Last week we spent some time speaking of what it takes the build up the Church and specifically this church in this particular place. We were reminded by the Holy Apostle Paul that each and every individual within the Church receives divine gifts by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Each person is to be treasured and valued within the body of Christ. Each person plays a part in the vision of Christ for His Church. We spoke about the ways that we use our gifts and the attitude that we bring along with the work that we do.
In today’s epistle we are again encouraged to follow our faith and turn it into a practice of love for the other members of the church as well as for our neighbors who may not be Orthodox Christians, and may not be Christians at all. St. Paul writing to the Roman Christians encourages them and through this godly word he also encourages us to bear with the failing of others. It is perhaps true that people can get more angry with others within the church setting than in any other place. In your family we know that we are human and that we make mistakes. We forgive and we usually move on. At work, we find a way to keep going and make the best of bad situations. If we don’t learn to work nicely with others, we are escorted to human resources and then out the front door. But church can be a completely different issue.
When we see others fail within the church we sometimes use this as a weapon or a reason to cut ourselves off from them. Sometimes this even happens in the way that people relate to their priest. Only the Lord Jesus Christ is perfect and yet we sometimes hold each other or the priest to unrealistic standards. We sit back and wait and when someone does something that offends us, we make sure that they know about. Some people take it as an excuse to cut ties with the Church or the people within the Church. But St. Paul says we have to be better than that. It is not enough to point out the faults of others. Or to sit back and judge them from a place of superiority. Part of our duty to one another as members of the royal priesthood is to edify one another.
Before I speak to one of you I should pray “Lord how can I build this person up. How can I bring them closer to you?” If I won’t pray then at the very least I should ask myself these questions “How will my words be received? Do these words build up my brothers and sisters and my church or do they tear them down?” Those are simple steps, but they are important steps. We don’t just think about our words but also our actions. It can be difficult to have to address certain issues with people because they have never thoughtfully examined their own actions. They may not realize that what they do or fail to do has an effect on everyone else around them. The best way to keep harmony within the Church is to examine yourself and your actions and to bear with the failings of others. In other words “Be strict with yourself, and gracious with others.”
One of the other great lessons we see in this passage is that the way we behave towards others is a direct result of what we have within us. If we have a hopeful attitude rooted in a deep hope in God, it will translate to hope in and for others. St. Paul tells us of two sources of such hope. The first is patience. It makes sense to us because if we are patient we will see many problems resolved that may at first glance seem difficult or impossible. Sometimes what is necessary is nothing more than a bit of time and the grace of God.
The second source of hope according to St. Paul is more tangible than patience. He tells us that we can have hope by “the encouragement of the scriptures.” The encouragement of the scriptures. Most people want to come and talk about how they haven’t been reading their Bibles and they do so out of a sense of guilt. It is as if they think they ought to be reading the Bible because they were told to do so but for no other reason. We can even say that the document that has the power to help change our lives also has the power to once again change this country and it’s the same document that sits on our shelves and gathers dust. St. Paul tells us that the scriptures offer encouragement that leads to hope. Perhaps if we are honest with ourselves we lack some of that. We’ve filled our heads with the news and with the politics and with the terrible things happening in the world, but that only leads to anger, anxiety and despair. Where is our hope?
Much of our hope is hidden away in the one place we never seem to go searching for it. Ultimately the Apostle Paul says that we need to go to the scriptures to be encouraged. The scriptures contain the word of God. They are the Lord’s letter of love to each of us. We need to reorient our thinking on this. We don’t approach the Bible because we have to, but because we truly need to and truly want to. We desire to hear what God has to say. We are in need of His comforting words. We are hungry and thirsty for the word of God. We see these words of hope quite clearly in the four gospels but we also see them in other places such as the psalms. We need to run to them daily. Here is a great habit to start: Read no news, no websites, no facebook, nothing at all before you’ve spent time reading the daily readings given by the Church or choosing to read a chapter of scripture on your own. Let the word of God have the first place in your mind and in your heart and then you will know that St. Paul’s words are true!
Why am I focusing on this? Because according to the Apostle Paul, living in harmony with others and with your fellow church family is an equation that starts with each of us as individuals. If the individual is impatient or angry or overly sensitive or anxious, only trouble will come. But if the individual is patient and has a deep sense of hope, he or she is able to pass this on to others quite naturally. As we unite with one another in the bond of love, we can then unite our prayers together in a way that reaches up to the heavens. Our voice as one community becomes powerful through love for one another. We unite in prayer and the love of God, and when we are united we can then welcome others in much the same way that Our Lord Jesus Christ has welcomed us into His holy house. And glory be to God forever, AMEN.