can use our freedom wrongly.
See Gal 5:13a For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…
Does that mean that we shouldn’t care about how we live and what we do? Certainly not. Ifs just that the good things we try to do should actually be a response to His Grace and Gift of Salvation rather than a way to earn it.
That was to get a clearer understanding about Paul s perspective on the differences he saw in people then which stemmed from this basic understanding. Today, some issues have changed in form, other have been added to the list that cause differences in us.
As I see, basically our responses to these differences are on this scale (this is just my way of scaling it, there may be others, but this gives us a general idea of the variety of responses and how we position ourselves):
• Intolerance: The dictionary defines it as “unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own.” This is obviously an actively negative response of intolerance that leads to more problems than solve any. We have an important pointer to why we should be tolerant (cut slack for people or be more lenient) as we look at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It talks about the King having pity and forgiving his slave his dues because he couldn*t pay. The forgiven slave however did not forgive the dues owed to him by a fellow slave. When the king came to know of this what happened? Read from Matthew 18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
The expectation is to pass on that mercy and grace and love and forgiveness and all that we ve received and benefited from (even though we were unworthy) to others. It’s so important that it s part of the crux (and one of the basic tenets) of Christianity: Love God and Love people which is the greatest commandment.
• Indifference: Moving up the scale, we have a response of indifference where we actively or passively try to dissociate from the person and situation of potential disagreement.
• Tolerance: Moving further up the scale we have a step of positive response that is tolerance where we are passively accepting of another view and we open the possibilities for coexisting. Ifs better than intolerance and indifference, but we*re still not there yet as God’s people.
• Love: Moving even further we have a response that is actively positive. That is love. It is in having this kind of attitude and response of love and acceptance that we are actively trying to seek to understand another point of view, extending ourselves in love and acceptance that clearly shows a focus on the other person. This can include dialog, communication, studying together, creating safe spaces, collaboration and so on. That is where Paul wants to take us in our understanding as mature, fruit-bearing Christians that bring honor to God.
There is another parameter that we must have as we are learning to deal with the differences we come up against. We need to understand the difference we have can be put in categories of what is essential and what is not essential.
In his book “Don’t sweat the small stuff’, Dr. Richard Carlson’s premise is that: Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion… So many people spend so much of their life energy “sweating the small stuff” that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.
The same thing can happen in our Christian walk too. We may miss the joy of God’s presence, fellowship with others, growth and even opportunities to honor God when we sometimes expend So, our energies in non-essential confrontations and in pursuing something that may not be so fruitful after all.
Making that differentiation between the essential and the non-essential can also help us to know that a different response is needed for different cases. “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity!” (This quote is often attributed to Augustine from the fourth century, or it may be from the writings of German Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, of the early seventeenth century.) It sums up how we need to process the differences we’re faced with.
• The essentials are doctrines and convictions. And the heart of the gospel: Salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the exclusivity of the Gospel, All-sufficiency of the Work of Christ for salvation, love and forgiveness, and so on. We must be united on these essential things.
• The non-essentials are all other things: Opinions on food and drink and special days; views on schooling our children: home school, public school, Christian school; The type of car or house we own; How to find a spouse: Should we date or court? What about arranged marriages? Ways and practices of worship: cover the head while praying or not, raise hands or not, etc.
There are matters of practice, culture, local awareness and sensibilities, or even indigenous theologies and so on that would be in this category. We should have an attitude of liberty, freedom and mutual respect.
• And then in all things, essentials and non-essentials, we should have charity. We should Love. If we have love, then we won t condemn or criticize. On the contrary, we would welcome and accept one another, seeking to understand and love.
“ln essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity!”
This is easier said than done. Sometimes we are faced with very difficult questions, differences, and divisive issues. We have to keep trying to do what honors God and brings glory to His name. The bottom line is: We need to be guided always by Love and Grace.
There s a beautiful hymn that we’ll be singing today. It says:
Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us…
God bless us with wisdom and love to respond always with grace and humility. Amen.