Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sermon from Dec 5, 2010; Romans 15:4-13

Rev. George Miller
Romans 15:4-13
“Abounding In Hope”
Dec 5, 2010

As many of you know, I am continuing to acclimate myself to life in Florida. First it was getting a cell phone with an 863 area code. Next it was changing my driver’s license, and then buying a new car. Last week I took another step: I got Dish TV.

I originally held off on getting cable so I could save some money and figure out where I was going to live. It was fine for the first few months. I rented DVDs and used the opportunity to know the state.

But then the Fall Season began with new and returning shows and I felt like I was missing something, not part of the popular culture, and out of the entertainment loop.

The cincher came when I realized that without cable I’d miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There was no way I could do that. So I broke down and got satellite TV.

The day it was installed? I sat my butt on the couch and watched the Food Network. For hours. By the next day I remembered that as nice as it is to have TV, there’s really nothing on. Doesn’t matter if you have 12 stations, 24 or a 120.

Still, it’s sure nice to watch first-run programs, present day commercials and local news. It’s even better when you catch a show that reminds one of what good TV is supposed to be all about- carrying you away and making you feel better.

That show for me, and for a lot of people, has been Glee, a modern day musical set in an Ohio high school in which students and teachers break out in song in a joyful Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland-“let’s put on a show” kind of way.

One of the strengths of Glee is how diverse the cast is. There are characters who are gay, Asian, disabled and no one’s portrayed as all good or all bad, just fully human and full of hopeful possibility.

In last week’s episode, the Glee club director, Mr. Shue, realizes that he’s been showcasing the same vocalists for each singing competition, unintentionally keeping others in the background.

To rectify things, Mr. Shue mixes it up by giving the prominent solos to those who were “the least of these”. This upsets the ones who were used to “sitting at the head of the table.”

Chaos and petty fights erupt between the group to the point where no one wants to sing on stage or work together.

This prompts Mr. Shue to passionately remind them of what they are about and why they are signing.

“Enough,” he says, “Listen to yourselves… Think back to where you were this time last year. In this room, with no set list, no choreography, no chance…in winning. But you did win. Because you did it together…

I don’t care if you hate each other. All I want is for you to go out there and sing together. Go out there and for six minutes remind yourself that you are not alone.”

And of course that’s just what they do. The hot shots allow the underdogs to shine; they dance and sing, and sure enough, bring the audience to their feet.

Call me simple, call me silly, but I felt that those “six minutes” of television perfectly captured what this part of Romans is all about.

The Book of Romans has been called Paul’s masterpiece. Composed towards the end of his ministry, Paul is writing to a church he has never visited but hopes to one day stop by.

It’s a relatively new church, but it’s not a church without some problems. See, it’s a congregation composed of people from so many different backgrounds that their differences are starting to create cracks in their fellowship.

Not major cracks, mind you, but hairline fractures that if not attended too can lead to some serious wounding of the church body.

What are some of the differences? Well some have been religious people all their life with deeply-grounded notions of what is right and wrong.

Others are people new to the faith or any faith who are just learning about God and Jesus and not so sure that some of things are a big deal.

For example, there’s the question of food. Is it OK to bring baby-back ribs and shrimp cocktail to the church potluck or is it best to leave it at home lest it upsets someone who is kosher?

Do the men have to be circumcised before becoming Christians or can they be allowed to go au-natural?

May not seem like a big deal to us today, but 2,000 years ago- crucial. Enough to have a pre-concert shown-down. Until Paul steps in and does his own “Mr. Shue.”

“Hey!” he writes in chapter 15, “If you are strong in your faith, let those who are new to this have some wiggle room.

“Be good to one another and help each other out. Let God show you how to live in harmony so that with one voice you can offer praise.

“Welcome one another, accept one another as is, because in Christ, God has given everyone hope.

Let that hope fill you. With the power of the Spirit, abound in hope.”

Part of this letter is Paul’s theology of worship, which is that no matter what disagreements we may have, we are to welcome one another in worship; and that no matter how different our beliefs may seem, we can raise our voices up to God and know that we are not alone, if even for just six minutes. Can I get an amen?

This is a wonderful scripture for a wonderful day for a wonderful church.

Now that the Installation is complete, now that the season of Advent has begun, now that our year-long residents, returning residents, new members and visitors are gathered here together, it is good and important for us to hear these words and to be reminded of this message.

For like that church in Rome, we are a fairly new congregation. Like that church in Rome, we come from all over the land. Like that church in Rome, we come from a variety of beliefs and religious experience.

And if we are not careful, those differences, as simple and minor as they may seem, can tear us apart.

Do we stand or do we sit? Do we celebrate communion by intiction or with trays? Do we read from one biblical translation or from many? Should you come to church in suit and tie or shorts and a t-shirt.

Should I wear a goatee or shave it off?

Ya’ll know these issues are real; and they exist everywhere. Even 2,000 years ago.

And as we continue to know one another, the differences will really come out. Was Mary a virgin? Did Moses write the first five books? Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Oh, we’re going to have some fun and we’re going to have some heated discussions.

Those differences are going to emerge, and thank God, because a church family without differences would be boring indeed.

So, now that I have been installed, now that it is official, what do we do? We, as the unified body of Christ, move forward.

We continue doing just as we have done, saying to everyone “No matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Because when we say to someone “you are welcome here” we are saying “I accept you as you are.”

And in that welcome, in that acceptance, we get to gather, we get to praise and pray, sing and give, and unite our voices to celebrate all that God has done through Jesus Christ.

By looking beyond our differences, we become united by the Spirit, and for at least six minutes, hopefully more, we can remember that in Jesus Christ, none of us are alone.

And that gives us hope.

Blessings to God, blessings to the Son, and blessings to the Spirit.

Amen and amen.

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