Learning NOT to be #1

“Learning NOT to be #1”
Romans 14:1–12
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
September 17, 2017

Romans 14:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Do Not Judge Another

14 Welcome those who are weak in faith, 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 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? 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
12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Nobody here has ever quarreled with someone, have you? Never spoken ill of anyone? Never thought ill or evil of any one? Never had an evil thought about an individual or a group? Then my work here today is done! You can exit the building! 

If this were only the case! I’d be unemployed, Jesus wouldn’t be necessary, and we could leave this place and let it grow up in weeds. 

However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “that is not the case,” at least in my life and I would venture to say, not in yours either. 

We are humans, created in the image of God that we have construed to meet our needs. We have manipulated, played around with, and constructed our lives, both communal and private to meet our needs, not the needs that God has intended. We have worked hard at separating ourselves from a relationship with God that God initiated on our behalf to us!  Now for those who are deeply theologically minded in the congregation this morning, I know you understand what I just described, for the rest of us, we are sinners!

We have stranded ourselves on an island that meets our needs. An island that makes our life extremely comfortable. Now, the quandary for this morning is to understand that when we do this; both involuntarily or voluntarily, we isolate ourselves.  We concentrate on what “we” or “I” need and in doing so, we shut those out who are around us.  Deeply,  spiritually, I want to believe and I have witnessed that we don’t do this with great intention, but rather by ignorance.  We tend to concentrate on what we see as important and shut out those around us, whether they are believers in Jesus Christ, Alah, Buddha, or the God of the Old Testament; Elohim, Yahweh, and such, we tend to locate ourselves in a place that is “home” to us. My friends, this is a dangerous place.  Again, we don’t often do it because we set out to do it. Often times we are pulled into a situation, a format, a lifestyle, a relationship, because of people and the society around us.  We, as human beings are drawn to what others tell us; what others say is correct. 

Recently, I heard quote from Rev. Nadia Boltz Weber, the rather flamboyant, outspoken, and prophetic Lutheran pastor in Denver, who in response to this conversation reminded us “stop kissing up to toxic people.”  What she was driving at was this terrible essence of being pulled into situations that demand we act, live, and believe differently than we know to believe.  

What happens when we do this?  Many things happen, pain, sorrow, brokenness, illness, and separation.  But what many of us don’t realize is that one of the greatest plagues of living this way is isolation.  Not necessarily isolation for ourselves, rather isolating others from us!  We run the risk of pushing people away, keeping them outside our doors. When in fact, our message of the Church is to welcome them in.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (the Roman Church- a church he did not start, but was concerned about as it ventured down this path) Paul says, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”  After a few lines of specific situations for the Roman Church, Paul reminds us, “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.” (Romans 14:4)  

Paul’s concern here is that the people of the Church in Rome not be hung up on being “all about themselves.”  It was about reaching out to those who were near and dear to them and more importantly, struggling with their faith. Paul wanted them to be helpers for Christ, not just enablers to the friends on the corner who were outcast because they were struggling to understand what Jesus was all about. I believe Paul was concerned that we (they) would become ‘toxic’ people themselves, thus keeping those out who really needed to be in the church.  

For Paul, he believed that the only way we could really be the church was to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  For Paul cuts to the chase in this text. A text where we see Paul emotionally filled with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds these people, the Church, in verse 7, “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.” 

So what happens when we are confronted with a friend who needs our help in discerning the faith?  Are we equipped to do that?  Are we able to do that?  Do we want to do that? According to Paul, it’s not a choice it’s a requirement for one who professes the faith. Yet, Paul in this text is a bit more compassionate than some of his other texts concerning this issue. He says to them and to us, “Welcome those who are weak in faith…”  He doesn’t say “let them flounder and maybe someday they will get it.”  He says, “welcome,” be that hospitable Christian and bring them in.  You don’t have to have the answers, we find the answers, and usually more questions as we journey together. Paul never assumes that we can do this alone, we need to do it as a hospitable community that invites, engages, and enlightens those who seek to strengthen their faith.

One of the things that Paul had that we don’t have, when he made these statements, was that he was surrounded by a group of people who thought Jesus’ return was imminent, coming soon!  We, are surrounded by a culture that because Jesus has not returned we need to do things “our way.”  Paul had that captive audience, so to speak.  We have to engage and invite that audience who seek and yearn for a saving relationship in their lives.  We know this as the offering of Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection.  We have been given the marching orders to reach out, to seek and to WELCOME those who need a life in Jesus! 

The Rev. Dr. Michael Waters, founding pastor of Joy Tabernacle AME Church in Dallas, Texas reminds us that we are to be a welcoming community of faith in the midst of a troubled world. In the midst of peoples lives who have been separated from a relationship with Jesus Christ.  

He said in a sermon recently, directed to a group of activist pastors whose faith communities were “on the edge” of doing great things but were slowed by their own stagnation, he said, “What obstructs is that the waters are dangerous, it’s easier to stay on the shore line.”  

My friends, I don’t want to and I don't want you to “stay on the shore line.”  We have people around us, our neighbors, our friends, who are struggling (weak) in the faith, that we need to WELCOME in the name of Jesus Christ.  

 As you come to thetable this morning, seek the nourishment you need, to get off the shore line, cross the waters, and welcome those who seek the Lord.  AMEN & AMEN