Doing What Makes for Peace

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INTRODUCTION

I think most of you know me well enough to know that I’m an emotionally driven person. When someone comes into my office and shares their pain with me it becomes my pain as well. It is an honor as your pastor to carry these burdens with you. It’s what I’m called to do.
And so in this pandemic, I’m bearing the pain of people who have two different views on the importance of wearing or not wearing masks. I bear the burden of those who feel that masks help stem the spread of the coronavirus. I also carry the pain of those who feel that wearing a mask is harmful to people’s health.
Most of us fall into one of these two camps. The problem is that it’s difficult for these two ideas to coexist with each other, especially given the emotions that drive people with these opinions. I have received emails with links to doctors stating that masks are helpful and that masks are harmful. In reality, we all must chose whom we’re going to believe. There is very little room in the middle.
These burdens that I bear have had the opposite effect on me than you might think. You might think that seeing this division at Holy Cross, I would do everything in my power to do what makes for peace. Instead, I have been withdrawing from the community and not dealing with the issue and when I do, it seems that I do more harm than good.
Let me give you a little insight into my life and why I might be responding the way that I am. Again, as many of you know, I’m youngest of my parent’s children. My role in our family was to be the peacemaker. Whenever there were family fights I’d try to say something or do something that would make for peace. In the situation that we now face, I feel like a failure and my withdrawal from the community has not been helpful.
Instead of engaging in a peaceful solution, I helped write an email that only furthered the pain of one group in our community. I want to apologize for the offense that the email stating the consequences for not wearing masks to Holy Cross has caused. I have received comments from people who felt that this email excluded them from this community. I’m not changing my mind on wearing masks at Holy Cross. I’m talking about the method I used to deal with the problem. There was a better approach to take than an impersonal email. That better approach would have been to meet with the people who feel strongly about not wearing masks. I also believe that it would have been helpful for those of you who believe that wearing masks are harmful to have met with leadership of Holy Cross, to have scheduled a meeting with the Board of Lay Ministry.
Into this mess I want to spend time with you in Paul’s words to the Romans from Romans 14:13-19. Before we dig into this Scripture, let’s understand that we have much in common with Paul when he penned these words to his friends. He was facing a situation in which there was no rule book. You might be thinking that he had the Old Testament to lean on. Yes he did, but the Old Testament didn’t directly address what Paul was facing. In the same way, Romans 14:13-19 will be helpful in our discussion of the division we face at Holy Cross, but it will not answer all our questions. There are similarities in what Paul faced, but significant differences too.
The key for us moving forward at Holy Cross is both the first and last verses of our text. We’ll get to the last verse at the end of this sermon, but let’s dig into verse 13. (Read Romans 14:13)
DECIDING NOT TO BE STUMBLING BLOCK
Paul is inviting the Roman Christians to join him on a journey. Did you notice that Paul didn’t us an imperative telling the Romans to get their act together and stop judging each other. He didn’t lord his authority over them demanding compliance. Instead, he invites them on a journey with him where we do not condemn each other even if we disagree with each other.
He encourages the Romans to join him on a journey where there is a conscious decision to not place a stumbling block in front of another person for whom Jesus died. Each one of us has to ask the question, is my view and practice of wearing a mask a stumbling block to someone else’s faith in Christ? Tough question because we usually ask the opposite question. What I mean is this, instead of asking the question, “Is my point of view a stumbling block?” we’re asking the question, “Why is someone else’s point of view a stumbling block to me?” Asking the last question only leads to further isolation and division. It separates us from each other.
There is enough judgment on both sides of this issue. This judgment is often driven by fear. And there is plenty of fear in relationship to the coronavirus. I’m angry that we have to deal with this virus to begin with. We often make assumptions about people’s motives when it comes to wearing masks. I have often heard people who don’t believe in wearing masks say that people who do are operating out of fear. That might not be true at all. They might be wearing a mask for the sake of some one else. I’ve often heard the comment that people who don’t wear masks don’t care about me. That is probably not true either. In fact, they might be very concerned about the effects of wearing masks on your health. I’m not saying any one side of this is issue is correct.
However, I’m inviting you on a journey with me to stop being judgmental about people who either wear masks or who do not wear masks. Paul’s main concern with judgment is that our condemnation of each other can be come a stumbling block for a person.
