S45-025 St. George's, 11 9 05, Romans 14: 1 – 12 (& Matthew 18: 21 – 35) Today is another 9/11. It is four years since the terrorist atrocities in the United States. One of those on flight 93 that went down on in Pennsylvania was Todd Beamer. He was, and his wife Lisa is, a Christian. She later wrote this: God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. God knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband . . . Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Todd's plans to avoid death. . . . I can't see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it . . . I don’t know God’s plan and quite honestly right now I don’t like it very much, but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, 'It's OK.' If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ - the one with ultimate love and ultimate power - what do we have to be concerned about? Of course, our humanity clouds this truth many times but hanging on to glimpses of it keeps everything in perspective. My only responsibility is to love God. He will work out the rest. It may be that the hurricane and floods that have struck the southern sates of the USA will have killed more people than died on September 11th 2001. There have been other disasters and atrocities, with the Asian Tsunami heading the list. There have been, and always will be, innumerable personal losses and times of grief, as age, illness and accident take their inevitable toll. Death comes to us all. How do we face this prospect? How do we react as we see someone we love come to the end of their lives? As a Christian, Lisa Beamer demonstrates something of what St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. To quote Lisa Beamer again, in her book “Let’s roll” Because we have a hope in the Lord, we know beyond a doubt that one day we will see Todd again. I hurt for the people who don't have that same hope, and I pray that they will see something in our family that will encourage them to trust in the Lord. That attitude is distinctively Christian. It is possible through the encouragement that comes from being united with Christ. It is never far from Paul’s thinking. Earlier in Romans, he writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And in Philippians, that tremendous affirmation, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul makes these tremendous affirmations from various starting points. In our passage from Romans chapter 14, it comes, maybe rather strangely, as he considers issues that might easily divide the Christians of his day. There was a long running controversy in the early church about what you should eat and what you should avoid. In a city like Rome the meat that was on sale may well have formed part of a sacrifice to a pagan God. Even if it hadn’t there wasn’t much chance that it was Kosher with the animal being slaughtered in the correct way. If that is the case, some of the Christians said, we had better steer clear of meat all together, and only eat vegetables. Others said that the pagan gods had no existence or reality, so it really didn’t matter. People and groups began to criticize one another and judge each other. Similar problems were arising over whether people should observe special days. Some churches do it today, with calendars that are packed with saints’ days, with days for fasting and days for feasting. There is something of the division between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians that we see in our own day here. Paul is direct. Let not him who eats pass judgment on him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? As Paul goes on, “Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind.” If what you are doing, or not doing, is part of your own genuine devotion to Jesus Christ, and you are comfortable with your decision, then that is fine, and no one has any right to criticize you. If only the church had listened to Paul’s advice through its long centuries of bitterness and division. Christians have argued about whether they should drink alcohol or smoke, whether they should go to the theatre or cinema, whether they should be vegetarians or not, whether women should wear make up and a whole host of other issues. Churches have become places of criticism rather than of love. The right sort of attitude was put very clearly by a chap called Rupertus Melenius in the 17th Century when he wrote, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity.” The essential thing is that we are Christ’s people. If we live, we live to the Lord. Whatever our differences, we are Christ’s people here on earth, living for him. It is this wonderful truth that has enabled me to embrace as brothers in Christ, a Romanian Orthodox monk, a Pentecostal Air Force Officer from Singapore, a Turkish former Muslim, a priest from a church in Lesthoto, a Texan engineer who is a Baptist, and many others. There is room in Christ’s church for every one of us, whatever style of clothes we choose, whatever we eat, how we travel, what we do with our leisure, what sort of music we like, or what translation of the Bible we use – yes Christians have even divided over that! What is important is that we are servants of the Master and that if we live, we live to the Lord. And if we have any doubts about it, says St. Paul, remember the context that all live within, the fact that one day we will die and leave this earth. Paul doesn’t mention that one day we will be sharing heaven for eternity with all sorts of people, people we might have disagreed here on earth. That alone ought to make us stop and think about our attitudes here and now. No, for Paul, death brings with it the awesome reality of judgment. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God,” he writes, and goes on, “each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” If that is true, how can Paul make the ringing clear statement that, “…if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” How can Lisa Beamer be so confident about her husband and his place in God’s love? Reading this passage, I am very well aware of the times I have criticised other Christians over things that are not essential. Left to myself and my own efforts, I couldn’t stand before his judgment. The prospect of giving an account of myself before God would leave me terrified. But the good news is that we are not left to ourselves. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
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