Scripture: Romans 14:1-12 Common English Bible (CEB)
14 Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. 2 One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). 5 One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6 Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7 We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.9 This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God.11 Because it is written,
As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me,
and every tongue will give praise to God.
and every tongue will give praise to God.
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
I just love the way this passage begins. “Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.” And I love the way it continues. Some eat meat, some don’t. Don’t judge! Some holds certain days especially sacred, some considers every day equally sacred. Don’t judge! “Each person must have their own convictions.”
Just in case you are wondering, Paul has nothing against vegetarians. Or even Vegans. Or pescatarians or carnivores. Or people who think only certain activities are acceptable on Sunday, because the day is sacred and we should dedicate the whole entire day to worshipping the Lord (and not the NFL). Or who think every day is equally as sacred to God as every other day. Paul is talking about the cultural clash that was inherent to the Roman church.
Poor folks in Rome rarely got meat to eat. They were poor. Meat was expensive. They ate bread, onions, beans . . . but hardly any meat. On certain days the temples to the various gods worshipped in Rome held sacrifices, and then made that meat available to the poor. Some folks said, “Oh, you can’t eat that because it was part of a pagan religious service! Eating that would be like worshipping that false God.” Other folks said, “Hey. Meat is meat.” And they fought in the church over that. “Well, if you eat that pagan meat then you aren’t really a Christian.” “But if there only is one God, then it’s just meat and anyone can eat it.” Just to add to the problem, sometimes that meat was pork, and while some folks might not have a problem eating pork, others adhered to the Mosaic law in which the eating of pork was an abomination. Imagine, fighting in church over whether or not to eat meat. Silliness! Am I right? And yet, the church in Rome was coming to blows over it. And Paul says, don’t judge. Both of you are doing what you do to honor God. It is all good. (Although I think Paul was maybe just a little judge-y when he called the people who don’t eat meat “weak.” Whatever.)
In many cases, the arguments in those congregations were between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, those who believed one must adhere to the Laws of Moses in order to become Christian, and those who believed faith in God through Jesus Christ was enough. And Paul kept saying, “All y’all, knock it off. You are all Christians. You all serve God. You all do the best you know how to honor God. So stop judging each other. That’s God’s job!”
In our Wednesday evening study of the Book of Acts, we were asked to look at our congregation and see who is missing. Well, maybe we weren’t asked that, exactly. We were asked to see what was keeping us from welcoming everyone - who might not be welcome. And, after some thought, one person said, “We’re not as white as we used to be.” True. This congregation was once all white. The fact that this is no longer true is truly worthy of celebration. It’s not as old as a lot of congregations. I mean, yes. This church is something like 130 years old. Even our building is over 100!. But as regards the people worshipping here on Sunday mornings, we have this whole section over here of younger folks who show up voluntarily! Not dragged here by parents or grandparents. A lot of churches can’t say that. The congregation is not as straight as it used to be, either. Another very good thing. And all these different people are not just pewsitters. There are women in leadership, and gay and lesbian folks in leadership, and young people in leadership, and people of color in leadership. Not due to any deliberate or intentional “inclusiveness” program - it just happened that way. Leaders are leaders no matter what wrapping they come in.
That’s not to say we are perfect. We aren’t. We are human. We judge. But we are trying. We seek to be inclusive of everyone who comes. Even if their theology differs from ours. Even if their commitment to social justice doesn’t match ours. Even if they voted differently. Even if they want to do something new and different in worship - or (gasp) change the order of worship. As we look around here, we can see there are some pretty big gaps - some groups of people who are clearly absent. Our building’s very structure keeps some folks away - people in wheelchairs, or and people can’t easily walk up and down steps. We seem to be lacking young families with small children. We don’t have a children’s Sunday school group or even a junior high group right now. There are no homeless folks here, that I know of.
I’m not saying we need to go out looking for homeless folks to invite to church. Or start a children’s program with no children. When the need arises, we’ll do it - whatever it may be. That’s who we are. We have a history of doing what we are called to do when the time is right. We may not always agree on when that time is, but we do eventually do what we need do.
Here at First Christian Church we proclaim that, “All means ALL!” It was hard to get to that point, but we have and we are proud of that claim. We do our best to live up to it. However, in our denomination there are those who say that “All means ALL!” is simply a step on the way to becoming Open and Affirming, a designation for congregations who have decided through a time of discernment and prayer that all of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers are welcome to participate fully in the life of our congregation. Those people believe that we don’t have the courage to take that step, and become truly welcoming.
I beg to differ. I believe that “All means ALL” is much bigger and more inclusive than that. And I wore my very best rainbow accessories to make a point this morning.
The rainbow happens when the white light from the sun passes through water (clouds or rain) and is divided, each color from the one next to it in the spectrum. Each wavelength has its own spot. The rainbow is cool, because when there is a rainbow we can see all the different colors light comes in. But when all of those light colors, and all of those differences in wavelength come together, what we get is white light - because, white light consists of all wavelengths of visible light. So although out there we might be young and old, white and persons of color, men and women and all the genders in between, gay and straight and all the orientations in between, citizens and aliens - documented or not - left and right and center, even vegan and carnivore . . . in here we are one congregation. Not divided into all those different wave lengths, or groups. We are one. One, holy, universal, apostolic church. In this place, the rainbow comes together.
(And for those who are reading and not watching - at this point I take off the rainbow belt and the rainbow stole and put on white.)
In this place, All does mean ALL. It is not a step toward anything. It is a way of living that we understand to be God’s will for us. Welcoming all who come, no matter who they are or where they come from. If you come here to worship, you are welcome. All are welcome here.
Paul said, “Each person must have their own convictions.” Whatever your convictions, if you love the Lord, you are welcome here. If you are seeking a church home, you are welcome here. If you are just here for the weekend, you are welcome here. All are welcome in this place. And All means ALL.