Let’s look at verses 14 and 15. (Read Romans 14:14-15)
WALKING IN LOVE
The issue that Paul has been dealing with in this chapter is eating food that had probably been offered to idols then sold in the market place. Some people in the Christian community believed that a person must abstain from eating food offered to an idol, and others believed it was okay. Both groups were entrenched in their opinions and it had caused them to be judgmental of each other, breaking out in a division in the church.
How did Paul deal with the issue? He didn’t side with either group. I’m sure that Paul had an opinion. I’m sure that he practiced one thing or the other, but he was not going to let his opinion settle the issue.
I’ve had plenty of people email me with their opinions or share these opinions with me personally. I’ve received emails that support both sides of the issue on wearing masks. An unfortunately, I didn’t act like Paul. Paul is filled with grace as he deals with the Romans. He is not heavy handed. Yet, I’m not sure that the community was happy with his answer. It easier to operate out of the law and demand conformity to the law rather than from a point of grace.
Paul encourages us to walk in love. To make love our lifestyle. There is no condemnation in love. At this point in the pandemic it isn’t going to do any good for us to argue about who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes to wearing masks. In one sense, we are both wrong when we allow it to divide us. We all need to confess our sin to God. No one is innocent. I should not be the only person who confessing his sin this morning. I’m not talking about pointing the finger at someone else, but pointing it directly at our own hearts.
For Paul there is nothing worse than causing someone to lose their faith because of how we act. I’m not saying that has happened at Holy Cross, but it is something that we need to be aware of. I’m intrigued by the fact that if we put as much energy into living for Christ and speaking about him as we do into whether we should wear masks or not wear masks, Colorado Springs would be impacted in an amazing way by our testimony to Christ.
Let’s look at the the next three verses. (Read Romans 14:16-18)
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Verse 16 intrigues me. It seems to come out of the blue, but Paul is concerned that people not be shamed into changing their opinion. Let me take a risk with the text. Let me first speak to those who believe that wearing a mask is harmful to a person’s health. By your research and the people you trust, you have faithfully come to that position. I believe that Paul is saying to you, “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
And for those of you who are firmly convinced that masks are beneficial in preventing the spread of the coronavirus because you trust the experts who tell you this is true, I believe Paul is telling you, “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Humanly speaking what I have just shared with you doesn’t make sense, that is until we take to heart what Paul says in verse 17. The kingdom of God has nothing to do with the wearing of masks, but everything to do with Christ’s righteousness. His sacrifice for us will always be front and center in the Christian community. His love for us, his forgiveness of our condemnation of others, is what holds Holy Cross together. Nothing else does.
The kingdom of God has everything to do with peace. Isn’t that why we come to worship? Don’t we come to receive the peace that Christ won for us? Man, this world is messed up and worship is the one place where we seek peace that only God can give us.
The kingdom of God is about joy. Not happiness. I welcome sadness in this place of worship. We don’t need to put on a different mask, the mask that everything is all okay because it isn’t. However, joy is rooted always in grace, in the God of grace who loves us even when the world doesn’t make sense.
So I have another invitation for you. Let’s look at the last verse. (read Romans 14:19)
LET US DO WHAT MAKES FOR PEACE AND BUILDING EACH OTHER UP
In verse 13 Paul invited us to join him in not condemning each other. That’s the negative side of our live together. There is a positive. Paul also invites us to join him in doing what we can to make peace with each other and to build each other up.
This is where our issue differs significantly with Paul’s issue. Paul’s issue didn’t involve worship. It didn’t involve when they gathered for Word and Sacrament. Ours does.
What doesn’t make for peace is telling one group or the other that they don’t belong in worship. I’ve heard it both ways. Yes, we can participate in worship through our live streaming and that’s good, but the one thing that is always missing is the gathering of the community around the presence of Jesus in the meal, in the Lord’s Supper.
So what’s my answer? I don’t have one right now. I’m going to be honest with you in our struggles. There is damage going to be done by whatever decision we make. If we say you don’t have to wear a mask in worship, then we will lose the people who believe it is best if we do. Our policy of requiring masks has excluded people who believe that masks are harmful. I don’t feel good about that either.
We might say that we add a mask optional service, but I need to tell you we don’t have the people people resources to make this happen. So this is what I’m asking you to do.
Let’s begin with repentance. Let’s all beg God to forgive us for using masks as a divider.
Let’s pray earnestly to God that he would show us a way that will make it possible for us to do what makes for peace in this difficult situation.
If God can forgive us for the nasty things we have done to him, he certainly has the power to show us the way that we can value this community no matter our opinion on masks. Amen.
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