Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear members of Grace,

I’m back now after vacation.  Here is today’s sermon.  There is no video of the sermon today.

 

Welcomed in Christ, Welcome One Another

Text: Romans 14:1-12, 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Introduction: A young Roman man named Apollonius walks down a narrow lane in the back alleys of the Emporium, near the Tiber River, in the city of Rome.  He treads softly, trying not to wake up any guard dogs.   It’s dangerous to be out at this hour, still two hours before sunrise and the opening of the shops.  A hundred feet down the alley he finds the place he’s looking for, a blacksmith’s shop with a small oil lamp lit in front of the door.  Stopping to knock softly Apollonius waits.  After a few moments Sergius, the blacksmith appears at the door.  “We’re still closed, come back at first light,” the red-haired blacksmith announces brusquely.  Undeterred Apollonius replies, “Brother, I’m here to worship.  I heard from your servant Thracious that you worship here and I’d like to join you.”  “Well then,” Sergius replies, “tell me, what is your name and what gathering do you belong to?”  “I belong to the gathering that meets at Azareel’s house, but I’d like to worship with you as well, if you would permit it.” “Azareel’s gathering?” Sergius says unimpressed, “They worship on the Sabbath holding to the traditions of Moses.  Our gathering worships on the Lord’s day, that’s the day you should worship the Lord Jesus because that’s the day he rose from the dead!” “But I was hoping to worship on both days,” Apollonius replies with some disappointment in his voice, “I’m new to the faith and the more I can learn from the Word of God the better.”  “Sorry, son,” Sergius replies, “You’re going to have to make a choice, you can  worship with Azareel’s gathering whom we feel are still too Jewish in their worship practices, or you can worship with us.  Take your choice.”  “Well, I don’t want to abandon them just like that, they were the first brothers and sisters in Christ who shared the Good News of Jesus with me.  I need to show them my gratitude, so I will stay with them.”  “As you wish,” Sergius replies, “but that means you cannot join our fellowship.”  “I understand,” young Apollonius replies, “well then please give my greeting to the saints.”  “I will,” says Sergius, as he closes the door.  Disappointed, Apllonius begins the long walk home through the streets of Rome.

It was to address this type of situation St. Paul wrote the fourteenth chapter in his epistle to the Romans.  He was writing to fellow Christians in Rome who shared the Christian faith and had a close unity in doctrine.  What differed among the scattered house churches of Rome was the way they worshipped and they way each Christian put their faith in the Lord Jesus into practice.  Though united in the essentials of the Christian faith they were rejecting and passing judgement on Christians from other house churches who did not hold the same opinions they did on issues such as what they could or could not eat and the day they worshipped together.

Today we will ponder two questions St Paul’s teaching raise.  First, what are the limits to Christian fellowship?  And, second, how do will live graciously in fellowship with Christians who share the same doctrine but yet have different customs and practise in worship and in daily life than we do?

(1) What are limits to Christian fellowship?

There are limits to Christian fellowship. These come from a confession of doctrine as found in Scripture such as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of creation, the fall into sin, justification by grace through faith in Christ, the final judgement, eternal life and the reality of hell, etc. 

Our Lutheran Confessions in the Augsburg Confession, Article 7, speak on this issue: “Also they teach that the one holy Church is to continue forever.  The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.  Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.  As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all…(Eph 4:5-6).”

The limits to Christian fellowship apply when there are differences in confession of doctrine, especially on the Gospel and the Sacraments.  These kind of differences can and do cause pastors to make judgements about admission of individuals to the Lord’s Supper in a congregation which is a fellowship decision.  This is why there are many different Christian denominations in the world right now.  These significant differences do cause fellowship distinctions and this is why only those united in confession of doctrine join us at the Lord’s Table.

Therefore there are limits to Christian fellowship.  Sadly they remain and they can only be mended through doctrinal agreement between churches which is in accord with Holy Bible.

Yet Paul’s focus in this chapter and our focus brings us closer to home, to differences in customs and practice between Christians sharing the same doctrine.  The closest analogy we have to the situation of Paul’s writing is welcoming members from sister churches, and dealing with the different ways fellow believers here within our fellowship live out their Christian life.

