Romans 15:4–13 (NIV)
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of Your name.”
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol Him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in Him the Gentiles will hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In one congregation I served we had two different services each Sunday morning. The thinking behind this was that two different kinds of services, traditional and contemporary, would appeal to different people.
Marva Dawn in her book, "A Royal Waste Of Time" wrote:
“If the leadership of a church decides to split worship into two services with different 'styles' for the sake of attracting the neighbours ... several very harmful effects of such splitting may occur....
If we set up different kinds of worship at different times, this fosters the "vendors/consumers" disposition and promotes the notion of marketing religion....
The division into a "traditional' and 'contemporary" service ... causes narrowing of the community's appreciation.... Older music, written in eras that were more objective in orientation, most often stresses doctrinal content, whereas new music is frequently more directed to loving God. Both are needed, so they ought not to be separated.”
I like the way we often have both traditional and modern music in our worship service orders, that we have both young and old attend worship together, that our congregation is multi-ethnic.
Some congregations in the Lutheran world have two entirely different services each Sunday, and end up with two different congregations worshipping in the same building at different times. Marva Dawn went on in her book to say that:
“Having a "traditional" and a "contemporary" service ... often separates the old from the young according to their preference for what they know. The result is that young families no longer worship next to those more experienced in the faith who could be mentors to them - and the old are bereft of the vitality of the young.... it also deprives the "traditionalists" of new expressions of faith ... and robs 'contemporaryists' of continuity with the Church throughout time ...”
St Paul, in our text today, writes of people living in harmony with each other. I frequently hear of, and you may have heard of, congregations where there are “worship wars” - arguments about traditional verses contemporary worship styles.
I praise God that, as far as I know, we don't have this kind of division here. It's a good thing that we understand the Gospel is bigger and more important than our personal tastes and preferences.
What is important in our worshipping community is that we use words, and share a message that is theologically sound. God wants His truth to be shared and made known.
When God’s truth is shared, as Christians, should be willing to sing a song, to quote Marva Dawn, we personally "might not like for the sake of brothers and sisters for whom it might be especially useful spiritually..."
It's a spiritual disaster to turn worship into a matter of personal taste. To do so is "to lose sight of the fact that it is God we are worshiping - not ourselves."
God is not more partial to one form or style over against another. The Scriptures even call for us to praise Him with a variety of instruments – which we have done from time to time.
Psalm 150:3-5 says:
Praise Him with trumpet sound;
praise Him with lute and harp!
4Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
praise Him with strings and pipe!
5Praise Him with sounding cymbals;
praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!
We see in God's creation such diversity. The Tui sings with a different voice than the Kiwi, the wind whispers and roars. All creation praises God, both in the rattle of thunder and the stillness of silence.
St Paul exhorts us in Romans 15:5-6 …5 May … God … give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But we often divide people into two groups -"us" and "them." When we think of “us” we might be thinking of "us" as being citizens of New Zealand, members of our church, or the family we belong too. Everyone else is "them," the other people.
The habit of dividing people is an old one. The Jews called everyone, who was not a Jew a Gentile, “the other people”.
The Romans called all non-Romans “barbarians”, the bad people. Christians in the past have often referred to all who are not Christian as “heathen”, the godless people, or” pagan”, the worshippers of false gods.
It can be dangerous to label people whom we don’t really know or understand rather than listening to them and communicating the timeless truths of God’s Word.
In my younger days, when I was a mechanic, I had two boxes under my tool trolley. I would divide up nuts, bolts and washers into one and other useful bits and pieces into the other.
As my fellow mechanics searched my boxes for the necessary widget, the contents of the boxes would get mixed up and from time to time I'd have to sort them out.
People are often divided by what they do: farmers and townies, blue collar workers and white collar workers, students and teachers, officers and other ranks.
Sometimes people are divided by age, by the amount of money or education they have, or in many other ways. But as soon as the division is made, you have to be one or the other –you are either "us" or "them."
With my two boxes it was hard to tell which useful bits and pieces went into which box as I accumulated many spare nuts, bolts, knick knacks and widgets. Which box would I put the wingnut or the threaded cylinder head stud into?
After a couple of years using my two boxes under the trolley it became a big job sorting them out when others mixed them up. I ended up leaving them mixed up. They were both my useful boxes of bits and pieces.
In the same way, we're not to divide people into different groups. St. Paul said, Romans 15:7-9a 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.
The Jews were not to be separated from the Gentiles. God has sent Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. He also sent Jesus to male and female, to the poor and the rich, the young and the old, to those who are geniuses and to those who are mentally retarded, to those who like traditional and to those who like modern styles of worship.
It is as if Christ became a widget in my useful boxes under the trolley. It makes no difference what kind of shape or what the widget was made of in the box under the trolley – it was useful.
When it comes to our salvation it doesn’t matter that Jesus was born into a Jewish family, was a male, a tradie and non-materialistic or any of the other things that divide people.
The important thing is He became a human. The only way He was different from us was that He did not sin. In the most important way He was like us. He lived for us. He died for us. Because He became one with us, He could take away our sin and give us eternal life – which He's done!
When we celebrate Christmas, we're rejoicing that Christ became a human and we no longer have to divide people into "us" and "them." Christ gave Himself for everyone – shepherd peasants and wealthy sages. When Christ is with us, "us" includes everyone who believes.
Christ's dying on the cross on our behalf, as our servant, brought about the salvation of all people, regardless of racial background, worship preferences, age, wealth, occupation or ethnicity.
Christ's servants, that is, you and I therefore, are to imitate Christ and offer our own service to all peoples, regardless of origin, ethnicity, wealth or status.
St Paul quotes from today's first reading in Isaiah 11:10 (NIV) 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.
And adds his own prayer, 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's very clear that the messianic King, that is the saving King, comes for all peoples of the world, Jew and Gentile alike: Maori, Islander, Indian, American, Asian and European.
This universal principle of the Kingdom of God also opens for us the boundaries of unity in our present Christian living and in the mission we have to believer and non-believer alike.