Sorry! I ran out of church to a wedding rehearsal and forgot to post my sermon. It’s been stuck on my office computer all weekend!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 14, 2014
God’s Rules, Not Ours
A couple of years ago, I was living in Atlanta and training for the Atlanta Half Marathon. This was my first (and, well, only) half marathon and I was really nervous about how the training would go. So I set myself up with a training plan and became borderline obsessive about following it exactly.
Sometimes to a fault.
Case in point, one fall morning, I had a seven-mile run on my schedule. Bruce – being the kind husband that he is – offered to go running with me. So we woke up early, put on our running sneakers and set out for seven miles.
Less than a mile in, we both knew this was not going to be a good run. We were both tired and sluggish and not feeling particularly strong. At one point I could hear Bruce mumbling some calculations under his breath. “If we turn down LaVista and then loop around … That would be four-and-a-half miles …” Then his voice trailed off.
I am not proud to admit this, but the second I heard Bruce say, “four-and-a-half miles,” I kind of snapped. “We cannot stop at four-and-a-half miles!” I shrieked. “My schedule says I have to run seven miles! I have to follow the schedule and the schedule says seven miles! You can stop after four-and-a-half miles, but I am running seven!”
I guess I told him, didn’t I?
Bruce did run the full seven miles with me that morning.
It was a very quiet seven miles.
Sometimes rules (or plans or structures or procedures) – no matter how good they are or why they were put into place – get us into trouble. Because oftentimes we end up focusing too much on the rule itself and we lose sight of the bigger picture.
This morning we read a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. And in this passage Paul essentially addresses rules – religious and cultural rules that the Roman people were following in their lives. You see, this community – a growing Christian community in the first century, in the mid to late 50’s – was made up of a diverse group of people. These people were all growing in their Christian faith together, but they had come to their faith from different places and had different practices – they were following different rules – in their lives.
Jewish converts to Christianity believed that you had to profess a faith in the risen Christ, but that you still had to follow the Torah and Gentile converts to Christianity believed that they should have equal access to God and to the Christian faith without following Jewish law.
Paul cited a few examples of the challenges the Roman community was facing in this passage. First he talks about people following different dietary rules:
Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
Paul was talking about the differences between Jewish Christians who were still following kosher diets and Gentile Christians who were not used to observing any kind of eating restrictions.
Paul also talked about differences in Sabbath rules:
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.
Again, Paul was talking about the differences between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – some who believed in keeping one Sabbath day holy and others who did not believe that one day should be held with higher regard than any other day.
So who was right? Which group of Romans were “better” Christians? Whose rules were they supposed to be following?
Well – according to Paul, it does not really matter – not by our human standards, anyway. According to Paul, judgment about which rules are right and which rules are wrong are not for us to make, they are for God to make.
Who are you to pass judgment on servants others?
Paul asked this not-so-subtle question in this passage.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? … We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … Each of us will be accountable to God.
So in the end, Paul is saying that it really is not our job to determine who is right and who is wrong; it is not our job to take sides; it is not our job to pass judgments on others.
God’s judgment is what matters in life, not ours.
We are children of God. In our lives, we build systems and structures with rules in order to maintain order, but that does not change who we are. And this scripture reminds us that we are not called to live for ourselves, we are called to live for God. We are called not only to listen to God speak to us and to live out what God is calling us to do, but we are also called to allow others to do the same.
We have to accept the reality that God calls us all to be different and that we are all blessed with the opportunity to live out our faith in unique ways.
Listen to what Paul is saying to us:
We do not live to ourselves. … It we live, we live to the LORD … whether we live or whether we die, we are the LORD’S.
Think about how incredibly freeing this is. To finally let go of our need to always find unity and common ground with one another and to just embrace who we are as unique and special children of God. To let go of our rules and our judgments of other people’s rules and just be the Body of Christ.
This passage of scripture is often read at funeral and burial services. There is so much comfort in death in knowing that we are all God’s children and that – in the end – God’s rules are what truly allow grace to enter our lives.
But I think there is some comfort in life in knowing this as well.
Rules are not a bad thing. They create order out of chaos and build structures out of nothing. But they also often have a way of taking over our lives and our relationships. I will admit that even though that training plan did get me to the finish line of a half marathon, that fall morning in Atlanta it also made me lose sight of the fact that I was tired and sluggish and that one shortened run was not going to derail my entire training process.
(And it also caused an unnecessary argument in my marriage.)
So I guess what I am saying is this: Do not let yourself lose sight of the bigger picture. Do not look at the world in black and white, allow yourself to open your eyes so that you can see the world in vibrant shades of color.
Take this church: See us for who we are. We are the Rehoboth Congregational Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ and a community church in the wonderful town of Rehoboth, Massachusetts where we invite all people to come explore their faith and travel along their Christian journey.
That is the bigger picture.
Paul says to “welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” I do believe that we can be a true testament to these words. I believe that we can come together as one community while still all living out our faith in many different ways. We do not always have to agree with one another and we certainly should not pass judgment on another. We simply have to listen carefully to God speaking to us as we plan and discern our next steps and actions.
And we also have to pray – and trust – that everyone else is doing the same thing.
It is okay if we all do not agree all the time. In fact, scripture says that we probably will not.
But scripture also say that agreeing is not the point. Our rules are not the point.
But being children of God? Listening to God speak to us? Answering to God? Now that is the point.
Do not ever lost sight of that bigger picture.
Blessed are you all, children of God.
Thanks be to God!