Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (October 1, 2017)

ROMANS 14:5-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul wrote to the Christian churches in Rome which were a blend of Jews and Gentiles.  That means that the members grew up with different cultures and different customs.  The Jews had the Old Testament covenant as part of their upbringing.  Saturday was the day of worship.  Other festivals were still to be observed such as Passover and Yom Kippur.  Their diet was guided by the kosher laws.  Even if they recognized that Jesus had fulfilled all these things and that they were no longer necessary to observe, you tend to honor the custom you grew up with.  Many Jewish Christians continued to follow their old customs.  The Gentiles, on the other hand, did not feel bound to honor any specific days for worship.  They enjoyed eating foods which the Jews had deemed unclean. 
     Now, as these Christians worshiped and lived together, who was right?  The answer: Both.  St. Paul urged, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.  The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” (Romans 14:5-7)  Since God had no specific instructions for his New Testament church about these customs, the people were not sinning by observing them or not.  But they were not free from loving their fellowman.  Each was to honor the Lord, and each was to love his neighbor as he did so.
     If we would fast forward to today's church, I suppose one similar issue for Christians today would have to do with politics.  As a faithful Christian, should you be a registered Democrat or a registered Republican?  Who is right?  Well, what does God say about that in his word?  Nothing.  Each Christian uses his godly judgment to determine what is the best way to serve his neighbor in love and according to God's word.  Since God has not commanded us to affiliate with a specific party, we are free to act as we believe God is honored and our neighbor served.  But we are not free to be haughty about our opinions and to look down on others who disagree, as if they were stupid or wicked.  Do you want to insist that the candidate you do not support is flawed?  Fair enough.  So is the one you support.  Our only options are flawed candidates in a flawed government for a corrupt world. 
     Where God has not spoken, we are free to disagree with each other about what we think is best.  God does not care about what is your favorite flavor of ice cream, what is your favorite color, or who you cheer for on college football Saturdays.  In these matters, we are free to choose and to disagree with each other.  But where God has spoken, there is no freedom to disagree.  That would be defiance of God and his word.  Even if we all agreed together to oppose God, we might support each other and try to convince each other that we are doing the right thing.  It is still defiance.  It incurs God's righteous anger. 
     Live like Jesus is your Lord.  If he is your Lord, then his word reigns supreme.  When it comes to God's word, we transform our thinking and submit to God's—even when God's judgment shows us that we are wrong.  That word shows us that we are sinners.  This is not something to dismiss because we all have it in common.  It is something for which we all need to repent.  It means purging from our lives the attitudes and actions which stand opposed to God's will.  We are all guilty of exalting ourselves over others because we are convinced that our opinions are right, and that all who disagree with us are idiots.  Consider how uncharitable we get when it comes to politics.  If someone is a Democrat, it is assumed that he is 100% in favor of aborting babies and killing them in the womb.  We argue: “That is what all Democrats are like, and therefore they are all evil.”  Or if someone is a Republican, it is assumed that he hates and oppresses anyone who is not white and that he wants all minorities driven out of the country.  We argue, “That is what all Republicans do, and therefore they are all evil.”  Such caricatures are neither accurate or charitable.  They amount to us insisting, “I am smart.  You are stupid.  I am righteous.  You are wicked.”  What's worse is that this is what you assume about some of the people you worship with.  Repent.
     Live like Jesus is your Lord.  Submit all things to his word.  Repent of what is opposed to his word and flee from it.  Pray for guidance so that you will direct your life according to his word.  Do not think of yourself as better than those who disagree with you.  Show them respect rather than disdain.  Seek the good of your neighbor whether he agrees with you or not, and even if he is your enemy.  These are the things Jesus tells us to strive for.  Live like Jesus is your Lord, and that these words matter.  And if you think it is hard to do all this, it only proves what we already know: We are all sinners.
     Live like Jesus is your Lord.  If Jesus is your Lord, then you are his servant.  Then his will governs your life.  Then you are subject to all that belongs to him.  This includes all of the Lord's good things, too.  When you were a little child, you received the benefit of everything that belonged to your parents.  It meant that you had to obey the house rules or suffer the consequences.  When you were little, you understood this and submitted to your parents rules and to the punishment you got for breaking their rules.  At the same time, most children do not recall their childhood with bitterness.  That is because you remember the blessings you had in your parents house.  You not only were given their name, you were also given food, clothing, shelter, discipline, love, and care.  This was included in being in your parents' house.
     You are the Lord's.  That means all that is his is yours.  Jesus' perfect love is yours.  It is that love which fulfilled all of God's commandments.  And that righteous obedience has been given to you.  St. Paul wrote, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  Therefore, when the Lord sees you, he sees the holiness of Christ upon you.  The sins which we have done have been taken away from us by Jesus Christ.  He was put to death for sinners who deserved such a cursed death.  But the Savior who died for you has risen.  Your sins do not result in death.  Jesus has delivered you from your sins and from the death they deserve.  You are now children of the resurrection and heirs of heaven.  For, what is Jesus' is yours.  Live like Jesus is your Lord, and rejoice in the blessings he gives you.
     Live like Jesus is your Lord.  If Jesus is your Lord, then you rely on him alone for all that you truly need for this world and the next.  He has promised you that your Father in heaven will always provide your daily bread to you.  And he has promised to be with you always, to the very end of the age.  Jesus will not forsake you at the moment of death, nor does he forget you throughout each moment of life.  For 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, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7-9)  You are his, and he does not forget it.  You should not, either.
     The Lord Jesus Christ has gathered us all together into one congregation.  We all have our different interests, preferences, and opinions on many things.  Just because someone does not share yours does not mean they are wrong or stupid.  If God does not care, why should you?  But where God does care, he has spoken.  And where God has spoken, we have no right to disagree.  We live like Jesus is our Lord, which means we hear and heed his word.  We devote ourselves to honoring our Lord with our lives, and we devote ourselves to each other to serve our common good.  Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.  All that is his he has given to us so that we will remain his in this life, and for life everlasting.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.