In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 26 minutes 05 seconds and the Sermon begins at 28 minutes 45 seconds.
Scripture: Romans 14:1-12
Sermon: How Are We To Live Together
You are watching the Queen of Daytime television, Oprah. (Just included all the women in my audience and excluded all of the men—guys hang with me.) Oprah’s guests are praising their workplace affairs. This guy and gal were boss and secretary; these two shared a cubicle, and eventually a pillow. As the audience keeps applauding their sexual adventures, a lady with a pearl necklace stands up. Oh no, you say, the church lady! Here it comes. Sure enough she stands up to say, But the 7th commandment says, thou shalt not commit adultery. The crowd jeers. Oprah replies, While I appreciate your spirituality you should not impose your values. After all in that same Bible Jesus said, Judge not that you be not judged. The crowd claps. Case closed. The church looks narrow-minded again.
Are we never to judge? And, if we are to judge, then when?
The Roman Christians were being a little judgmental. On the one side were the Gentiles who refused to eat meat. They weren’t vegetarians, but more on that in a second. On the other side were the Jews who insisted that all keep the Sabbath. The Gentiles were horrified when the Jews ate meat because it brought back the smells and orgies of their pagan lives eating leftover meat that was sacrificed to idols. How can you Jews even buy meat at the market, they said, since it’s possibly been offered to the pagan god Bacchus?! On the other end of the wagging fingers were Jews who couldn’t believe that Gentiles mowed their lawns, or did any work, on the Sabbath! Have you no respect for the law?!
So each went to his corner, gossiping about the other to his group. Sinners! they sneered.
Go back 50 years ago and we were in the same boat. This was back when cohabitation was called living in… Back when the f-word never made it on TV, and Lucy and Desi had to sleep in separate, single beds. She still managed to get pregnant, though they couldn’t use the word. Yes, we used to be judgmental then. And still today if you don’t fully accept gay marriage or changing genders you may be called the j-word.
That’s why at the end of the Middle Ages our reformed forefather, John Calvin, used the Latin title of this sermon—adiaphora. Say it with me… In a day and age when you could be hung for not believing in the Trinity, it was important to know what was adiaphora; i.e., indifferent, and what, say, you had to hang people for.
So about what can we agree to disagree; i.e., what is adiaphora? For example, Pastor Mark preaches in, say, Jesus shoes, and I preach in Sunday shoes. Is that something to fight over or is that adiaphora?… God has blessed us with a pretty good sense of what is “opinion”—according to verse 1—and what is conviction. But what if I stand in this pulpit and endorse Obama, is that adiaphora? It may not be to the IRS when they review our tax status. Or what if you consistently smell alcohol on my breath, is that adiaphora?
I think God might say that our problem is the reverse of the Roman church.
Unlike Paul’s congregation we are very tolerant—to a fault. Should we ever judge?
God’s word is speaking to a very judgmental crowd so the explicit message is
Who are you to pass judgment on the Lord’s servant?
The implicit message though is that since we will all stand before the judgment seat of God, there are some things that are not adia…; in other words, some things that should be and will be judged. Read what God is says just the next book over… (I Cor 6:1-3).
So, what to judge and what not to judge? That’s the question!
The story is told about the robber who pulled a gun on a Roman Catholic priest in back of a church at Notre Dame. So immediately the smart priest handed over his wallet., though as he reached into the inside pocket of his coat the thief could just make out in the dim alley light a clerical collar. Are you a priest? the thug asked. Yes, replied Father. Oh, I don’t rob priests. I’m Catholic, too. Greatly relieved the priest pulled out a cigar and offered it to the penitent thief. Oh no, came the reply, I’ve given those up for Lent. Here was a thief with a conscience! A convicted criminal, we might say. Thank God!!
Christ’s body the church has a conscience, too, hopefully more of one than that thug. So there are things to judge and things not to judge. How do you know when to judge? When something violates our core: Creeds, Commandments, and Commitments.
The purpose of creeds is to define orthodox and unorthodox beliefs. Looking at I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord… makes it clear that God wants the church to judge the fine person who says that Jesus was just a great guy as other than Christian.
The commandments set boundaries for appropriate actions and inappropriate actions. When we hear that our friend has just moved in with her boyfriend, and they have no permanent commitment; maybe it’s time for us to risk sounding judgmental by lifting up the sanctity of marriage. Are you ready to marry him? Why? Why not? we can begin.
The commitments aim attitudes in the right direction. Let’s recognize that youth most often meet God through their friends. However, if someone is joining the church just to be with their friends, and not recognizing God through them; maybe they’re not ready yet to be confirmed. For the best life is more about loving God even than loving others.
What’s adiaphora? And what’s to judge? Let’s ask God to give us wisdom, Amen
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