By Linda Hazell
This reading is from the book of Romans in the New Testament (verses slightly reordered), where the early Christians were struggling with how to cope with a multicultural society.
This scripture speaks strongly to me, describing how I need to treat others, both within the church and out. At times I have been distracted from worship or critical in my mind when confronted with actions or beliefs that do not match my “perfect understanding” (please read with appropriate irony). In this scripture, I am being challenged to honour the intent of the person who has differences of opinion to me and not to be side-tracked from my service to God by whether I think someone else is serving correctly.
The scripture also warns against being welcoming with the intent of arguing them into another frame of mind (at least that is how I interpret verse 1). This reminds me of the goal of dialogue… listening and talking not to convince but to understand the other. How wonderful for me to imagine a safe community where I am free to believe and worship as I think best, in company with a diverse and interesting group of fellow seekers. How hard for me to live this truth in my congregation… listening without trying to convince and encouraging disciples to serve as they think best rather than judging their actions according to my own understanding. How can this work? I am afraid of division and disunity. Can I trust the Holy Spirit to work with each of us and then, each being in tune with God, we must surely harmonise with each other?
At this point I am wondering if I screen those I invite to camps or share my faith with a little too carefully. I feel I need to be more courageous and welcome those with ‘imperfect beliefs’.
Join me in offering this prayer as an invitation to further challenge us.
Dear God, Thank you for upsetting my comfort with this disturbing scripture. Help me recognise those who need to hear the hope of the gospel not by their similarity to me but by the push or pull from your spirit. Help me to welcome and truly listen to those whose understanding is different to mine. Help me to see through the fog of difference to the intent and the spirt beneath and discern ways I can be an encouragement to them.
Thank you for blessing me… unearned and sometimes unwilling. I renew my pledge to serve you Lord. Amen