Life Together: Peace-Seeking - Romans 14:13-15:6
After talking about bread Wednesday night, we might need to talk about healthy eating and weight loss this morning, so let me tell you a story that relates a scene from one a weight loss clinic.
At one meeting, the instructor held up an apple and a candy bar.
“What are the attributes of this apple,” she asked, “and how do they relate to our diet?”
“It’s low in calories” and “It has lots of fiber,” were among the most common answers.
She then detailed what was wrong with eating candy, and concluded, “Apples are not only more healthful, but also less expensive. Do you know I paid fifty-five cents for this candy bar?”
Everyone in the room stared at the forbidden treat the instructor held in her hand. From the back of the room a small voice spoke up, “I’ll give you seventy-five cents for it.”
We are in week six of our seven-week journey to rediscover what it means to live “Life Together” as a Christian Community. We began the journey by being reminded by Dietrich Bonheoffer that “Life Together” as a Christian Community is a gift of God’s pure grace…and realizing that we need to recapture what it means to live out this gift. We began by talking about humility…realizing that we are not better than one another and realizing that we are called to serve on another. We then reflected on the importance of forgiveness, and how we need to be ready and willing to forgive one another as we life this Life Together, and remembering that the forgiveness that we seek from God is contingent upon the forgiveness that we are willing to offer those that have wronged us. We realized that “Love” is central to how we live Life Together. It is Love for God and Love for one another that enables our humility and forgiveness. It is Love for God and Love for one another that directs the other ways in which we are supposed to live out this Life Together. It is Love that must direct the last stop on our journey which was accountability…that we are called to hold one another accountable in love…we are to offer correction to our brothers and sisters in love, in a way that builds them up, and offers hope for a future together. It is also love that should lead us to this week’s consideration, “Peace-seeking.”
“Peace-seeking” is what our rather lengthy reading from Romans as Paul talked about eating clean and unclean food is all about.
We need to remember that under Hebrew Law, there were a great deal of regulations concerning what could and could not be eaten. Certain foods were clean, and others were unclean. Among the unclean foods were certain types of animals, among them and animals that had been sacrificed in pagan rituals. Both of these were sold in the marketplaces of Rome. Paul, and other Christians, had come to the understanding that the food itself was not harmful, in was not unclean…this came from some of Jesus’ teachings on what was considered clean and unclean when it came to eating, as well as Peter’s vision when he was sent to Cornelius’ home (Cornelius was a Gentile—a non-Jew).
In this church in Rome, then, were those who realized that foods were not unclean and that they could eat any foods without compromising their faith. The congregation also contained folks who still adhered to the Jewish purity laws (remember that all of the first Christians were Jewish). So, a debate arose, because, evidently at some of their “covered-dish” dinners, Kosher food was not being served. Folks were serving meat that was considered unclean and expecting the folks who had a problem with it to eat it anyway…and belittling them when they would not eat it because they felt it would compromise their faith and loyalty to God.
Paul says, “Wait a minute guys, we’ve got to try and live in peace with one another, it is not for us to force our food down their throats, it is up to us to respect where they are in their faith journey.” To do otherwise is to practice arrogance, and when we talked about humility, we learned that arrogance has no place in our “Life Together.”
For Paul, and for us, we have to be about building up the Body of Christ, the Church, in our Life Together. He tackles the issue again with the church in Corinth:
“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I mean the other’s conscience, not your own….“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.”[i]
I was confronted with this personally during my time in Burlington. Many of you met my friend Joshua when he came last fall and we sang “Brother” together during our Wednesday Night Worship service. Joshua began attending St. Paul’s as a young Christian growing in his faith. As part of his faith journey he felt God leading him to be vegan. Now I like meat, and I believe that it is okay to eat meat. For years I had had the belief that when it relates to vegetarians and vegans is that it was fine with them and if they wanted to eat that way, then that was on them. If they wanted a vegan dish at a meal then they needed to take care of it themselves, I was going to fix meat. I also argued that if I was supposed to take their dietary restrictions into practice when they came to my house, then they ought to take mine into consideration when I visited them and offer me a hamburger or steak. Now, you need to know Joshua is the kind of person you can call on when you need help getting something done, and if he can, he’ll be there to help. I had asked him to help me set up the fellowship hall one day for one of our dinners. During our time working he said, “You know, it’s funny I’m helping you set for a meal where they are not serving anything that I can eat.” Talk about being hit between the eyes with the revelation of my arrogant sinful attitude. I began to learn how to prepare vegan or vegetarian meals if he was going to be part of our gathering…and developed a willingness to eat vegan dishes he would prepare.
