H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
May 1, 2005
REAL COMMUNITY IN CHRIST
Texts: Romans 14:10-13; 15:5-7
hear, all ye liberals and conservatives! All ye republicans and democrats, all
yet boutique multi-culturalists and militan uni-culturalists, all ye left and
right, red and blue, this sermon is for you!
14 and 15 are important words for a divided church in America and for a
divided America. Whether we call it culture war or values war or conservative
versus liberal, our redness and blueness is killing us.
begin with a mea culpa, which is Latin for “oops” or “my wrong”
or to use the hi-hop translation, “my bad.” (I think I’ll stick to the
few weeks ago in a sermon on end-of-life issues, I made a rather sweeping
negative judgment on religious right and political right in their use of the
term “culture of life.” A couple came out of the service and said they
loved the sermon and agreed with most of it, but that they believed I had put
the religious right in a box. They belong to the religious right, and by my
dismissive comments about the religious right they had felt dismissed.
was wrong. We get in trouble when we think the religious right or the
religious left is a monolithic uniform block of people. It is my hope as
senior minister to help us be a community where left and right can honor each
other and talk across the great divide in our culture. My comments in the
previous sermon were at cross-purposes with that goal. So mea culpa.
has given this congregation a rare gift by providing us a generous mix of
leftward people and rightward people. Serious, honest and mutually respectful
conversation inside this place as we worship, pray and serve together can be a
gift of shalom to our fractured nation.
Paul was facing in the Roman church was a church divided over cultural,
ethnic, religious and moral values issues.
two main parties were named the “weak-in-faith” and the
“weak-in-faith” were the conservatives and were, as you might suspect,
given their name by their opponents, who named themselves the
“strong-in-faith.” The “weak-in-faith” probably took the name and made
it a badge of honor: “I’m conservative and proud of it!” The
“strong-in-faith” had their own measure of spiritual pride: “We’re the
enlightened ones, the grown-up ones, the ones who really understand the
presenting issue was the Jewish dietary regulations, what to eat and drink,
but the deeper issues had to do with what was morally clean and unclean, and
how to make moral decisions.
my moral decisions based on rules which say what is right and wrong in every
situation, or are they based on principles which you apply situation by
situation? Does the community
determine what is right and wrong, or does the individual
determine that in his or her own personal faith? The issues went deep and grew
heard of a Baptist church near Louisville which split up in the nineteenth
century. A guest speaker asked the question: “If a marauding Indian came to
your door and asked where your children were hidden, would you tell a lie and
protect them from death or tell the truth and expose them to death?” The
congregation got in such an awful row over the issue that they split into two
congregations: The Lying Baptists and the Non-Lying Baptists.
saw the fissure in the Roman church between the “weak-in-faith” and the
“strong-in-faith.” The “weak-in-faith,” the conservatives, said that
they needed the law. They were
not strong enough or smart enough to know what was right and wrong in every
decision and do it; so they would continue to follow the law. The
“strong-in-faith,” the liberals, said that Christ had freed them from the
law and that they in their personal relationship with God could determine the
right and the wrong.
big problem was not the difference itself, but that the groups did not like
each other very much because of the difference and would just as soon not be
in church with the other group.
here is Paul’s message to the groups. He himself was in the
“strong-in-faith” camp, but he wanted a church that could include both. I
will summarize and paraphrase chapter 14 but will substitute the word
“conservatives” where the text says “weak-in-faith” and “liberals”
where it says “strong-in-faith.”
the liberals welcome the conservatives but not for quarrels over convictions.
the liberal not despise the conservative, and let the conservative not pass
judgment on the liberal, for God has welcomed the liberal.
are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? Your brother/sister,
whether liberal or conservative, is the Lord’s
servant, not yours. And the Lord helps both to stand.
person’s freedom is in honor of the Lord. Another person’s strict
obedience is in honor of the Lord. Let it be so for both. Whether we live or
die, we are the Lord’s.
do you conservatives pass judgment on the liberals? And why do you liberals
despise the conservatives? All of us will stand before the judgment seat of
Christ, and each of us will have to give an account for him or herself.
(You’d think that would keep us occupied enough without our trying to keep
everybody else’s books!)
behalf of the liberals Paul says, “Nothing in itself is unclean!” On
behalf of the conservatives Paul says, “But if you think it is unclean, it
the conservatives Paul says: “Everything is clean.” But against the
liberals Paul adds, “Do not let your liberated style of life cause your
brother or sister to stumble. If you flaunt your freedom and thereby injure
another or wound the conscience of another, you are not walking in love.”
