This Thursday is the Fourth of July. A time when we celebrate our nation. A time when we celebrate our Freedom. A time when we the birthday of the United States.
But are we really that United?
Just last week, a monumental decision took place in the Supreme Court about gay marriage. Many people celebrated in the streets, while others took to blogs to express their supreme disgust.
The Presidential election wasn't that long ago. The nation was basically split in half! 51% to 49%. This split wasn't just laxadasical either. Rather, these people were vehemently split in half!
How come? The Economy. Foreign relations. Gay marriage. Tax cuts. Health care reform.. Gun control. Abortion. Immigration laws. These are just some of the many topics that have deeply, ruthlessly divided the nation, emotionally charging people and putting them on polar opposite ends of belief!
It's enough to make the United States feel more like the Divided States.
But, you know what? We shouldn't be surprised. Unity is hard to come by. Rock bands break up because having your name appear first on the CD cover is more important than sharing the message of your music. Championship football teams break apart because money is more important than winning another Super Bowl. Business partnership fall apart because the bottom line is more important than working together to serve the world.
Why is unity so hard to accomplish?
I think the answer lies in what we all have in common.
I saw something a bit comical at the dog park the other day. A woman, who was possibly dog sitting, came into the park with six different dogs attached to these large leash carrying device. Before she entered the park, controlling the dogs seemed to be very easy. All the dogs sat nicely, because they wanted her to open the door that they might get into the park.
But then, things changed drastically. As the gate swung open, the German Shepherd tried to run to the right because he wanted to sniff the trees. The Black Lab ran straight forward to run and greet all his friends in the park. The two collies took notice of the tennis ball that just landed to the left, while the poodle jumped at her knees to be picked up and the big old American bull dragged behind because he wanted to go slow.
Isn't the same true for human beings? We only remain united with others as long as we get what we want. In other words, the one thing we all have in common is that we are all selfish! The very thing that destroys unity!
It's what happens in destroyed marriages. People get married because they want the loving feeling and romantic companionship they feel from the other person. When that feeling is no longer what the person wants or when one decides that he wants a new romantic companionship, the marriage suffers if it isn't over.
Now let's talk church. A church is a generally large group of people united around a system of beliefs that have the same goal. How can a group of people, of all different ages, of all different backgrounds, and of all different likes and dislikes possibly remain united?
I think our text for today, Romans 15:4-6 shares the answer. Listen to what it says:
4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you see the word unity in there? Notice where it comes from. God. God gives unity.
And it has to be this way!?! How else would a group of sinful, selfish people, of all different background and experiences ever be or remain united?
Afterall, we are sinful, selfish human beings. And it isn't that hard for our sinful selfishness to rear it's ugly head...even when it comes to church matters: “I want the walls painted this color because I like that color. If someone thinks otherwise, they can stick it!” “I think the palm trees up front look better to the right of the pulpit. Grrr! I'm so upset I won't be able to go to church for weeks! “I like this style of music best. There really isn't any other style of music that's any good. Those who think differently than me can leave!” “I love having the Kroger brand Oreos from the store. Plus they are cheap. That's the only thing that should be served at fellowship time. If any thing else gets served, fine. I'll just leave.”
With such a selfish, sinful attitude, we could never be nor ever remain united.
You know what's strange though? This is the very first truth that God's Word unites us in.
For the Bible teaches that we are all the same. Sinful. Selfish. Humans. Deserving of God's wrath. In need of saving. There is no difference among us. It doesn't matter if you grew up in North Carolina or North Dakota. If you speak English, Spanish, or Hindi. If you like Duke, UNC, or NC State. You are a sinner!
But this only gives way to a second important truth: Jesus died to save us all. All of us. The young, single Hispanic mother. The well-off, Arabian Entrepeneur. The older pair of snowbirds who recently moved into their retirement home. The struggling family which is on their third apartment this past year. The African American gentleman. The Asian grandmother. Even...(And this is the hardest for me to believe because I know him too well)...even that 28 year old white guy preacher from Wisconsin. Jesus died to save all of us. We are united in this truth!
And what's interesting is that in order to win salvation for us, Jesus had to unite himself with the worst parts of us. He literally united himself with the unruly, selfish, awful, sinful part of us that no one would ever want to unite with. Yet Jesus did. He united himself with our sinful self and took it on as his own. It's why he suffered. It's why he died.
But, because they were united with him, our sins died as well. They were buried in the tomb. The dark door of no return slammed shut on them.
But then Jesus separated himself from our sins. Jesus returned from the grave, but our sins remained. Earlier in Romans 6:3-5, Paul makes that very asseration, “Don't, you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Brothers and sisters. This Jesus is our hope. The very hope that Paul describes in verse 5 of our text. The very hope that unites us.
No longer are we completely defined by the words: North Carolinian. Northern. Southern. White. African American. Asian American. Arabian American. Native American. Old. Young. Married. Single. Any of these.
