the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 14. 1-12
The church’s mission – like god’s – is to liberate creation!

It’s been one of those weeks! One when I spent most of it sitting at my desk, staring as a blank sheet of paper, having no idea what to write. Monday, of course, was a holiday. Then, came Tuesday. Wednesday. I’d read the passage. I’d read it, again. I’d chase one idea online. Then, another. I’d scribble a few lines. Crumple it us. Jot down a few more. Toss it in the recycle. Round about Thursday, I started getting a little angsty. So, last resort, I did something I hadn’t done in a while. I got up, went across the office, and pulled a book off the shelf. I blew off the dust and thumbed through the pages until I found comments about today’s reading. And there is was …

“[This passage] is immediately concerned with such questions as the eating of meat, the drinking of wine, and the observance of holy days. But more fundamentally, it deals with the age-old problem of the scrupulous [– that is, of the ultracareful –]
versus the enlightened conscience or the conservative versus the progressive.”

It was those last six-or-so words that inspired me …

“It deals with the age-old problem … of the conservative versus the progressive.”

Theologically speaking, of course! But with that in mind, I went back to the passage. “Welcome,” Paul writes, “those who are weak in faith.” Nothing too radical. Too out of the ordinary. In fact, it sounds … pleasant! Nice! Nothing we haven’t heard before. The active welcoming the inactive. The confident, the committed, welcoming the hesitant, the doubting. But it’s the next verse that caught me off-guard. “Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” Some believe in eating anything, everything, while the weak pick and choose!

Paul was talking about conservatives and liberals, about the strong and the weak. But he does it in a way we don’t! For us – again, theologically speaking – conservatives are the people who take believing seriously. Conservative – theologically speaking – are the ones who toe the line! They keep the commandments! They live life by chapter and verse! There’s no one else who follows Jesus more closely! Going to church whenever the doors are unlocked! Saying their prayers! Reading the bible! Tithing! They make sure all their ‘i’s are dotted and all their ‘t’s are crossed! Conservatives are the examples, the role models! They’re everything god wants us to be. Or at least, they do their best and try their hardest! And we imagine Paul writing these words to them, the strong! “Welcome those who are weak! Those who are lacking!” Make room for the weak, for the liberal, for the progressive. Have pity on the ones who don’t that faith as seriously as you do! Theologically speaking … According to popular opinion, liberals aren’t willing to work for anything! Progressives want everything given to them! Theologically speaking …

But look, again, at Paul’s words. Listen carefully to what he writes. “Some believe in eating anything!” No limits! No parameters! “While the weak eat only what’s permissible, what’s tolerated, what’s approved!” Paul’s not saying that liberals, that progressives – that “the enlightened consciences” are weak. He’s saying that the conservatives, the scrupulous, the ultracareful are! And that just wasn’t something I expected to see! Paul’s not claiming to be a “conservative” Christian. He’s saying he’s a “liberal” one! A bleeding-heart progressive! As red as they come! And we here in the good old bible belt have it all backwards! Backwards and inside-out and upside-down!

Think about it … Paul’s been writing about the gospel for thirteen chapters, now. We’ve been reading what he’s written for the last fourteen weeks! And it all boils down to two things. One, everything – EVERYTHING – is a gift from god! And two, there’s nothing we do! Nothing we have to do! Nothing we can do! God does it all! That’s why it’s called grace! Charity! Love! That’s the message Luther received from Paul. And that’s the message we inherited from Luther. And like Luther and like Paul before him, we, too, have only one purpose, one mission … to set people free! To set people free as we’ve been set free! To liberate them as we were liberated! Theologically speaking …

Striving to enter through the narrow gate? Taking the hard road? That’s not strength from Paul’s point of view! That’s not strength because it’s not gospel! It’s not grace! It’s not gift! In fact, from Paul’s perspective – theologically speaking – it’s none other than weakness! It takes strength – courage and strength – to leave the mud pits and cross the sea! It takes strength – courage and strength – to make your way through the wilderness into the land! It takes strength to face the trials and tribulations … to face the changes and chances… to face the ambiguity and uncertainty … and not blink … and not look away … Ventures of which we cannot see the ending! Paths as yet untrodden! Perils unknown! Theologically speaking, those are things in a conservative’s repertoire! A conservative never looks ahead. A conservative always looks behind.

Here … outside the box … there’s nothing to preserve … nothing to maintain … nothing to take care of except each other! It isn’t a philosophy that makes us progressive … theologically speaking! It’s not an ideology. It’s a cross! A cross and the one hanging from its arms! And that is what sets us free!

According to Paul, there’s no such thing as a conservative church. A church believes everything is a gift or they don’t. A church believes god does it all or they can’t. And when all is done and said, it’s the liberal who must welcome the conservative. The strong must make room for the weak. Otherwise, it will never happen. “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us! Forgives us each and every! Forgives us one and all! That’s the gospel! The good news! And that is what makes us strong! That is what makes us liberal! That is what makes us progressive! Theologically speaking …

My friends, the church by its very nature is liberal! By its very message, the church is progressive! And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Life is a gift! All of life is a gift! Given out of the goodness, out of the greatness, of god’s own heart! “For freedom,” Paul writes to the churches of Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free! Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit, again, to a yoke of slavery!” Even a yoke … Especially a yoke … of the church’s own making!

It’s not what we expect. It’s not what we were looking for. But be assured … This is most certainly true! Theologically speaking!

MLC Sunday Worship — Live from Wadley Barron Park

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, September 13, 2020