TRUST TO CELEBRATE
We’re going to be reflecting on Romans 15 today, so I’d invite you to go ahead and turn there.
We’re in our fourth week of gathering to worship together,
and over the last few weeks we’ve been trying to explore what it means
for us to be a Jesus community.
When we actually read the most ancient, reliable accounts of Jesus’ life,
we see the portrait of a person who changed the world
by forming a new kind of people in the world.
He’s creating a new kind of people centered around him.
A people beginning to trust him, celebrate him, and embody him in the world.
This community is what Jesus left the world.
The church is the legacy of Jesus.
And we’ve seen that the witness of earliest Christians—
that was written down thousands of years ago,
and recognized as sacred writing by the ancient church
and painstakingly preserved through the centuries
and kindly provided to us by national publishing houses and your local bookstore— is that we too are invited to trust this Jesus and find life in him (20.31).
We too are invited into the legacy of Jesus.
We too are invited to participate in this new kind of people in the world.
We too are invited to trust, celebrate, and embody Jesus.
So the last few weeks, we’ve been asking:
How do we—as the local church—go about this?
What do we believe is important?
How do we participate in this legacy?
And so the last two weeks, we’ve been exploring how we understand
what it means to begin to trust Jesus.
We understand trusting Jesus
to be significantly about humility and honesty.
There are probably a lot of lenses
that we could slide into place
to bring trusting Jesus into focus.
But we can’t imagine “trust” taking place without these.
Humility in that we’re willing to submit ourselves to something greater than ourselves.
Honesty in that we’re truthful enough to admit that we’re lacking and that we need life.
And so we’ve said that we want come together around practices
where our pride and self-sufficiency are swallowed up
by something bigger than ourselves.
That’s why we gather together in a basement.
That’s why we listen to Scripture.
That’s why we confess ancient creeds.
Because ultimately these are acts of humility.
These are ways that actually, tangibly practice
submitting ourselves to the ancient Jesus-tradition
and entrusting our lives to the God
who gives his very own happy, humble life to us.
And we also said that we want to practice honesty together
by regularly coming together to learn to confess and to pray.
The community of Jesus is where we’re learning
to be honest about our faith, about our doubts,
about our sins, about our deepest selves
both to God and to each other.
That’s why we pray when we come together.
Why we corporately confess sin together.
Why we’ll allow ourselves to be in silence together.
These aren’t things that we regularly gather together to practice
any other time during the week.
Our hope is that by practicing honesty
through prayer and confession and reflection
during these brief moments of the week,
that the divine light of God himself
will begin to illuminate the rest of the moments that make up our lives.
And what happens when we submit our lives to this self-giving God?
What happens when we begin to honestly entrust ourselves to this divine light?
That’s when we begin to learn to celebrate.
CELEBRATION AS EXCEPTION
What does the word “celebration” make you think of?
When I hear “celebration” I think primarily in terms of events.
Birthdays. Promotions. Anniversaries. Holidays.
The images of “celebration” that pop into my mind correspond to events.
Steamers. Confetti. Champagne. Light-covered trees. Presents.
Birthday cakes. Fireworks. Ryan Seacreat and Dick Clark.
Frequently when we say “celebration”
and we think a day on the calendar that’s circled in red.
A day different from normal life.
A day that is passing quickly as reality returns.
For the rest of the days on the calendar, we’ve got other expressions.
Someone asks you:
“How are you doing?”
And what do we say?
“Not bad” (which seems to also imply “not good”)
or “I’m making it” or “It’s almost Friday”
or the ever so popular “Busy.”
Occasionally you’ll find the person who is celebrating,
but (again) it’s usually connected to some kind of event approaching.
“We’re about to get married!”
or “we’re having a baby!”
or “we’re about to leave for Hawaii!
But it’s a rare person that we meet who is genuinely jazzed to simply be alive.
The person whom you ask, “How are you doing?” and they reply:
“Simply wonderful. I love being alive. It’s all such a miracle isn’t it?”
That person is a freak, right?
Celebration is the exception on our calendars.
And I’m suspicious that’s because celebration is really an exception in our culture.
Somehow over the few centuries,
breakthroughs in science have dramatically improved our daily lives
while also threatening to drain our lives of the ultimate significance.
Broadly speaking, our culture gravitates to philosophical materialism—
which is the five dollar way of saying that matter and energy is all that exists.
And this means that below the surface of popular consciousness and pop-culture,
(a pop-culture that bombards us with countless glittering smiles)
our culture flirts with the meaninglessness of all things (or “nihilism”).
And if there’s ultimately no meaning to anything,
there’s ultimately no hope in this cold, barren universe.
And celebration (by definition) requires hope.
And hope—real, deep, resilient hope—in short supply in our culture.
