15:1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This week will mark the one year anniversary of the day that Sonya and I closed on our home in Staunton. We closed on the house and then we took about a week to work at painting and making it our own place before we actually moved in.
I met our neighbors right away when we purchased the place. We have great neighbors on both sides of our house. I believe that it was a Wednesday and I had been working at painting the kitchen on a hot summer day. So I was sweaty, speckled with a greenish paint, and needing to get cleaned up for a church council meeting.
Because it was hot, I had left all of the doors propped open to allow more air to flow through. So I jumped into the shower and began getting cleaned up for church. Just as I was about finished in the shower I hear an unfamiliar voice calling out, “Kevin, where are you?” My neighbor had done a neighborly thing and brought me over a dish of ice cream on that hot day. She wanted to offer me a gift of hospitality and to say, “Welcome to the neighborhood.” And I guess that she felt very welcomed by our open front door, because she walked through it. I guess that my response must not have been as welcoming as the open door had appeared, because she hasn’t been back inside our house since.
We are called as Christians to be welcoming; welcoming others into our homes, into our fellowships, into our lives, and into a new life of following Christ. But sometimes in our efforts to be faithful, we do just the opposite and set up boundaries that keep people out. Today I want to explore Romans 15:1-13 to see how Paul has instructed the Roman Christians to be more inviting.
I’m going to start today by skipping the first six verses of the chapter and then coming back to them closer to the end of today’s message. Paul writes beginning in verse 7, “7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Welcome one another. That seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Paul is telling the Roman Christians that they are to welcome other people into their communities of worship, fellowship, and probably even into their homes.
We never read anywhere in scripture that Jesus ever invited people into his home, and I have a strong feeling that this is because he didn’t have a home. Homeless people find it a little more difficult to invite others over to their place. But Jesus often went around town from home to home, spending time with and even eating with people of all sorts. He ate at the homes of Pharisees and tax collectors; he ate with everyday people like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and he dined with the upper crust folks as well. And if we look at the group that Jesus spent the most time with, his twelve disciples, we will find an eclectic group of Roman sympathizers, zealots, fishermen, and businessmen.
I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is that Jesus didn’t just spend his time with people exactly like himself, but for some reason, Jesus’ followers often have. Some even encouraged Jesus to stay away from people that were different from him. When Jesus is found talking to the woman at the well, his disciples are embarrassed and try to correct Jesus. “Hey Jesus, she’s a Samaritan! Get away from her as quick as you can! It might be contagious!” What happens when Jesus has his feet washed by the woman of ill repute (read prostitute)? Again he is given a hard time about it and someone says, “If he only knew who it is that is washing his feet. He probably wouldn’t even let her touch his feet.”
Fast forward in the Bible after Jesus is taken up into heaven and look at Jesus’ followers. In Galatians chapter 2 we find Peter eating with the Gentiles and having a great time about it. Then someone from James’ community pays Peter a visit and what does Peter do? He breaks off contact with these Gentiles. He is more worried about what the other Jews are going to think about him than actually following Jesus’ example and loving people the same way that Jesus loved them. From my understanding, including the Gentiles and other non Jews in the religious practices of the early church was a huge issue.
So we come back to verse seven from today’s scripture and here is Paul writing to the Roman Christians, and remember that these Roman Christians were probably not Jews but Gentile converts to Christianity, and Paul is saying to them that they need to be more welcoming to the Gentiles. Evidently, these Gentile believers had built up some kind of metaphorical wall between them and the other Gentiles. They had placed barriers between themselves, the believers, and their old friends, those who hadn’t figured it out yet; the people who are where they had been.
And Paul goes on to emphasize his point by saying, “Hey, this is our mission field. This is what Isaiah was talking about! This is what the promise to the patriarchs, to Abraham was about! Abraham was blessed… to be a blessing to all of the world! Not just to Israel. And not just to the Romans that had figured it out already. To all of the world! All of these people throughout the Bible that were not socializing with, eating with, or not spending time with people different from themselves were missing the point.
Turn with me in your Bibles and follow along with me as I read John 3:16. For God so loved the Jewish people, that he sent his only son. Something doesn’t sound right. Maybe it should be more like this: For God so loved the Romans that he sent his only son. Still not right? No, wait. For God so loved the Mennonites that he sent his only son. No, we know this scripture forward and backwards. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son. This whole Jesus thing was never meant to be about one ethnicity being the people of God. It has never been about one color of skin, one level of income, or one nation under God. God’s plan for the redemption of creation involved working through a particular people for the redemption of the world so that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
I love Mennonite Church USA. I would not be a Mennonite if I did not think that this denomination was doing a lot of things right. But I won’t say that they are doing everything perfectly.
