A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 9, 2007 by Pastor Dale Raether Jesus Brings Us True Christmas UnityRomans 15:4-13How do you feel about burying the hatchet for Christmas? Sometimes families will do that. Sometimes even armies will do that. On December 24, 1914 Allied and German soldiers stopped shooting at each other. Instead they all sang Silent Night from within their trenches. Then they got out of their trenches, came together, and exchanges gifts of whatever they had. Needless to say the generals got upset over that. They had a war to fight, and so the next day it was back to killing as usual. Sometimes burying the hatchet isn’t possible even for a day. What happened in WWI, I’m sure didn’t happen again when we were fighting the Japanese or the Communists. At other times, burying the hatchet IS possible, but the two sides don’t know how to. God’s Word this morning guides us. It shows us how we may be at peace with one another, especially within our family of believers. However, God doesn’t want this peace to last for just one night. Rather, Jesus Brings Us True Christmas Unity. 1. A unity that fills us with spiritual blessings. 2. A unity that gives glory to God. 3. A unity that reaches out to others. Our text was first written to the congregation in Rome. They were divided by things that don’t divide us. Yet there’s much we can learn here about when we can back down, when we can’t, and how God wants us to feel about each other. We read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” “Everything that was written in the past” is a reference to the Old Testament. A lot of people say the Old Testament is hard to understand. It is, I suppose, if we don’t know what it’s about. In Luke 24, Jesus tells us what the whole Old Testament is about. He said, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Here Jesus is giving us a summary of the Old Testament. Through its prophecies, its ceremonies and its sacred stories, it’s all about our Savior. For example Isaiah prophesies who the Savior would be. He said, (picture of the baby Jesus). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Or, whenever the Old Testament people saw a lamb (picture of a lamb) sacrificed at the Temple, they were being reminded that someday the Savior would sacrifice Himself for their sins. However the Savior would not remain in death. Jesus said, (picture of Jonah and the whale) “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Now, getting back to our text (slide of verse 4). By listening to the Old Testament read in the synagogues every week, and by talking about it in their homes throughout the week, Old Testament believers had endurance and encouragement. That word “endurance” needs a little explanation. It means literally to remain under. Picture in your mind a weight lifter hoisting a 400lb barbell up over his head and holding it there. That’s endurance. Are there any 400lb weights you are under? Maybe a loved one has “issues” and in your estimation is very hard to get along with. As a result you might be thinking to yourself, “If only he/she wasn’t in the picture, I would feel so much freer, and things would go so much better.” But that’s not endurance. Endurance stays under the weight, and continues to be patient with and genuinely love that person – not just for a short time, not just for Christmas Eve, but indefinitely and for as long as it takes. This brings us to the next word in our text, encouragement. Now picture in your mind a weight-lifting coach telling his athlete how to endure. In our case, our coach, Jesus Christ, would be reminding us to breathe properly. We breathe in God’s Word. We breathe out prayer and praise. This is how God builds endurance in us. Another thing our coach would be encouraging us to do is to just concentrate on holding up our weight and not think about tomorrow. Instead he would encourage us to trust Him that He has a plan and knows what He’s doing. When we leave tomorrow in our coach’s hands, not only do we have endurance to keep being patient and to genuinely love one another. We have hope for the wonderful spiritual blessings God is giving us that will bring true lasting unity for our family and for our church family. However, some have a hard time believing that deep divisions can really be healed through God’s Word. In fact they would even say that God’s Word gets in the way of unity. For example, the Bible teaches us that each Hebrew or Greek word in it is inspired by God. In contrast, there are many who say that the Bible is full of myths and that each person can decide for himself what is or isn’t true and how to interpret it. And so, for them the path to unity is to NOT say too much about the Bible, and never tell anyone that what he’s thinking is incorrect.This kind of unity doesn’t glorify God. We read, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is glorified when all Christians have the same beliefs in their heart and the same teachings coming out of their mouths, as long as of course they are following Christ Jesus. But do we do know if we’re really doing? How do we know if our understanding of a verse in the Bible is the understanding God wants us to have? It really isn’t that hard. Always consider word meaning in its context. Pay attention to literal language verses picture language. Compare one passage with another when both are talking about the same thing. And especially, remember what the Bible is all about. It’s about Jesus so that we daily, humbly recognize our sinfulness and look to His life, death and resurrection in our behalf. Such a reading of the Bible gives glory to God, because then we’re looking to HIM alone for salvation, for faith, and even for strength to live our faith. Also, such a reading of the Bible brings true unity. For example, 100% of our synod’s pastors and teachers all believe and teach the same things. We also enjoy this unity with all the pastors and teachers in Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as in Lutheran synods all over the world. On the other hand, when some insist that each person can decide for himself what truth is and that it’s all true, this dishonors God, for anything man comes up with does not look to God alone for salvation, but to man. The result is disunity, for then people get confused about morality and how they are pleasing to God, and so they end up either accepting things they know are wrong or changing what they believe a little at a time, until there’s nothing left. Another way that not following God’s Word causes disunity is they’re missing out on the endurance and encouragement that God’s Word gives us. As a result, it becomes easier and easier to simply write-off people they consider too difficult to deal with. For all of these reasons, how is it unloving to respectfully, kindly, humbly tell another, “You’re saying this, but the Bible says that”, and then leave it at that, but still keeping being a true friend to him/her. We read on in our text, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” The congregation in Rome was united in their beliefs. But they were not united in love. Some had been believers all their lives. And so, because they were born before Jesus had died on the cross, they grew up having to obey all the Old Testament ceremonies, and they still felt very strongly about that. Others in that congregation came to faith after Jesus died on the cross, and so they had never had to keep the ceremonies. As a result, the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians each looked down on the other for not being like them. Perhaps everyone of us here is also used to different traditions. For example, some of you grew up with the church being completely silent before the service, except for the organ playing, so that people could meditate. Others grew up with friends happily greeting each other before the service. Which side is right? Raise your hand if you think your side is right! Okay, everybody is right, because the Bible doesn’t tell us whether we should sit quietly before service or greet our brothers and sisters. If something IS governed by the Word, we shouldn’t back down from it no matter what. But when something ISN’T governed by the Word, God leaves it up to us to decide, and what He really cares about is that we love one another. In practical terms this means if one person can take something or leave it, and the other has strong feelings about it, in love why not defer to the person who has strong feelings. But what if both sides have strong feelings? Then first verify from Scripture that this really is one of those things that can be done either way. Also, let each side remember who Jesus has accepted them. You see, Jesus doesn’t accept us because we’re richer or better looking or have more potential or have a more Lutheran background. He accepts us because of His mercy. When we truly understand that, in time those things we might get all upset about will become less and less important. Instead what will matter to us is seeing God’s mercy at work in others, whether they’ve been growing in the Word all their lives or whether they’re just now beginning their journey. Either way, all people are important to the Lord, for each member is a special blessing to God’s church. When we treat each other with this in mind, and follow His Word alone, God is truly glorified through us and through our unity. Also, our unity is not fake. It’s not walking on eggshells for the sake of appearances, it’s not being silent about what we believe, nor does it only last for Christmas Eve. Rather our unity is from the heart. No, let me rephrase that. Our unity is from God. May the Christ child bring us true unity until being patient with one another and speaking His Word respectfully, kindly, and humbly never feels like a burden, but a joy. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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