Scripture | Colossians 1:11-20 | Romans 14:1-19
In this passage, Paul is writing to a divided community, and their division was most clearly identified by what people would eat. Remember, the early Christians in these communities came from different backgrounds. There were Jews who believed in Christ but held on to the rituals, laws, and traditions of the Old testament, and there were Gentiles, who also believed in Christ, but being new to faith saw that in Christ they were freed from the old ways of the law.
Growing up in the south, anytime I met another Christian it was a safe bet that they weren’t Presbyterian.
Nine times out of Ten they were Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, or Non-denominational and therefore you could almost guarantee that if you has a conversation about faith with these folks, there would be a whole lot that you would disagree on.
The most common situation of meeting someone like this was when a stranger would come up and start a casual conversation, It would be super friendly until ultimately they’d ask the question
“…so, can I ask… have you accepted Jesus into your life?”
to which I would say
“Yeah, absolutely! I go to church every week, and I’m really active in my youth group”
to which they’d respond
“Oh okay sure… but have you let Jesus into your heart?”
“yeah, of course, look I’m wearing a cross necklace”
and we’d go back and forth with me describing the depth of my presbyterian faith
and them making it perfectly clear that in their eyes, my faith didn’t line up with theirs, and didn’t seem adequate.
As I got older, I realized that this sort of encounter would happen regularly enough that I wanted a strategy on how to handle it.
So, I spoke to my parents about it. I said “Mom, Dad, I keep regularly getting approached about my faith, sometimes from friends, but mostly from strangers… and I don’t see how we can ever see eye-to-eye when our beliefs are so different?! Its like every time we talk about faith they tell me that what I believe is wrong!”
I have to give my parents credit, they must have been in this situation regularly enough themselves because they had a really great strategy ready for me to use in these encounters.
They said, “Christians are all over the map as to what they believe, if you meet someone who is different than you, which you will, you should seek out common ground that you can agree on! With other christians that means, no matter what differences you may have, you can always say “Look, I believe in God, and I believe that Jesus is Lord.”
And, they can’t argue with that! That is the definition of a christian and they can’t deny you that.”
Belief in God and belief in Jesus as Lord.
It was as though these two beliefs are so much at the core of what it means to be Christian that no matter how strongly you might disagree with another christian’s faith or practice, no matter how big the gap between you might feel, bringing up these core beliefs formed enough of a bridge that you were able to be brought together onto common ground.
Its like invoking the magic words “Christ is Lord” signaled to whoever I was speaking that I was in fact a Christian as they were. It signaled that Christ has authority in my life and whatever we may disagree on theologically, at least we can see similarity in our belief in following Christ.
This is why in the church as people are baptized, as new members join the congregation, as youth get confirmed or even as pastors, elders or deacons get ordained, as anyone in the church publicly shares their faith, one of the first questions you hear asked is if you will accept, or turn to Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
To be a Christian, and to be a part of a church, means you hold this belief in common. It means you look past whatever disagreements may get in your way because in the end, we are all humbly bowed before God’s authority.
Because in the end as Christians, we are all servants of the same Lord.
Our Scripture reading from Paul is written to a church that had lost sight of that fact. They were in the midst of disagreement, a simple problem about what people decided to eat because of their faithescalated into a huge issue for these house churches to the point that they could no longer come together to share a meal or share in worship. This issue of what people ate became the measuring stick for how you decided who had weak faith and who had strong faith. So Paul writes to them, and helps the remember their common ground of faith in Jesus. Paul writes to them and helps encourages to use that common ground to make peace.
His words bear repeating: Welcome the person who you call “weak” in faith— but not in order to argue about your differences of opinion. Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord just as you do! So why do you judge your brother? Or why do you condescend to your sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. Because it is written in Isaiah, The Lord says: As I live, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
So stop judging each other.
Instead, this is what you should decide: never cause your brother or sister in Christ to stumble by putting an obstacle in their path.
God’s kingdom isn’t about disagreeing over rules and regulations but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.
So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.
We are heading into the holiday season, we’re heading into the thanksgiving holiday where families come together no matter what differences of opinion may be there or whatever disagreements may have happened. Families and friends gather together to share a meal, and give thanks.
And I don’t know about you, but as I gather at table with friends and family I feel like this year in particular I need Paul’s reminder of what it means to be a follower of Christ our Lord.
With an election cycle that lasted two years, with news story after news story telling us how polarized we are politically and how divided we are as a country with accusatory rhetoric that has dominated our public life from every side that has overwhelmed us, that has provoked people to hate and even fear one another.
With all of this I think we could all use a little bit more of our energy focused on building up God’s kingdom. We could all use a little bit more of people humbling themselves before their Lord and God. We could all use a little bit more striving for the things that bring peace, things that bring about God’s righteousness, things that bring about joy in the Holy Spirit, things that build each other up.
As Christians, no matter the disagreement, we can find common ground in Christ our Lord, and work towards bringing about his kingdom of peace. But I don’t think this is limited to happen between Christians but to a much deeper level, it is our calling as followers of Christ our Lord to be peacemakers in everything.
A pastor friend of mine recently shared a commercial on Facebook that the tech giant Amazon is releasing in the UK and the US. In his post, he described it saying “This is what the kingdom of God is like”
We all share common ground, as people of faith we all fall on our knees before our Lord. As followers of Christ, striving for the things that bring peace, striving for the things that build each other up. We are called to participate in the building of his kingdom of peace, until it comes, on earth as it is heaven.
May it be so, today, and throughout this coming season