Sonya and I spent the first week of July in Columbus, Ohio at the MCUSA biennial convention. We took part in some wonderful worship sessions, some intellectually stimulating table discussions, and some soul-renewing fellowship. It was very clear in our worship and delegate sessions that MCUSA is starting to take on a new look as the racial/ethnic (the terminology was chosen by those of non-white, European background to refer to themselves) demographic is now the fastest (maybe only) growing group of this denomination. There were Hispanic worship leaders, African-American worship leaders, Latina preachers, minority leaders from various constituencies. Some of it maybe seemed a little forced at times, but the point came across that we are trying to be more welcoming to people of racial/ethnic backgrounds. Obviously we are doing something correctly. I believe that the Mennonite Church should not be a homogenous group of white middle classed Americans. So while I was encouraged by some of what I saw, I was greatly disturbed by other things that I saw.
As I said earlier, one of the best parts of the conference was being a part of the worship sessions. And one of the greatest experiences I had was a joint worship session call a hymn sing where the youth and adults came together at Nationwide Arena to sing praises to God. There were well over 8,000 Mennonites gathered together inside Nationwide Arena for this occasion.
Well the hymn sing took place on July 3rd, the same night as Red, White, and Boom, the fireworks display that takes place yearly in downtown Columbus. They started shutting down the streets of downtown Columbus around 4:00 pm to accommodate the large crowds of people that would be surrounding Nationwide Arena for the firework display. There were live bands playing, the alcohol was a flowing, women scantily dressed…you know, all the fun stuff that we as Mennonites are told to stay away from. There was a big party going on all around Nationwide Arena.
I think that the hymn sing began at 7:30, and we were assured that it would be over in time to be outside to watch the fireworks. All we would have to do is step outside and take in the colors and sounds of the season. We were right in the middle of all of this excitement. But do you know what bothered me more than anything else has bothered me in some time? As we walked past the crowds of people, we came to several barricades on our way into Nationwide Arena. We were asked to show our MCUSA nametags on our distinctive green lanyards to gain entrance into the arena. Then we had to show them again at the door. If you were not a registered participant in the conference, you could not go in.
This meant that some friends of ours that had come just to join in a few worship sessions could not go in, and that made me sad. But sadness was not the only emotion that I felt. As I said, I got mad. I was mad because this party going on inside Nationwide Arena was a by invitation only party. And if you were not a registered member of MCUSA, you were not invited. It seemed to me like we were trying to keep the rift-raft out of our party.
Mennonites have been reluctant to get involved in evangelism over the years and have often instead made reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14 where he says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
The idea is that people will see us doing the good things that God has called us to do, realize that another world is possible, and come to follow Jesus. I personally believe that this is an extremely important aspect of sharing our faith, but I do believe that we must also always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus like we are instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. We need a balance of words and deeds.
This whole drawing in people is quite consistent with the Old Testament paradigm of Israel attracting all other nations to them so that they might be blessed. And I thoroughly believe that the church today should be attractive to people, drawing people in from near and far. So if this is the missional activity of the church, to draw people in, then why in the heck do we try to keep them out?
Nationwide Arena holds 20,000 people. There were about 8,000 registered people present at the MCUSA convention. That means that another 12,000 people could have come in for that hymn sing on July 3rd. But instead we put up barricades and place security at the doors so that only those with the right nametags can get in the front door. I do not understand this at all.
Sure, there could have been some practical issues with opening up another section and then having to clean it. There could be some problems with drunken people wandering in off the street and disrupting our hymn sing, or scantily clothed people being a distraction. But if we are going to hold fast to this model of trying to be a church that draws people in, then we need to let them in. And we need to let them in even if they have not conformed to our ideal.
Paul writes in verses 1 and 2 of our scripture for today, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” Sounds to me like we missed an opportunity last week in Columbus. Sure, we were putting up with the failings of our neighbors outside of Nationwide Arena…as long as they stayed outside Nationwide Arena.
Before each day’s first delegate session in Columbus we began by taking part in a practice called “Dwelling in the Word”. Each day we read the same scripture from Luke’s gospel, the story of Zacchaeus, and meditated on it. We all know the story and we probably know the song even better. Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. We read this story and we were asked different questions like, “Who can you relate to in this story,” and “Who are the ones that are seeking to see Jesus today,” and one that really stuck with me “How do we become like those that were gathered around Jesus, keeping people like Zacchaeus away from the Jesus?”
We become the tall people standing between Jesus and Zacchaeus when we try to set rules that keep others out of the church. We become the tall people standing between Jesus and Zacchaeus when we require the correct name tags, credentials, or registration to have taken place before we allow others to join us in worship. I bet we are a lot like those tall people in a lot of different ways.
I tell this story not to be overly critical of MCUSA but to draw our attention to the fact that even though we are trying to be faithful and to be inviting and welcoming, sometimes we fail at welcoming people as Christ has welcomed us. This week I encourage you to spend a bit of time wondering how you might be obstructing the view of others that are seeking to see our Savior. How might we do what Paul asked of the Roman Christians and welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us? Write it on your calendar or in your date book to keep that question before you. And let’s not just stop when we have considered how we might be an obstruction, let us not rest until we have torn down any obstruction that keeps others from seeing the Lord.
We are called to be light to all of the world, the same world that God so loved that he sent his only son. Let us share the Good News with our lives, let us share the Good News with our mouths. Let us share the Good News with everyone.