We are Christians. Followers of Jesus. Walking Together.
God's love is greater than that. For not only does God give us unity through the Scriptures, but God keeps us united in this hope through the Scriptures! Look at what verse 4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Look at how Scripture unites us. First, it teaches us endurance.
Moms know about endurance. Say they are taking their child to the Doctor. And the entire way there their child in the back seat is screaming, crying, and pitching a fit! Mom wants to stop. Mom wants to turn around. Mom wants to drop kids off at the corner McDonalds and pick him up later today. But she doesn't. She endures in order to take her kid to the Doctor.
Scripture teaches us to endure just like those moms. But instead of enduring whining and screaming, we endure something a lot simpler. Differences of opinion.
Ever heard the big religious word "adiaphora?" Adiaphora is the neutral zone. It is the zone where something is neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
It is in this zone of adiaphora that Scriptures teaches us NOT to be selfish, but to endure different opinions that are different from ours in order to remain united with Christ! The stuff that IS commanded and forbidden by God? That's untouchable. That remains the same. But anything we endure for the sake of Christ.
It's why UNC fans worship opposite NC State fans. It's why Democrats worship opposite Republicans. It's why people who like modern Christian praise songs worship opposite people who enjoy the classic hymns. It's why people who have no idea how to turn on a computer sit opposite of those that have at least three mini computers with them in this church!
In other words, we endure one another, because in Jesus we are no longer focusing on ourselves, but we focus on others!
Endurance isn't the only way Scripture keeps us united. It also encourages us. For “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Did you know that Wisconsin Synod Conservative Lutheran is not the religion of choice in this area. Raleigh is not Lutheransville. In fact, as our area becomes more and more global (and more and more secular) it's not necessarily Christianville anymore either.
These facts could leave us feeling like Elijah. He was up in a cave—hiding, because he was afraid he was the only one who was left that believed in the LORD.
Just as God comforted Elijah reminding him that he was not alone, but that God had reserved thousands in Israel who had not yet bowed down to Baal, so Scripture comforts us. It reminds us that we are not alone. It encourages by reminding us that we are united with hoards of Christians who have gone before. Disciples. Prophets. Ordinary people.
Finally, Scriptures encourages us that we are united with Jesus—who promises “Surely, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19)
God has blessed us even beyond that. Because there are other Christians in this world. In fact, we even have half a million other people who are completely united in our beliefs. Members of our Synod. Members who are trained by pastors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Pastors who are trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity. Professors who were trained by professors who teach the Word in its truth and purity.
The common thread? Scripture. The Word. It is the blessing of God that unites us in Christ. As Paul says in verse 5, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.”
God's Word is powerful! It has kept us united in the past. It keeps us united right now. It will keep us united in the future!
United, we walk together toward a goal. Verse 6 tells us this goal, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What else will glorify God more than sharing the truths of His Word with the world!
This is what we do when we gives 10 percent of our church offering to our Wisconsin Synod. Those funds go to support mission work around the world. Sharing the Gospel in 30 different countries. Serving 150,000 more souls worldwide. Opening 10 new home missions each year. Translating good, truthful Bible materials into languages that do not have good truthful Bible materials. Training pastors and teachers to go and share the truths of God's Word in the world for generations to come!
Blessing upon blessing! We even get blessings in return! Synod dollars from Arizona, Alaska and Louisiana, helped to train me in God's Word that I might in turn train you.
A teen group from Ohio came and delivered 1700 fliers about Precious Lambs to the community. (2 families signed up already.) Another group from New Ulm, MN will be coming in late July.
Walking together in mission work is beautiful!
This is our goal in North Raleigh too.
With that group from New Ulm, we will be getting out into the community. Getting to know our neighbors. Learning about our neighbors. Showing we care for our neighbors that we might have a better idea of how to serve this area with the Gospel! sec
Then, we're going to take that information and dissect it. We'll determine what outreach ministries we can do to best serve the community. We'll learn what worship songs we might include in worship to make this place feel more like home to the community. We'll the people are who don't know about Jesus and we'll 'hit 'em hard' with the Gospel!
Maybe, based on that information, we'll end up doing things in worship and as outreach that aren't our personal favorites! So what! We will be fine with it, because we are united in sharing the true message of Jesus! United, Paul says, with one voice and heart!
It's kind of like a choir. In a big choir, there there are hundreds of different voices singing 8 or more different parts. But what's amazing is when a choir with so many different voice and different parts practices and sings together, the message is beautiful. It's louder than before. It's as if the angels themselves are singing
Brothers and sisters, may this be the way we work together. United...as many different individuals with many different backgrounds...united as one voice. Sharing the Gospel message with our community. Through the Synod, sharing the Gospel message with the World.
May God hold us united in these goals to the Glory of God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.