Conversation, Not Judgment

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S (Scripture): Romans 14:13 So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. 14 I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. 15 If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. 17 God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

O (Observation): Paul encourages Christ-followers who have different opinions about customs to NOT let the customs get in the way of growing the community of faith. He’s not saying one should become a doormat and let other’s opinions reign…you can defend your position. And in that conversation go the way that brings peace, joy, and righteousness.

A (Application): So…don’t judge someone. Get to know why they are doing what they are doing. Hopefully, the conversation will be one in which both parties can understand the other party’s view-point. Ultimately, peace, joy, and righteousness need to be the markers against which our actions and thoughts are measured, not just our feelings or passion.

In Christ, we have one who guides us by example. In the Spirit, we have a companion to go with us to help us make these conversations happen.

P (Prayer): Spirit, guide us into the way of peace, joy, righteousness. Amen.

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A Slave to Righteousness

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S (Scripture): Romans 7:5 When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the Law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law. We have died with respect to the thing that controlled us, so that we can be slaves in the new life under the Spirit, not in the old life under the written Law.

O (Observation): Paul is still riffing about about the Law. Is one under the Law if also under Christ? No! How is this? The Law is for the living. In Christ, especially in baptism, we die and are re-born. Thus, we are released from the Law, and at the same time, are now slaves to righteousness, under the Spirit.

The Spirit’s calling compels us to respond…not just an obligation to pass or fail…but as an opening for doing God’s ministry.

A (Application): I see us constantly using the new Spirit in us as a new Law. We set up markers to see who is “really” doing God’s work. We measure public appearances, an abundance or a lack of social media presence, or popularity to decide who is being “faithful.”

The time that I spend in personal devotion and prayer helps me to remember that God is with me day in and day out, regardless of the standards I mentioned above. When I get away from this practice, I get out of focus.

The time I spend “digging daily” is a way of “mining for God’s presence.” I do this practice with several other folks. Something life-giving comes from doing this work with others. Is this devotion a new Law? Absolutely not! The practice of digging into God’s word daily is a great way to see the Spirit alive and well in my life and all around me…especially in troublesome times.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain me in my journey as a space to righteousness. Amen.

The Use of Sacraments / Ritual

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S (Scripture): Romans 4

7 

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,

        and whose sins are covered.

Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.

9 Is this state of happiness only for the circumcised or is it also for those who aren’t circumcised? We say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 So how was it credited? When he was circumcised, or when he wasn’t circumcised? In fact, it was credited while he still wasn’t circumcised, not after he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that comes from the faith he had while he still wasn’t circumcised. It happened this way so that Abraham could be the ancestor of all those people who aren’t circumcised, who have faith in God, and so are counted as righteous. 12 He could also be the ancestor of those circumcised people, who aren’t only circumcised but who also walk in the path of faith, like our ancestor Abraham did while he wasn’t circumcised.

O (Observation): Paul dissects the point at which their spiritual father (Abraham) became righteous. Was it before or after he was circumcised.

Yes, Paul is still ranting about circumcision. Why? This issue was just the most prominent of MANY issues that divided Christians that were formerly Jewish from those Christians who had no Jewish background.

Paul points out that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness BEFORE he became circumcised. In this way those who are circumcised AND those who are not have Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.

In making this point, Paul makes something else even more clear: our external responses (like circumcision) do not dictate whether or not a person can have faith in God.

Persons of faith need not throw away customs, nor do they have to adopt them, in order to respond in faith to God’s grace given to all people who wish to receive that grace.

A (Application): As Christians, we have certain external markers that declare grace to us: namely, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. I’m big fans of both. HUGE fans of both : )

These “means of grace” (as we call them in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) remind us of God’s gracious Spirit being poured out into our very beings. This Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and gives us grace and forgiveness to live out our lives in hope.

These means of grace, however, remain external signs. Sort of like what circumcision meant for Abraham. Not exactly, but close.

