7th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon on the Epistle reading from Romans 15:1-7
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today’s Epistle reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Christian community in Rome comes from a section of about 2-3 chapters where Paul talks about what it means to live together in a mixed community.
In the first century, the Roman Christian community consisted of Jews and pagans. As such, they had very different views on life in terms of morality and proper worship of God. As Christians, however, their views had to be transformed, had to be enlightened, and in some cases had to be changed.
If you recall from the gospels, sometimes the Pharisees and other religious elites would grumble when Christ entered a house of a sinner, be it a tax-collector or prostitute or someone along those lines. And they would also complain whenever Jesus had conversations with non-Jews.
And that’s all because the Jews had very strict customs of ritual purity. Getting into contact with or sitting at the same table or even speaking with a sinner or a pagan made one unclean and unworthy of participating in worship.
One of the things that had to be transformed for the early Christians who came from Judaism is the fact that we are all equally sinners before God. Sin makes all of us unclean and unworthy, and it is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that we are made worthy.
So Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, had to teach and remind them that since they, both Jews and pagans, are now one Christian community, they have to bear with one another, build up each other, glorify God together with one mind and one heart, and accept one another, just as Christ accepted them.
These words remain relevant today. Each Christian community is composed of unique individuals; therefore, each community is a mixed community. And yet, Christ shows the fullness of His divine generosity in gathering to Himself and accepting all of us, regardless of our race, opinions, political beliefs, sports teams’ allegiance, or our sins.
In this divine generosity, we now must build up each other. There is a saying, “If anyone goes to hell, they go to hell alone. But no one is saved alone. We are saved in a community.” Community that is the Church. In Church, the salvation of the whole community is essential. There is no personal holiness apart from life and responsibilities each of us has in the Church.
Each member of the community is here to complement the other. “The strong should bear with the weaknesses of the weak.” We do not put down anyone. We do not puff out our chest because someone might be smarter, or richer, or stronger than others. The strong bear with the weaknesses of the weak.
We build each other up. Meaning, the needs of my neighbor, of my fellow parishioners, are put ahead of mine. The same is true in marriage and in family life.
I can bet you that no marriage ever ended in a divorce because both husband and wife tried to build each other up. No family is struggling with disobedient children because the parents put in effort building up their children.
I was listening to a talk by a priest who is a marriage counselor. He gave a very good illustration of what it looks like when a husband and wife are not bearing with each other’s weaknesses and are not building up one another.
The couple had a fight about something that could have been resolved had each of them had humility. In the end, the husband won the argument because he was able to prove that his wife is wrong … and their marriage was ending.
So they were sitting in this priest’s office, retelling the story, at the end of which the wife got up and left. And the priest looked at the husband and said, “Congratulations, you are an idiot. Yeah, you won the argument, but you killed your marriage.”
“We who are strong should bear with the weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”
Being always “right” in an argument does not always lead to being “right” in life. Saint Paul says that God is the God of patience and encouragement. So how should we behave towards one another, be it in a church community, or with our children, or with our spouses, or with our friends and neighbors (all of whom make up our communities)? With patience and encouragement.
If God is the God of these things, and if we are His followers and the ones who enjoy His blessings, then we become patient and figure out how to encourage each other.
In the end of today’s reading, Paul urged the Romans to accept one another, just as Christ accepted them. Coming from two such distinct backgrounds as Jews and pagans, they did indeed have to learn how to accept one another.
Today, there seem to be so many, external factors that pull us apart, such as covid, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, republicans vs democrats, liberals and conservatives, and many others. All of these divisions, I would argue, are artificial. They were created to split families and communities apart.
So we, once again, need to learn how to accept one another, bear each other’s weaknesses, and build up our neighbor. These are deeply Christian principles that are being forgotten today, especially by Christians.
Salvation is only possible in the Church. And the Church is a community. And today Saint Paul lays out one way of living together as a community of God.
May the God of patience and encouragement grant us to be together of the same mind according to Christ Jesus, so that together we may, with one mind and one voice, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.