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Not Just a Church

The Strong and the Weak

by Rev. Ruth Hamilton  Feb. 18, 2018

Romans 14: 1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith,[a] 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[b] 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[f] God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.


Do any of you remember the movie The Grand Canyon.  In an early scene Danny Glover plays a tow-truck driver who is called to help a wealthy white man whose expensive car has broken down at night in South LA.  A car full of young gangsters pulls up, they get out and proceed to try to steal the car.  The leader pulls out a gun and he and Glover’s character start a negotiation at the end of which the leader decides to pull back his men as a favor to Glover’s job.  But he asks Glover, If I didn’t have a gun, would be having this conversation?  Glover says, No, we wouldn’t.  The young leader says, That’s why I have a gun.  No gun, no respect.

Apparently we have grown up in a nation that, like the underdog Philadelphia Eagles has won the global Super Bowl but we still complain about getting no respect.  No gun, no respect.  We’d apparently rather let a person who is feeling disrespected take a military grade weapon and gun down as many strong and promising victims and they can in 7 minutes.  No gun, no respect.  No jets flying over the playing field, no respect.  No nuclear weapons, no respect. No military parade, no respect.  Regarding that latter point, I’m not trying to make a straw man out of our President, and as much as you may not like to acknowledge that, he is the President and we’re all in this together, we all have a role to play in this dysfunctional, powerful family.

The apostle Paul writes a lot about the faith community—not that he doesn’t care about Imperial policies and global affairs, but his second-career calling was to build up a global community of good news people—a community ruled by love.  And he was always trying to make sure that the human struggles for power and strength and respect didn’t bleed over into the community of faith built on love.  But he understood that that’s how we operate.  There are those we consider strong, and those we consider weak.  There are those we respect and those we disrespect.  And here is says,  Don’t just be a community made up of people you respect.  Invite in and welcome people you disrespect, and not for the purpose of arguing over opinions. 

What has happened in our nation and probably around the world is that people have organized themselves into communities of fairly like-minded folks.  Neighborhoods, churches, schools, counties, even states.  From our varied enclaves we can safely disrespect one another.  And if we find we are no longer respected in a community, our impulse is to get out of there.   Aretha Franklin sings:

Or you might walk in (respect, just a little bit)
And find out I'm gone (just a little bit)
I got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)

Paul is preaching not to the world but to us, the Christ following community, and he says to us, let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.  Do not, for the sake of an opinion, destroy the work of God.

But we will argue, our opinions are about matters of life and death, our opinions are about what’s right or wrong, about justice and truth.   If we do not stand up for our opinions, others will die.

And he will say to us, you are right, your prophetic opinions are righteous, but without love they are a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.   You may move a mountain, but without love, it will mean nothing.

Remember he is saying this as a man who was full of righteous opinions about how to save the world and he held the robes of his like-minded friends as they stoned Deacon Stephen to death.  And it was the Spirit of the risen Christ who stopped him on the road to Damascus, who blinded him, brought him to his knees, and led him to seeing that in this life, there is a more excellent Way.

The indictments that came down this week against a group of men in St. Petersburg, remind us how easy it is to get us riled up against one another over some opinion on something, how easy it is to flame the fires of our disrespect for one another.  And we are quick to defend ourselves, but it is a matter of life and death.   How often we have found that we are so dug in on our opinions that we can’t even talk to a neighbor, or a former friend, or a sister, or a parent.   I’m reminded of that father who welcomed home that disrespectful son and the older brother wouldn’t come in to the party. 

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[b] is able to make them stand. Love and respect are not the same things. 

Getting the respect you deserve is a far cry from losing your life in order to find it.   Even if you think you are trying to get respect for someone who needs you to be their savior.

Being the underdog who defeats the evil enemy in the end, is not what Christ’s story is about.  Christ’s story is about loving your enemy and praying for those who disrespect you.

I am thinking of someone I disrespect right now.  Try it.  The disrespect is probably mutual.  What do we have to do to not break the covenant God has made with this world?  What would it look like to welcome this person you disrespect, and not for the purpose of trying to prove that you are right?

What would it look like this Lenten season to lay down our need to win the battle, to lay down our guns, our opinions, perhaps even our lives?  What would love look like?

O God, to whom we belong in life and in death, whose Son emptied himself upon the cross, disregarding its shame, so help us to empty all our own weapons, to get on our knees in the ashes of our lives, and praise you for your everlasting and healing love.   Amen.

Being the underdog who defeats the evil enemy in the end, is not what Christ’s story is about.  Christ’s story is about loving your enemy and praying for those who disrespect you.

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