Topic: Biblical Verse: Romans 15:4–15:13
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
In this past Sunday’s sermon, I’d mentioned some of the tensions that we’re seeing in the world right now, tensions including the escalation of conflict that has been going on between North and South Korea. There are two very different styles of government on the Korean peninsula with a longstanding friction between them. From what reports have come out of North Korea, it seems that the regime there is operating under a particular worldview: “Us vs. Them.” Their nation stands apart, they seem to say, against a world that is out to get them. They believe that they must protect their sovereignty at any cost.
“Us vs. Them” is a dangerous way to do anything. It can keep you from seeing the truth of a situation: “Us vs. Them” emphasizes distinctions over commonalties. It’s a defensive attitude that seeks to protect the self against the outside; anything that’s not “us” has to be “them,” and “them” represents a threat. “Us” has to be exclusive.
A number of people in our culture claim that Christianity is exclusive, operating under an “Us vs. Them” worldview. They say that the Church shuts people out if they are different, if they don’t conform to the Christian vision of what it means to be “us.” As is the case with many stereotypes about the Church, some Christians have given reasons for people to think that way. Christians have excluded others in the past, saying that people from different social backgrounds or other races couldn’t be a part of the community of faith. That behavior could even be seen back in St. Paul’s time! In this letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians, people who many Jewish Christians didn’t think belonged to God’s elect. Here in Romans 15, Paul encourages these Gentile believers with the message of Scripture that they, too, are indeed part of the one, holy, Christian Church, people whom God has called to faith, people for whom He sent His Son, people that He has claimed as His own. Paul points them to the harmony that we can have in Christ. Harmony happens when distinct elements come together, joined in unison to be more than their individual parts. In the Church, that harmony is a gift from God, Who brings together people from all types of backgrounds and races and nations.
Is everyone a Christian? No. Are Christ’s arms open to everyone? Yes. But we live in an “Us vs. Them” world, and that’s the way we human beings are inclined to think. That’s a part of the self-centeredness that the Scriptures call sin. As people in an “Us vs. Them” world, we might feel that we must protect our personal sovereignty at any cost. If the way we want to live our lives disagrees with God’s Word, well then it’s easy for us to protect our self-rule by saying that Christianity is exclusive; it shuts us out because you and I aren’t to do all the things that we might desire to do. Truth be told, though, we’re just shutting ourselves out because we want to be in charge.
The Christian faith is inclusive, not exclusive. Jesus wasn’t born and sacrificed for just some people. Jesus came into the world as a human being for all human beings. And on the cross, he gave up his life for all human beings. You don’t have to be some special person. You don’t have to come from a particular family, or make a certain amount of money to be a part of Jesus’ Church. God has given His Son for you, to adopt you into His family.
If you’re a human being, you need joy and peace in your life. This Advent, we are celebrating the joy and peace that comes as we hear that God has chosen us with people from all around our world, from innumerable backgrounds. He gives faith that Jesus, our Advent King, has welcomed us in with open arms. In this Advent season, you are now Christ’s open arms in the world. You are an instrument of joy and peace sent from a loving God to every person that you meet.
As people who are called to harmony in Christ and called to share our hope with all people, there is no “Them”: there is only us.