The call to try and live in peace with our brothers and sisters goes far beyond what foods we eat and do not eat with them; it involves all aspects of our lives as we seek live into our Life Together. This is something that, in the past, we have had to do even within our own family. Our family has listened to Contemporary Christian Music in all its forms for the last twenty years or so. We have boxes of CD's. It’s on our computer, on our phones, on our Pandora and Spotify Playlists. We keep K-Love and now Air 1 set on our car radios. Most mornings we have K-Love blasting through the house. We really enjoy the music and feel that it is a valid means of praising and worshipping God. However, not all people feel that way. There are some, in fact, who consider that music to be sinful or blasphemous.
Some churches even teach their members to view contemporary Christian music that way. I know that because my sister and brother-in-law used to be members of one of those churches. They viewed it as wrong and taught their children that to listen to that kind of music was wrong. For them, any music with a drumbeat was considered sinful.
Now the question became, on the three or four times a year when we would all get together, what do we do? Davey would be excited about a new song and want to share it with his cousin, but I knew that it would offend my sister and brother-in-law and would be against what they were teaching my niece. So, I would explain to Davey that while we were with them, that he could only listen to that music through his headphones and that he couldn't ask his cousin to listen. When he asked, "why not? What's wrong with the music?" I would tell him, "Nothing's wrong with the music. Uncle Jason and Aunt Angela just don't approve of it, and don't want Erin listening to it." Was that a compromise of our faith? No. I still felt the music was okay, but the style of music is not critical to our salvation, and is not a point to argue about, and if Davey had tried to sneak an opportunity for Erin to listen to the music, he would have been causing her to “stumble.”
The good news is Davey and Erin are able to share the music they listen to now, as my sister and her husband left that church almost 10 years ago, and since have started worshiping in congregations that are less about the legalistic laws and more about loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves...and guess what...most of those congregations use contemporary music…and my brother-in-law has played the drums in many of them.
To the Corinthians, Paul says, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” In our reading from Romans this morning, Paul puts it this way: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.”
My brothers and sisters, we are called to seek to live in peace with one another as we build up the body of Christ...and sometimes that means not getting our way...it goes back to humility and love. We have to love one another and be willing to serve one another. That may mean giving in or giving up on things that are not crucial to our faith. Food, drink, music, carpet color, dresses, suits, the time and day of worship, and the list could go on and on and on of things that people will argue about but are not crucial to our faith. What is crucial to our faith? The acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior...and as our Lord what does Christ tell us it is important to do? The Great Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” The Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Anything other than these commandments and this commission are extra. If someone was to tell us that it was not important that we love God and love our neighbor, then yes, there is a place for contention. If someone were to say that we should not take the Gospel to a certain group of people, then yes, we might argue. If someone were to say that Christ’s life and teachings are irrelevant and worthless, then we can draw a line in the sand and not bend. However, on anything else, it is not important enough to risk doing damage to the Body of Christ. Arguments do not build up, they tear down. We are not gathered in the name of Prince of Division, but in the name of the Prince of Peace, and we need to seek to live our Life Together in that Peace.
My friends, as we prepare to sing our closing hymn, I invite you to come forward, if the Spirit so moves you, and lay before God any contentions we might have with one another, and when we leave the rail, let us take with us a desire and commitment to experience, a Life Together in God’s peace, a peace which passes all understanding...
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.