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01 Advent 2 Romans 15.1-13

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            My friends, I greet you today in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Our lesson comes to us from the 15th chapter of the book of Romans.

            Do you remember your 1st experience with a roommate?  What was it like?  Was it a challenge for you?  I don’t think I’ll ever forget meeting my first roommates in college.  The one guy played on the baseball team.  I played catch with him once.  My hand hurts just thinking about how hard he threw that ball.  The other guy had these little quirks, although I’m sure that he would say the same about me.  He would chew sunflower seeds and then spit the shells in a cup.  That’s no big deal, except for the fact that he never emptied the cup.  For the most part we got along well, and we even parted on good terms.  But I learned some valuable lessons about what it is to live with another person. 

            It can be tough.  When I do pre-marital counseling with a couple, I will tell them that one of the biggest challenges they will face is learning to live with someone else.  Because we are brought up to only have to worry about three people, Me, Myself, and I.  So while you may be used to being able to go out with the guys whenever you want or going out for dinner with the girls after work, that changes with marriage, because now you have to take another person into consideration as you are making your decisions.  And that is not a bad thing, it is just living differently than we are used to.

            Well you see this dynamic just about anywhere that you have a relationship between human beings.  Whether it be marriage or college roommates, or new siblings or children, you even see these kinds of dynamics amongst members of Christian congregations.  This was the case for the recipients of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  They were dealing with this struggle in relationship with one another. 

            What you had was a Gentile or non-Jewish majority, and a significant Jewish minority.  It is not that one of them was better than the other, it is just that they were different, for the most part, they wanted the same things, although they did not see eye to eye on how to get there.  Basically they came from different worlds and as a result they clashed somewhat.  One group would say, “I’m telling you this is the way to do it.  We’ve always done it this way.  And to change would be heresy.”  The other responds with, “Well, who do you think you are trying to tell us what to do and how to do it.  We know what we like and what we want and we don’t need you to help us in this, thank you very much.” 

            Now this doesn’t do much for the witness that is to be given by a community.  That is something that is all too easily forgotten.  The ways the we live and interact with one another, well they are important, because as the people around us see us, and they do see us, they take note.  And from the ways that we interact with one another, well, that says a lot about what we believe about our God. 

            So here we are with our text.  And it is quite interesting to see these verses where they occur in the whole of the book of Romans.  You see in this book opens with the spiritual standing of human beings before God.  Basically we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  We are in need for forgiveness and reconciliation and we have that through Jesus and his death and resurrection.  Thus all who believe in him are freed from the powers of sin, death and the devil.  And then concludes with how we who have this freedom are to live according to that freedom.  In other words, the Christian life comes out of the forgiveness and reconciliation that we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so with that in mind Paul writes these words.   This is a beautiful rendition from Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase…

            In the midst of the conflicts that this congregation is facing, basically two different groups who have the same amount of need for salvation, who have the same desire to glorify God, are pointed to the fact that it is out of the forgiveness and reconciliation that they have through Jesus that they are able to dig in and learn what it is to do ministry together. 

            I think it is almost humorous that this is one of the texts for this weekend, because at the voter’s meeting and over the next months we will begin discussing the challenges that face us as a congregation as we seek to do ministry with and among not different races, but among different generations.  As we have this discussion and what it means for the life and ministry of this congregation, we can find comfort and hope in knowing that this challenge is not a new one.  Because we have different groups learning what it is to work and live together. 

            For the early church, Jews and Gentiles working, worshiping and living together was a challenge.  How did they overcome it?  Through prayer, the study of the Scriptures, having the same goal (that is the mission of making disciples), and a willingness to compromise because those who were strong were able to bear with those who were weak. 

            The challenge for us today is how do we ensure that Our Father Lutheran Church is able to be the same kind of blessing for the community that it is for us?  What can we do so that the joys and benefits of ministry that are experienced by us are able to be experienced by the people who live around us?  Remember, we are not here for ourselves, there is more to the Christian life than worship.  There is also the proclamation of the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. 

            I see this as a congregation that could be on the cutting edge of communicating this good news with our neighbors.  I see a mindset that says, we will do service to our neighbors with absolutely no stings attached.  So that we do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing to do, and not just so that we can gain a higher membership.  I see this being a place where people who have been rejected and left out can know that they are dearly loved by our God.  So much so that he sent his son to die for them.  Then through these things, they will be able to give glory to our God, whose grace is even for them.

            In living this way we will experience a joy and excitement in ministry that we can’t even begin to imagine now.  Our mindset will be one where we ask first about our neighbors and then about ourselves, because that is how important the mission is to us.  It will be challenging, but it is very very exciting. 

            In the mean time, like the early church we need to be in prayer.  Pray for the leaders of this congregation as we struggle to figure out what the implications of this is, and how to implement it.  Pray for the congregation, that this work would not be divisive, but would come out of the unity that we have with one another.  Study the Scriptures in daily devotions.  For they were written, not to bring us to despair, but to offer us comfort and hope and strength.  For as we fill our minds with God’s word, they are able to be transformed to see the world as he sees it, to love it, as much as we are able to, as he loves it, and it serve it, as he served it.

            We can study the mission field that we are placed here to work in.  We need to know who is out there, and how can we communicate with them.  We need to know how to develop genuine relationships with them, without any strings.  How can we, who have been transformed by the gospel, ensure that this neighborhood is a better place because we are here?  And through these efforts then, we would work together so that God would be given glory by all people. 

           

As a result of this study look for classes during the education hour that will work with this information and talk about how to incorporate it into the ministry that we do.  Linda and I have already talked about having such a session at the end of this month.  We need to have a worship opportunity that uses a style of music and language and education that communicates with our neighbors and proclaims to them the Gospel in all its glory.  We have not even begun to discuss the opportunities that are available for us to serve our community through MOPS or the pre-school which is a very wonderful and important part of this place. 

It may be a challenge, but it is not beyond us to accomplish this.  The church has overcome such difficulties in the past, and will continue to do so into the future, and as we work in this way we know that the Holy Spirit will give us all that we need to accomplish the task that he has set before us.

            Therefore, May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! To the praise, glory and honor of our God. Amen.

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