By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from Romans 15:1-13
1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
10 and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
11 and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
12 and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a priest’s wife, I don’t fit in a category. Clergy see me as a lay person, but lay people treat me like clergy. For all its disadvantages, my position lets me observe the goings-on of the church from a perspective that’s as much “both” as “neither.”
From my perch, I’ve come to more and more appreciate the wisdom of Paul — apostle, yes, but mostly pastor, church-founder, teacher of the faith to new converts. I used to be one of the many who had difficulty with Paul. He’s often abrasive, uncompromising — flat out angry. But to allow our difficulty with a few verses here and there to eclipse the rest? Then we miss passages like the one we have this morning.
“Bear with the failings of the weak,” he writes. Not just differences, but actual failings! The tactless gossip at coffee hour, the parishioner who’s always angry about something, the priest who struggles to be patient with them and often fails. Real sins that do real damage to them and to those around them, but Paul asks us to bear with them even as Christ who died for them.
Elsewhere, Paul writes about how to deal with those who refuse to repent of serious sin in the Church — and even cut them off — but everyone has habitual sins, and we’re often simply unaware of them. We may look to Christ as a model, but the truth is that we ought to bear one another’s failings because we expect them to bear with ours. And Paul asks us to engage this pattern of forbearance, not just to be Christlike, but that we might be in such harmony with one another that we can truly act as Christ’s one body, glorifying God with one voice. The Church — even our little churches with few resources — is called to nothing less.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Fla.
The Diocese of Bukedi (Church of the Province of Uganda)