(Romans 15: 4-13)
I had been with the Houston Police Department around eight years, working undercover in the Vice Division, when my father-in-law approached me about going to law school. He asked me if I had ever given it any thought. I told him I hadn’t as I was having too good a time as a police officer, which paid well and was rarely boring. He asked me what I thought about it, and I told him I thought it couldn’t be that hard based upon my observations of the lawyers practicing at the Harris County courthouse who, try as they might, could never quite get the best of us on the witness stand. He told me that he would be retiring one day and would like me to take over the practice when the time came. The idea intrigued me so I gave it some thought and talked it over with Teresa who seemed to like the idea as it would be a way of getting our kids out of Houston. So, long story short, I got in but continued working for the police department which meant going parttime cramming a three-year degree into four and a half years before graduating and passing the bar exam on my first try.
Now, if you know me even just a little bit, you know that when I go in on something I go all in. For me, practicing law was no different than police work. You took an oath, and it was your job to uphold that oath to the best of your abilities. You had to get it right or people could get hurt or suffer from your lack of due diligence. I suspect that when many lawyers graduated from law school and passed the bar, they thought they’d be just raking in the money and living the good life. They put making money ahead of their oath. Trust me, there are a lot of starving lawyers out there just barely getting by who aren’t willing to put the work in to reap the rewards. Lawyering, it appears, is a lot harder than it looks if you’re just in it for the money.
And being a Christian, a truly committed Christian, is a lot harder than it looks, especially if you aren’t committed to the “oath” you presumably took when you accepted Jesus. Just because we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we can’t expect to coast our way into heaven. As Christians we’ve been given much and, therefore, much is expected. And that’s the point the Apostle Paul is trying to get across to the church in Rome. The church in Rome wasn’t like our little church out here on the peninsula where we’re all pretty much the same, and on the same page. The Roman church was a very diverse community. It was made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, rich and poor, strong and weak, and it was understandably difficult in many instances to accept one another. Paul is exhorting the followers of Jesus Christ to think of themselves in relation to the standard of faith God has provided them, in particular, the faith and faithfulness modeled by the Lord Jesus himself. He says: Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. What he’s telling them is that the knowledge of the Scriptures affects our attitude toward the present and the future. He’s saying that the more we know about what God has done in years past, the greater confidence we have about what he will do in the days ahead. He says: May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. Paul is making one final push for unity, commanding the divided congregation to welcome one another despite their heated disagreements over how to live faithfully. He tells them to welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed each one of them, for God’s glory. If they just keep that one simple fact in mind, then being a Christian can’t be that hard. He reminds them that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy.
In essence, he’s saying that Jesus became a servant to the Jews for two purposes: to confirm God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and to demonstrate God’s mercy to the Gentiles so they might glorify Him. Paul takes this opportunity to remind his Jewish converts who may be having a hard time accepting the Gentile converts of what was written in the Scriptures. He says: As it is written, Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name. (2 Samuel 22: 50 and Psalm 18: 49). And again, it says, Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people. (Deuteronomy 32: 43). And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and all the people should sing his praises. (Psalm 117: 1). And again, Isaiah says, There will be a root of Jesse, who will also rise to rule the Gentiles. The Gentiles will place their hope in him. (Isaiah 11: 10). Paul is stressing to them that God remains faithful to Abraham and the people of Israel even as God includes the Gentiles on the basis of faith. The Gentiles are invited to pledge their fidelity to the root of Jesse, the promised descendant of David, who rules over Israel and establishes such astonishing peace and justice that former enemies can now live in peace as they have something profound and undeniable in common.
Paul is talking about acceptance, the very cornerstone of our Christian faith. God loves, forgives, and accepts us unconditionally and he expects us to do the same. And for many of us, accepting someone who is so very different from us is hard, and it shouldn’t be, but rising to that challenge brings out the best in our Christianity. For Christ, accepting means taking people into our homes as well as into our hearts, sharing meals and activities, and avoiding racial and economic discrimination. It is incumbent on us to go out of our way to avoid that favoritism we show to people we like or think can help us in return and extend it with no strings attached or questions asked to the lowly and disenfranchised. We must get out of our comfort zone, our holy huddles, and consciously spend time greeting those we don’t normally talk to, minimizing differences, and seeking common ground for fellowship. In this way we are accepting others as Christ has accepted us, and God is then given the glory as his people are doing his work and his will.
We must remember what Jesus said in Luke 12: 48: Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. As people who profess to be followers of the way of Jesus Christ, we have been given much by the mere acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We have been given his truth. We have his justice and his mercy. We have his compassion and his understanding. We have been given the peace that passes all understanding. And we have been forgiven of our sins and promised a place with him in eternity. And if we remember that, and act upon it in our daily lives, we can be the true children of God as it was always meant to be. It can’t be that hard.
Let us pray.
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Gracious and loving Father, how grateful we are that you sent your Son to live among us to show us by his example how we should live in community with all of your children regardless of how different we may be from one another. Guide us by your Spirit to do that which advances your kingdom here on earth showing those who watch what we do that it can’t be that hard to be a Christian. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen