The Humble Learner
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
February 18, 2018
Romans 14:5-12 (MSG)
5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit.
Read it for yourself in Scripture:
“As I live and breathe,” God says, “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
How many of you have a day that is sacred during your week?
You may call it your sabbath, your day of rest, your day off, your play day…
● Every so often when I was a kid we had what my parents called a “Bobby Day.” This was a set apart day where I would get to pick what we did for the day. This became a tradition that has been passed down in our family and we try and do this with our own boys - setting apart special days for each of them.
● Fridays (ever since I started ministry) have always been my “Sabbath” or day of rest - a day where I don’t do work, try not to answer phones and emails. It is a day to recenter me. Usually, I spend time painting, going to vinyl record shops, and art museums.
● Saturdays are usually days for family in the Henry household and we try to spend the entire day together (which is often difficult with busy lives).
● And yes, Sue and I continue dating after 22 years of marriage - setting apart a night or day every once and a while to keep our marriage alive.
For me these days or nights are all sacred and needed in our lives.
Can you believe, back in Bible times people fought over what days were sacred? Sure, their lifestyles were much different than ours and time was determined by sun up and sun down, and then there was the many rules associated with their down time put on them by the religious leaders. Yet the biggest discussion was centered around the day or days -- whether it should be Friday at sundown until Sunday at sunrise...Maybe just Saturday....and then later even just Sunday.
Today, we still debate and struggle with what is the real sacred day. Seventh Day Adventists hold to Saturdays like our Jewish brothers and Sisters. And with work schedules and lifestyles changing, Sunday morning activities have often reluctantly been moved to Saturday nights, or a weeknight, leaving the debate brewing. So not much has changed.
But, we as Quakers make this much easier. For Quakers EVERYDAY is special. If you didn’t know, early Quakers rejected Sabbath-keeping as practiced by the church in England. They felt that everyday life could be lived as sacred if one attended to The Light Within on a daily basis.
I think it is important to hear what our text said for this morning:
...one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
Then, right after this, Paul jumps from sacred days to talking about food. So typical of religious people concerned about meeting days and food. I love what it says in The Message:
What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.
You may not know this, but for about 8 years Sue and I were vegetarians. We started when we lived in Indiana before moving to Oregon. The one thing that was evident was that there was a big difference when we said we were vegetarians here in Indiana vs. out in Oregon. Here we were labeled, people assumed they knew who we voted for, and we were at times considered everything from hippies to anti-farming (and my wife grew up on a farm!). Things were different in Oregon. In all reality though, the reason we became vegetarians was because I was challenged by a professor and fellow colleague in looking at vegetarianism as a spiritual discipline. Later, we had to give it up for health reasons.
What I think is interesting is that these were huge issues for the early church. Sacred days and what food they ate caused big debates.
Let’s be honest, not much has changed. Many meetings, churches, religious groups still like to debate things...maybe not sacred days and food per se but things like...
● Worship styles
● Social, political, and theological views and change.
● The end times.
● Music (hymns or praise songs, Drums or guitar use in church)
● What version of their scriptures is the proper version. (There are churches in this city that have “KJV Only” written on their sign)
● Even whether gatherings should happen in set-apart religious buildings or in homes, coffee houses, or even warehouses.
● And the list could go on…
What I believe God is trying to tell us this morning is that we all have different preferences...AND THAT IS OK. Or as it said in our text...
“...each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.”
The only big problem is when it simply becomes all about what I want instead of having or picking preferences that give God glory. This is where there is a difference. I think God wants us to have preferences, sure, but to be humble about it. Like in our text where it says...
“None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.”
It is our entire life that is to be lived for the glory of God - 24/7 - from birth to life. The whole shabbang!
● Not just Sunday!
● Not just on my Bobby Day or my Day Off.
● Not just when things are going good.
● Not just when I get my way.
● Not just when someone else thinks things are going good for me.
Life is to be lived for God’s glory because it keeps our focus on what God is up to in our lives. Paul says it this way…the reason we are to live our lives for the glory of God is...
“so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
Now, some of us may have just brisseled a little. To have God be a “master” over all aspects of our lives can bring up negative thoughts.
The word most translated here is “Lord or Master” But let’s be honest, we don’t like it when people “lord over us” and the idea of God being a “Master” brings up the idea we are merely slaves or puppets. Those don’t seem to be helpful thoughts either.
Actually, for many people these concepts of God send mixed signals and even more mixed messages.
Think about it...in our text alone God is saying we have freedom to choose preferences and yet we are being Mastered by God.
It is almost like God is saying “You have Freedom...not really, Psych!”
I will be honest...this is exactly how many churches and religious groups out there draw people in. You think you have freedom...and then they give you God’s rules (or what they have written down as God’s rules - often rules that more resemble the rules of the pharisees than God’s). Things that seem as trivial as what day is sacred and what food is clean enough to eat.
Paul must have realized human nature though, because as he continues to explain this he paints a different picture which, I believe, is very important for us - and I think he does it through some good old Quaker Queries… In vs. 10 he asks:
10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother?
And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister?
Paul finishes with his own answer: “I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse.“ These are the “petty tyrannies of each other” that he was talking about freeing us from earlier in the text.
Paul is saying...our arguing, criticizing, looking down on, condescending leaves us trying to be the MASTER or LORDing it over some one else. It puts you and me in the place of God. It puts you and me in the place of receiving the glory.
Now, if you remember, last week my challenge was to “Be the Shepherd.” A shepherd guides, cares for, protects those they have been placed over. And sadly, some shepherds can become abusive. They begin to control, to play God, to forget that, as I said last week, they are also sheep.
Folks, we are not the master of others.
● We may want to be at times.
● We may think we are at times.
But what I believe Paul is emphasizing is that when we try to be the Master and not do all we do for the Glory of God - we go beyond being “good shepherds” and we do it all for our own glory or power. There is a difference between being a shepherd and a master.
If you look at the dictionary’s definitions of master you will find three definitions:
1. A person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something.
2. An owner of a slave, animal, etc...
Those are what we usually think of first, but I sense Paul is saying that God is a master or Lord like the third definition (which is the adjective form):
3. Having or showing very great skill or proficiency. One who has acquired complete knowledge of a situation or subject.
So back to our text - Paul says,
“Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.””
Throughout scripture, when it speaks of “every knee bowing” and “kneeling together” it is talking about taking a humble position. Not a position of power or control or criticizing or condescending, but rather, what I would like think of as a “humble learner.”
That third dictionary definition of Master is not the Mastor of a slave, but rather a student or pupil - We are familiar with this relationship - it is the Rabbi Jesus and his disciples, it is the Zen Master and their Deshi, it is the Jedi and their Padawan.
Putting ourselves under the Master means our actions will look like those of our master as much as what we say (confess) will sound like them as well.
So Paul wraps this up rather simply.
“So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.”
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation because he brings it back to the ordinary. Tend to the ordinary. The things that are uniquely you. The things you love to do - your preferences. Don’t get so caught up in pointing fingers and arguing and trying to Master others. Enjoy life! Take care of yourself by being a pupil of God’s Life - and really living!
So ask yourself this morning…
What “debates” in my life keep me from the freedom I could have?
Where in my life am I trying to be the “Master” instead of the “humble learner”?