Baptism remains our way of joining to Christ’s body. In baptism we are marked with the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder, though, what the non-Christian journeys through when they look at the Church? Are we using Baptism as a means of pushing others away? Or are we inviting them to consider – first – becoming a part of our community. Then, after a time of deliberation, continue to encourage these persons to consider being baptized…to show that on a particular day and time, in a faith community willing to love and support one another, that the Spirit has joined them to the body of Christ.

Personally, I see everything to gain in Baptism and Holy Communion. The old self being washed away for the new life in Christ to come forth. Yet our journeys are not all the same.

More can be said regarding Communion, but I digress.

Let us not use the Means of Grace as a means to divide us into classes (the Baptized OVER the non-Baptized; those who attend worship or commune weekly OVER those who attend worship and commune once or twice per month). Let us, instead, focus on the joy that comes from these means of grace, such that those who do not yet know of these gifts might be inspired by the Spirit to receive them gratefully. And if not, that we not disparage them, but instead, meet them where they are in their faith journey.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace, that we might share it bountifully with others. Amen.

The Law…The Rules

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S (Scripture): Romans 3:28b We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the Law through this faith? Absolutely not! Instead, we confirm the Law.

O (Observation): Paul is once again speaking to the Jewish Christians (those who were Jewish and now following Christ). He points out that their adherence to the Law (or lack there of) had nothing to do with their salvation.

When a Jew expresses the Law, this comes from faith in God. The mark of circumcision is the outward expression of an internal faith.

If that external marker was removed, what then? Could someone…say…a Gentile show faith in God? Yes! And if so, that person would not need the Law to become righteous…for God instills faith in both the circumcised and uncircumcised.

Anyone who believes in Christ has been joined to Christ’s righteousness. This is a free gift. The Law stands as a reminder of who we are called to be as God’s people. The Law was a guide and identity marker, not a path to salvation. Salvation is about faith in God.

So, should the Law be thrown out? Absolutely NOT!

A (Application): What barriers are we putting up as God’s people? What rules do we put in place for members and church leaders that make us stumble along the way? Shouldn’t we throw them all out? Well, not so fast : )

Just like we don’t throw out the Law, we don’t throw out everything that are good boundary markers in organized religion.

Healthy boundaries can be good, so that we can care for each other and build up healthy community. When we don’t trust one another and break down these barriers, we can lean on forgiveness and reconciliation, which we have first received from Christ.

Now, following the rules of the Church is not the goal…faith in Christ is the goal. As such, when the rules of the Church inhibit certain groups of people from access to faithful community, then perhaps the rules need to be updated.

The Law guides us and is an outward expression of what it means to have faith in God. Rules of the Church exist to guide us into community. But faith in God is what makes us righteous. And this righteousness comes through Christ, who gave himself for us. Believing in Christ – thanks to the Holy Spirit instilling faith in us – brings us to righteousness. The Law…the rules…don’t make us righteous. Christ does.

P (Prayer): Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief. Amen.

The Journey can be Exhausting

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S (Scripture): Philippians 3:10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

O (Observation): Paul is helping the faith community know that one's faith journey is always ongoing. And the strength to continue the journey does not come from one's own gut or power or inner strength. Rather, the power to run this race of faith comes from knowing (or being known by) Christ and the power of his resurrection. And not just this, but letting one's ego go is part of the faithful response to being in this race / on this journey.

The race / journey continues. We never reach the zenith. But we strive for it. Always.

A (Application): Martin Luther once said:

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

According to this quote, the journey of faith never ends. That can be exciting and yet exhausting.

If you are exhausted, take a breath, take a break, but let someone know you are going through this exhaustion. Don't just hold it in. Let close ones know your experience. Sometimes the church helps with this process. Sometimes it makes things worse. Find someone you trust and let them know. You are not alone. We are in this together.

And a little break is needed from time to time.

Catch your breath. Splash some water on your face…maybe have some wine and bread. Remember who and whose you are.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us strength on this journey of faith. Amen.