Accept One Another
Sermon by Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
If it seems as if the world is more divided than ever, you could blame the media. Entrusted with objectively reporting the facts, many mainstream media outlets instead seem intent on influencing public opinion. The falsehoods shouted by front page headlines might be quietly retracted days later on page 23G, if they are retracted at all. And social media give each of us a platform from which to proclaim our own individual “truth.” Anyone we disagree with must simply be wrong. And thanks to human nature, we sometimes fail to distinguish between people and their ideologies, so when rejecting an ideology that conflicts with our own we also reject the person who holds the ideology. We are encouraged to resist whatever offends us, to take to the streets or the internet in protest. Whoever can shout down or drown out another is the winner. Sides must be taken and defended at all costs.
Often, the church mirrors culture. As a result, denominations are frequently in conflict and sometimes split over disagreements about priorities, ideology, and even theology. People who don’t feel heard or accepted by their church family leave, some to go to other churches and some to abandon the faith altogether. This is not new. Paul’s letters to the early churches were full of encouragement to set aside their differences and focus on unity. To the followers of Jesus in Rome, he wrote: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With one mind and one voice. In unity.
In A.D. 49, twelve years before Paul’s letter likely arrived in Rome, the emperor, Claudius, had expelled all the Jews, including the Jewish followers of Jesus, from the city. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were also converting to this new faith, and house churches sprang up all over the city. When Claudius died and his edict expired, allowing the Jews to return, the Jewish Christians found themselves at odds with the Gentile Christians, who did not recognize any of the Jewish laws or traditions. Paul, probably writing from Corinth, had not yet visited the church in Rome. He wanted to and planned to, but he had committed first to personally deliver an offering collected by the Gentile churches for the poverty-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. To prepare the Christians in Rome for his eventual visit, he wrote this letter, more accurately a theological essay, not knowing much about the church there or its problems.
But Paul knew people. He knew about the friction between the Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus. He knew that it is human nature to let differences divide us. To reject people along with their ideologies. “Accept one another, then,” he wrote, “just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” The church must be united, even as its people are diverse. We won’t agree on everything, but we must agree on the most important thing: Jesus accepted us first, even though we were and are sinners, so we must accept one another. Author Stephen Covey wrote, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” We can’t get so caught up in the peripherals that we forget the main thing, the thing that binds us all together: the love, mercy, and unmerited grace that Jesus showers on his body, the church. Instead of mirroring culture, we must lead by example. A divided, bickering church is not an effective witness of the unifying love of Jesus. Only by remaining united despite our differences, accepting one another as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, can we honor and glorify Jesus and be his light bearers to our dark and broken world.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available) and stay for Discovery Hour (all ages).