To the conservative
he says, “You must not coerce the conscience of another.” To the liberal
he says, “You must not undermine the conscience of another.”
both groups he says, “Do not make your issues more important than the
‘work of God.’ Follow after the things that make for peace and build up,
edify, help one another.”
both he says, “Whatever does not
proceed from faith is sin.” That is, as best as I can understand this
phrase, you must live your life out of your personal, faithful relationship
with Christ. Do not let your conservative or liberal brother or sister intrude
upon that faith relationship. Do not let them stand between you and your God.
If you act apart from your faith relationship to Christ, that is sin.
was a third group in the church, those Paul called “the doubters,” the
waverers, the ones caught in the middle, the confused moderates. They are
caught in the cross-fire between right and left. Paul says to them: You belong
to Christ, not to the left or
to the right. Determine in your heart of hearts in relation to Christ, how you
are to live. Act from the inside out, not from the pressure of any group.
sums up with this statement: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and
drinking [not liberal or conservative] but righteousness, peace and joy in the
There it is,
that’s where the kingdom is, in these three. Righteousness: What the Bible
calls holiness: right living, right relation. Peace, well-being, wholeness,
unity. And joy. If there is no joy there is no God. Holiness, wholeness,
happiness. When three are happening, the kingdom is happening. If most of what
you are doing is quarreling over convictions, that’s not the kingdom.
Paul does not want
one side to conquer the other
or one side to convert the
other side. His goal is the peace of
Christ manifest in the unity and diversity of the church.
in chapter 15 Paul says, “Bear with one another in your differences. Live in
harmony that together you may with one
mouth glorify the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now thank we all our
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices!
then he says with the final imploring words: Therefore
welcome one another as Jesus has welcomed you, to the glory of God!
From a to z we can
find issues to divide us:
control, biblical infallibility, baptism
Calvinism, corporate ethics
hymns we like or don’t like
humanity and divinity, judicial appointees
moratorium on the death penalty
nuclear weapons, nuclear power
sin, opinionated people (those other
opinionated people, of course)
papal infallibility, passing the peace
for the historical Jesus
gifts, sexuality, Shoemaker
the United Nations
in human society
W., war, weapons of mass destruction, worship styles
fear of one who is different, exclusion of the strangers, the immigrant
and Red-Sox, and yellow-dog democrats
of these issues are of great importance, and Christ may call you to get
involved in them, but let us remember Christ
is most important of all, and in him we have real community.
Peck says that real community goes through stages: 1) There is Pseudo-
community, where our unity is based on superficial alikeness and we don’t
really acknowledge our differences. 2) Then there is Chaos, when our
differences collide and we become disoriented. 3) Emptiness, when we
experience the death of Pseudo-community and death of the illusions with which
we live. 4) Community, real community that comes as we learn to love each
other as we really are. 1
communities and deep relationships and marriages go through these stages, then
go through them again. Stanley Hawerwas has what he calls “Hawerwas’
Law.” It goes, “You always marry the wrong person!” That is, You never
really know the person you marry. Then you discover who they really are. Then
true marriage begins: Learning to love the person you have,
not the one you imagined.
think our issues are so important; then we discover that what is really
important is each other, and is the Christ who has brought us together.
Craddock tells the story of a friend and his missionary family under house
arrest in China. One day they were told they were free to leave and return to
America. They had twenty-four hours to pack and could only take two hundred
pounds with them.
parents and the two children had lived in China for years. How could they
decide what to bring? They took out scales and weighed and chose and chose and
weighed again until they had exactly two hundred pounds. The typewriter, the
vase, the essential clothes. . . . Two hundred pounds to the ounce.
they met the soldier at the airport, the soldier said, “Ready to go?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“Did you weigh everything?”
“You weighed the children?”
“Weigh the children,” the soldier said.
in a moment the vase, the typewriter, the clothes, meant nothing. 2
one another,” says Paul, cherish one another, treasure one another,
“as Christ has welcomed you, to the
glory of God.”
dear you are, how dear each of you. Behold one another; behold the Christ in
1. Scott Peck, The Different Drum.
2. Craddock Stories, ed. Graves and Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001).