And so, as a culture, we prefer busyness and distraction
and entertainment and maybe even despair
over and above the filthy business
of genuinely, actually, daring to truly hope.
To truly hope that there actually is
real and lasting meaning in the world
and that we can know what it is.
It would be a peculiar kind of people in the world
who would be learning to truly hope.
To learn to see celebration as the rule
and not just a passing exception.
It would be a peculiar kind of community who would be learning
to genuinely celebrate with awe and gratitude
the marvelous strangeness of existence;
the wonder just being alive in this room;
the mystery of simply breathing.
It would be a Jesus community.
We’re invited to learn to trust Jesus
because we’re invited to learn to really celebrate.
For the next two weeks I want us explore two primary angles
of what it means for us to live lives of celebration.
These primary angles are hospitality and wholeness.
We’re going to explore what we mean hospitality briefly this week,
and we’ll explore what we mean by wholeness next week.
And I think we begin glimpsing something of hospitality in Romans 15, so let’s listen to it:
(Rom 15.1-13) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written:
“The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then,
just as Christ accepted you,
in order to bring praise to God.
For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”
Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”
And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
WELCOME EACH OTHER
We’re jumping in at the end of one of the most masterfully written pieces of literature that the world has ever seen.
Say what you will about the Bible, but generation after generation
inside and outside the church has recognized this letter as a masterwork
of intellectual and rhetorical genius.
Some context for where we are:
Paul (one of the earliest Christian leaders) is finishing addressing a divisive situation in the Jesus-community of Rome.
Evidently some groups of people were looking down their noses at other groups,
and thinking themselves more spiritual and more enlightened
because of certain things that they either did do or didn’t do.
I know it’s hard to imagine people acting like this.
People becoming defensive and divided and gossiping and ganging up,
and “they need to apologize first,” and “they clearly don’t love God,”
and using religion as an excuse to exclude “those people over there.”
And so right before this passage,
Paul has been telling them that we all belong to God (14.8)
and we’re all going to give an account to him (14.12),
and we ought to be working to build each other up
and striving for peace with each other (14.19)
rather than trying to win the fight,
or show “them” that we’re right,
or prove our superior spirituality.
So that’s what Paul is talking about when starts in verse 1 saying, “We who are strong…”
In the middle of this division and hoIf we say that we have strong faith—
that we humbly and honestly entrust ourselves to Jesus—
then we invited to value the concerns and interests above our own.
To “please” others and not ourselves (v2).
And it’s clear from the rest of the sentence he’s saying that “pleasing” others
does not mean catering to whatever selfish whim a person may have.
It means seeking their good.
Even when it may mean limiting yourself.
Because strong faith doesn’t look like winning an argument
or forcing our position on other people.
Strong faith looks like a strength us emptying oneself for the sake of love (14.15).
The person who really looks like Christ
is the person who is willing to empty himself or herself
for the good of someone we might consider weaker (14.1, 13).
He brings all of this to a head in verse 7,
when he uses the word “proslambanesthe.”
It’s a word he used in 14.1 when he said,
“You ought to proslambanesthe the one whose faith is weak” (14.1).”
Here in verse 7 he says it again: remember to “proslambansethe each other” (15.7).
The same word is used at one point near the end of the book of Acts. Paul gets in this massive shipwreck and everyone on board either swims to shore or floats to the shore using pieces the hull. And then…
(Acts 28:1-2) Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.
“They welcomed us” Proslambano.
That’s the same word as verse 7.
It gets translated differently depending on which English version of the Bible you’re reading.
The NIV says “Accept each other.”
The ESV says, “Welcome each other.”
Other versions say, “Receive each other.”
It’s a word of kindness, of openness, of taking in.
It’s a word of hospitality.
And for Paul it gets at the very heart of the gospel.
THE WELCOME OF GOD
If you’re looking for a nice little summary of the entire book of Romans,
you’d be hard pressed to find it better said than verses 8 and following:
(15.8-9a) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
In nutshell, that’s his entire letter.
You can almost hear the excitement in Paul’s voice
as draws together all the threads of the letter
(and all the threads of the entire Old Testament)
with the too-good-to-be-trueness of what has happened in Jesus.
The long-awaited King (or Christ or Messiah) of Israel
has proven that God was true to every promise he has made,
including his promise Abraham to bless the entire world through his family (Gen 12:1-2)
and his promise to David that his descendant would rule that world forever (2 Sam 7.16),
because those promises have been made good in Jesus of Nazareth
so that “the Gentiles” (so that all nations) can celebrate the mercy of God (cf. Rom 11.25-32).
If he wanted to summarize his summary,
Paul might say, “Behold the hospitality of God!”
God welcomes both his own people and all other peoples back to himself.
