“Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.” (Romans 14:8b (NRSV)
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome clearly reflects dissension in the congregation. Arguments arose about what rituals to follow, what foods to eat, how to worship, and attitudes of superiority or passing judgement on others. I guess nothing has really changed in 2000 or more years! We still struggle with arguments over change and trying new things. We still have disagreements on what is the “correct” theology or worship style. We still have people who want to have one kind of worship while others want something else that’s newer and more contemporary.
Paul wrote the Roman church to remind them that it isn’t about them! It’s about Jesus Christ! When began to put Jesus first, they would find the right answers and/or they even might find ways to honor the other person regardless of social standing, religious background, or preferred worship styles. Regardless of who we are, we all are God’s child, and we are to treat each other with respect and honor.
I’m always amazed at how quickly congregations forget this! And I don’t leave myself out of that comment, either! We tend to think we know the “correct” way to do things, and we also feel that someone who doesn’t agree with us is “wrong.” We have our own agendas, and we think that things will work the best OUR way! That’s when we have conflict, hurt feelings, anger, and lack of listening. Most of all, those circumstances are when we have moved farthest away from Jesus Christ, who IS the head of the church – not the pastor, not the lay leader, or anyone else – only Jesus, the Christ.
My mother had many favorite hymns, and one of them was “Living for Jesus.” In the summer of 2013, our family sang it in church while I was visiting. That has become a tradition – when I fly back to the Midwest, my siblings, nieces and nephews, Mom and Dad would become the choir in church for that Sunday (we are a VERY musical family – thanks to Mom). That was the last time Mom was able to stand up with us to sing, and I think we all sensed it. Her Alzheimer’s Disease may have robbed her of her memory, personality, awareness, and some of her dignity, but the music was always there.
Mom took that song seriously, and she did live for Jesus. I seem to remember that she “checked in with Jesus” a lot before she did things or while she was going through a tough time. Last summer (2014) our family sang again, only Mom sang from her “heavenly choir” spot. We didn’t sing “Living for Jesus” again – we had sung it in February at her funeral. But as I prepare to sing it with my congregations this coming Sunday in relation to the Romans 14:1-12 text for this week, I know Mom will be there, reminding me that I’m called to set and example, and that I have a job to keep reminding and teaching the congregations that we can believe Paul’s words: “Whether we live or die, we belong to God.” That gives me comfort, not only knowing that Mom believed it and is with Jesus now, but also that we ALL can believe it and live it in the here and now.
May it be so.