Saturday, September 12, 2020

Pentecost 15A

Romans 14:1-12

1Welcome 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. 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. 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.

Psalm 103:1-13

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God's holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all God's benefits—
3God forgives all your iniquity, heals all your diseases,
4God who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good as long as you live and renews your youth like the eagle's.
6The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
7The Lord made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who live in awe of him;
12as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

Psalm 103 / Romans / Being Church

We often think of God blessing us, of God blessing all creation. Psalm 103 wonderfully asks us to bless God!

Check out the long list of gifts as God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, renews, vindicates, justifies, bestows mercy, grace, compassion. Surprisingly, the Hebrew for "steadfast love" in this passage isn't the famous chesed—It's plain old regular love.

• But how do we bless God?

Although the four canonical gospels are our primary sources about Jesus and about life together in Christ, Paul's explanations and encouragement to live the way Jesus models and calls us to are so clear it can be easy to forget he wrote Romans about 30 years prior to the CE 80 date generally considered most reliable for Matthew's Gospel, our main gospel account for this lectionary year. However, the content of all four gospels already was making rounds in the oral tradition, as were many written documents about Jesus' life and ministry. Doubtless Paul had studied those.

Romans is Paul's carefully thought through, mature theology, the seventh and the latest of his undisputed epistles. Although "undisputed" means he definitely wrote those letters, they probably received some edits from others as they circulated to different churches, so every single word and phrase is not necessarily from Paul.

We've now journeyed 75% of the way through another year of grace, and almost everything about the past six months has been a strange trip. For six plus months we haven't had the give and take of live discussion of scripture or the followup interpretations and reinforcements of music, preaching, and sacrament. This year emphasizes Matthew's gospel, but today we'll consider another passage about being church "in Christ" from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Rome.

Today's Reading from Romans

In last week's second reading, also from Romans, amidst discussing what we owe, what we ought to do, Paul reminded us we owe each other only love: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

The situation that prompted today's passage was Roman Christians divisions over dietary laws 14:2 – vegetarians versus omnivores?! and special observance of particular days 14:5 – set apart feast days versus all days alike (all days sanctified?).

This isn't about doctrine and behavior central to Christianity. This isn't about Jesus crucified and risen, about Jesus' charge to baptize and to celebrate the Lord's Supper. It's not about loving one another.

They had become seriously split over peripheral non-essentials. Paul calls them back to the foundational fact of togetherness in Christ, to the basic attitude and action of agape love that's God-like, grace-filled, unconditional life-giving care of another, love that emerges from a decision of the will, not from fleeting whims.

As Paul discussed obligations, debts, payback, what we ought to do – both financial and behavioral – he reminded us we owe each other only love: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

In today's reading, Paul calls the Romans Christians and his future readers (that includes us) back to the essential practice of love in the midst of non-essentials. Especially Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin talked about practices and behaviors neither commanded nor forbidden by Jesus and by scripture. You may have heard or seen the word adiaphora? That could include dietary practices Paul specifies here, it would encompass observing the sanctoral cycle that commemorates festivals, saints, and past church leaders: Transfiguration; John the Baptist; Augustine; Susanna, John, and Charles Wesley; John XXIII; Teresa of Kolkata… Paul also suggests if eating meat or sushi around your vegetarian friends offends them, you might not do it when they're near. If someone considers Gregorian chant anachronistic and irrelevant for worship during the year 2020, maybe omit it from your regular hymnody? Very seriously, if your drinking wine or beer or other spirits tempts your acquaintance who's been clean and sober for 6 years, please abstain when you're together. Etc.

Regarding worship and individual lifestyles, different streams of Christianity have had different habits, preferences, and practices. Even within the same Christian tradition or denomination, different local churches can feel worlds apart. And that's more than okay!

"Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?" Romans 14:10

Do you think someone else's Hillsong music is inferior to the songs you prefer to sing in church? Is non-organic produce the ultimately deal-breaker?

Paul constantly reminds us Jesus' death and resurrection is the reality that informs and determines the church's life and witness.

• How do we bless God?

Being Neighbors

"Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:10

Most times Paul uses the word law he means sacrificial, ceremonial law (including circumcision), but in this case he's referring to the ten words or commandments of the Sinai covenant.

This week's passage reminds us being in Christ, crucified and risen, is our essential identity. Aside from Word and Sacrament that in the Holy Spirit literally equip us for lives of agape love, most ceremonial, dietary, and other practices in church and in other aspects of everyday life are neither commanded nor forbidden; they are matters of indifference, or adiaphora. However, just as we've discussed regarding neighborology, or the word about being neighbors, we need to consider the position, the needs, histories, sensitivities, and sometimes even preferences of the other.

• How do we bless God?

Distinctive Differences / COVID-19

Christians legitimately may disagree about many incidentals of our lives together, both as siblings in Christ with those in other traditions, and within particular congregation(s) we identity with and participate in.

• What practices have you differed and maybe argued about in churches you've been part of?
• What practices have you differed and possibly argued about in your nuclear or extended family?
• What opinions do we differ about at the ballot box?
• Are propositions and initiatives that have become so common west of the Mississippi (but virtually unknown on the other side of that river) a good idea or not?
• Has COVID-19 changed or modified your opinion as to what's really important?
• Has COVID-19 reinforced some of your convictions? Has it softened some of them?
• How do we welcome each other despite our differences?

You may have heard, "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity." Several denominations and other groups use that phrase as a sort of tagline, and they describe Paul's counsel very well.

• How do we bless God?

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