Then right this summary, it’s like Paul has the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures
sign their name with a flourish underneath this sweeping story:
“The Psalms say it this way (9b, 11),
Deuteronomy says it this way (v10),
Isaiah puts it this way (v12)…”
The law, the prophets, the writings,
they’re all in agreement.
The entire thrust of Scripture is about this King (this christ)
who takes our violence and our insults onto himself (v3)
and then (wonder of wonders) he accepts us (v7).
Despite all the ways that everyone on earth
has rebelled against the goodness of God,
God receives the world back to himself through the cross.
God welcomes us
despite how distant and dead we are (Eph 2.4-5, 13).
The hospitality of God is what created the universe in the first place.
And all our lives—
every mundane minute, every magical moment—
all our lives flow out of the hospitality of the Divine.
Out of the grace of God.
The infinite has invited the finite to be.
God has invited us into existence.
And the hospitality of God promises to recreate it. (15.8, cf. Gen 12.2-3).
And Paul says earlier at the beginning of this letter,
that God has confirmed his promises most clearly
by raising Jesus from the dead (1.4).
The resurrection of Jesus (that unexplainable outlier in human history)
is, in effect, God’s tangible way of proclaiming and reiterating
what he has planned for the entire world.
Resurrection. New Creation. Vindication.
Real and lasting life. Welcome.
It’s good news.
And it’s for everyone.
Not just for the rebellious, wayward people of God,
but for every tribe and nation and tongue.
For the Jew and the Gentile.
For everyone everywhere.
All that are willing are being welcomed and received and accepted
into this restoration and remaking of the cosmos.
This means that for a Jesus community,
celebration isn’t the exception.
Because the universe is not (ultimately) a cold, barren, dangerous place.
When culture operates out of purely materialistic view of the universe.
matter and energy are ultimately all that exist—
then we’re left with a terrifying existence.
We’re left saying…
that the emergence of life was probable based on the size of the universe,
that consciousness is just a by-product of increasingly complex electrical patterns in the brain,
that morality is just life’s curious way hard-wiring the preservation of tribal DNA,
that all life on this accidental blue ball we inhabit hurling around an unremarkable star
is just a hair’s breadth away from its ultimately meaningle ss annihilation
from a super volcano, a superbug, or a super bomb.
But the witness of the early church says “no.”
Christians throughout the centuries say “life is no accident.”
The cosmos are not ambivalent about human existence.
The universe is not inhospitable to human life.
Human existence is a good thing.
A planned thing. A meaningful thing.
And it’s being redeemed.
At its heart, the universe is a friendly place.
At its core, this world we inhabit is a welcoming place.
When we gather around these ancient words
(preserved through the centuries and kindly provided by bookstores),
we gather in celebration.
We gather around them because they paint a picture of reality for us
that gives us (v4) encouragement and endurance.
An encouragement that the nihilism of our culture just can’t provide.
An endurance that a purely materialistic view of the universe can’t give.
We gather to celebrate—to recognize and remember
that the universe is ultimately a friendly place.
This is the kind of God we’re seeking after
is a God of grace, welcome and hospitality.
He has made us and he will remake us.
This is the kind of God we’re seeking.
This the kind of God who is seeking us.
This is good news.
It’s good news that (v4) give us real hope.
Real hope that (v13) fills us with all joy and peace
so that we can trust in this God even more—
until we’re this peculiar kind of community overflowing with hope.
A peculiar people for whom celebration
is less of an exception on the calendar
and more like the air we breathe.
This table is the place of celebration.
This table is the place where God finds us and welcomes us:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
This is the place where we come to receive the reality
of the boundless hospitality of the God-revealed-in-Jesus.
If you’re beginning to trust this God—
to trust that your insults have fallen onto him,
and that his arms still welcomes you,
then you’re invited to celebrate with us at this table.
More than that—you’re invited this celebration into the rest of your calendar.
When we come to this table,
when we dip the bread in the cup and place it in our mouth,
we’re wanting the life of God—the hospitality of God—to becomes part of us.
God welcoming us to this table is central
to what it means to live lives of celebration—
to the way we participate in the life of this God:
Receiving others. Welcoming others. Accepting others. Loving others.
Depending on the situation, the history, the person, the personality,
it’s not always easy to know what this looks like.
But that’s the invitation.
That’s where life is.
That’s what celebration means at the deepest levels.
Because that’s what God is like.
To forgive that person,
to welcome the stranger,
to love our enemies,
to forget pleasing ourselves,
and to seek the good of others.
To accept one another,
because Christ has accepted us. (v7)
To welcome each other—because we live in a friendly universe.
That’s what this table represents.
And if you’re learning to trust, you’re invited to celebrate.