That brings us to our second question:

2) How do we live graciously in fellowship with Christians who share the same doctrine but whose customs and practise in worship and in daily life differ from ours?

From our Romans 14 passage we learn several principals.  First, don’t quarrel over opinions – if there is no clear passage of Scripture to forbid the way a fellow Christian practices their faith, don’t quarrel over differences of opinion.  Second, don’t despise each other or pass judgement on one another.  For example: One gives up something for lent another doesn’t, one wears casual clothes to worship and another formal, one crosses himself in worship the other doesn’t, one reads the Holy Bible every day and another reads God’s Word less frequently.

Paul’s apostolic response to our knee-jerk reaction to condescendingly look down on and even judge our brother or sister in Christ is: “Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another?  It is before his own master that he stands or falls.  And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:4) When you pass judgement on your fellow Christian for the way they seek to worship and live the sanctified life Paul says you are taking the Judge’s seat, the Living God’s seat.  Don’t do that.

And to all our Christian practises, worship and other, Paul gives his apostolic admonition: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom 14:5b)  That means there is no room for a laissez-fair attitude or to ignore issues.  Your Christian calling is to take the time to make a careful Biblical decision on the way you worship and all the different ways you seek to honour the Lord in daily life.

St. Paul teaches just after our sermon text, “Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother,” (Rom 14:13) and a little later, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.” (Rom 15:2)

Paul’s life and teaching found in the NT unfortunately show there are no simple set rules to follow to accept certain Christian practices but reject others, rather he leaves it to pastors to study the Bible with their flock and wrestle with God’s Word to determine the right path.

It’s a call to be willing to be uncomfortable around practices that other Christians either new to Grace or here among us choose that you would not adopt for your own reasons.  While it is so easy to criticize to try and make others conform to our convictions Pauls’ call is not to try and change our brother or sister in Christ who is different from us but rather welcome one another because Christ has welcomed us.

Paul’s teaching is also a call to hold to your convictions, always open to persuasion from a clear passage from the Word of God, yet at the same time remain open and willing to forgo or give up some practise of yours if you feel it would cause your brother or sister in Christ to be scandalized and so leave the fellowship.  

St. Paul calls us to respect each other’s conscience, cherish the fellowship, and avoid self-serving individuals who create factions in the fellowship.

The Good News Paul proclaims in Romans 14 is Christ has welcomed us into the fellowship of His Church.  Christ didn’t welcome us into the fellowship of His Church because we are sinless and perfect.  He didn’t do this because we are acceptable to other Christians and they think we belong in the Church.  He didn’t do this because we can claim that our synod’s doctrine is perfect without a single, small, doctrinal error somewhere that we are unaware of or are mistaken about.  He welcomed us into the fellowship of His Church out of His love for us and by the Father’s command to lay down His life for our sin.

On the cross Christ dies for our sin and on Easter Sunday He rises from the dead and in Holy Baptism He joins us to Himself, His body the Church.  That means God always welcomes us here, and we are always connected to Him.  Our welcome comes from Christ and that welcome extends to His Holy Altar where we receive His Body and Blood, and it extends all the way through time until the day Christ returns and will welcome us to His right hand and welcome us to the heavenly banquet after our resurrection from the dead.  

Correspondingly, “…none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself.  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 of both the dead and of the living.” (Rom 14:7-9)

Forgiven, we forgive our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who sin against us by condemning the way we earnestly try to live out the faith and we do all that we can to keep the bond of the Spirit that we all have in Christ in Holy Baptism.

Conclusion: Dearly beloved in Christ, we are all trying to live the Christian faith earnestly and in good conscience.  As we do so there will no doubt be differences in opinion in areas where God’s Word leaves some latitude or does not speak at all.  What do we do when there are differences?  We are charitable with each other, keep our eyes on Christ and remain in His Word.  Do not be surprised or angered when a brother or sister in Christ practices the faith in a different way than we do, that is inevitable.  Eschewing judging one another here for differences in practice, let us seek to tolerate the multitude of ways all the members of the body of Christ here live out the faith remembering that it is Christ who makes them and us stand before Him.  May God grant us this for Christ’s sake.  Amen.