Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.Rom 14:1-2
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.Rom 14:5
If you remember last week, we focused on Jesus’ encouragement to us to forgive people in the Church when they “sinned against us.” I began to speak about my vision for our Parish as we come out of the Covid19 crisis. I said, “each year when we renew our covenant, we will recommit to being a people of freedom. Together we will hold a vision of a community where we are free from the oppressive nature of anger, and hurt and being unwilling to forgive”.
This week I want to expand on that vision of being a Covenant Community by learning from St Paul. Paul was conscious that the Christians in Rome quarreled over various issues. We would all love to say, that doesn’t happen in the church today. Paul writes about some people eating meat and others refusing to eat meat. It wasn’t that some had become vegetarians or vegans. No, the problem was that the butchers in Rome worshipped the gods of the Roman empire and saw the slaughter of the animals as being incorporated in that worship.
I guess it would be a bit like having a local butcher owned by a Muslim family. It would be important to them that suitable prayers were said to Allah and that the meat was butcher in the prescribed way. They would then proudly advertise that they were a Halal butcher. As in Rome some Christians would feel uncomfortable and would choose to go to a different butcher. In Rome however, all the butchers worshiped other gods so you either had to eat their meat or only eat vegetables. Some of the Christians at the time said, their gods are not real gods, so it doesn’t matter that the meat has been butchered as a sacrifice. Those Christians felt that they could give thanks to God before the meal and they had nothing to worry about. But as you can imagine some felt very uncomfortable and chose instead just to eat vegetables.
Paul seems to have agreed with those who were eating meat as he says, those who are strong in the faith and eat meat need to thoughtful of those who are week in faith and only eat vegetables. Paul’s bias comes because it was mostly the Jewish Christians who felt uncomfortable eating the meet. Throughout Jewish history it had been the practice to separate themselves from the rituals and faith of other religions. However, if you recall the vision that Peter had on the rooftop, (Acts 10:9-16) you will remember the voice saying, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ That was particularly with reference to going to the house of gentiles, but the Jerusalem counsel concluded that when gentiles became Christian, they could continue most of their cultural practices. They could eat meat from the local butcher, and they could even eat bacon and prawns.
Even after this decision St Peter and most of the Jews felt uncomfortable and would sit removed from gentile Christians at community meals. Paul was very angry with Peter when he did this. Paul regarded Peter and the other Jewish Christians as weak in the faith. You get a feel for Paul’s anger in the Letter to the Galatians 2:11-14.
The quarrelling over which day to worship had the same sort of background. Those from a Jewish background felt very strongly that the Sabbath was the day to worship. The Gentile Christians were convinced that the day of the resurrection, Sunday, was the day to celebrate and give thanks. Paul saw himself as the apostle to the Gentiles and he was keen to do all he could to bring them to faith. On top of this his conviction that it is not by our works, including turning up to worship on a particular day would give us salvation. Salvation is a wonderful gift from God, and we embrace it by faith alone rather than by following a set of laws.
Now you might be wondering what all of this has to do with us in the 21st century here in Australia. Most Christians have no trouble choosing to eat meat or choosing to be vegetarian, and we generally regard Sunday as the day of worship but Saturday or any other day is OK too.
I wondered however what Paul would be writing to us about. What do we quarrel about? One of the things that makes some people hot under the collar is the way children behave in church. Some expect children to come to church and sit still without making more than a little noise. Others say, we are more than happy for children to be in church and if they wander around and make noise we don’t care. I am not sure if Paul would say either group is weak in the faith or strong in the faith. But I do believe he would say, Those who like children to be still and quiet, want that stillness and silence out of honour for the Lord. And those who are happy for children to move and make noise want that movement and noise out of honour for the Lord.
Another thing St Paul might notice people murmuring about, if not quarrelling about is that some like to come to church early in the morning and will arrive 20 minutes before worship starts. Others like to come to Church later in the morning and they are not worried if they arrive 20 minutes after worship has started. Again, I am not sure if St Paul would declare one group to be strong in faith and the other group to weak in faith. But I do believe that Paul would say, those who choose to worship first thing in the morning and make it to worship early want that early prayer time and worship out of honour for the Lord. And those who come at the later time, even running late do so out of honour for the Lord.
No doubt Paul would write to us as he wrote to the Romans
10 Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.
Paul would exhort us to be generous in our love for one another building each other up in the faith and to do all that we do to build the Church community.
So, as I said, I want to build on that vision I offered last week to be a Covenant Community committed to generous forgiveness of each other. Let’s also in our covenant to each other and to God choose to show deep respect for each other. As a community lets recognize that we are all different and that we all express our love for God in different ways. We all express our desire to serve God in different ways, and we all have different ways of showing honour to God. The important thing is that we go out of our way to build each other up in the faith and we see this as our commitment as a Covenant before our Lord.