June 22, 2015 Rev. Dawn Hyde

Acceptance

Scripture 

Romans 15​:1-13
New International Version (NIV)

15 W​e who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
2 E​ach of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
3 F​or even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
4 F​or 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.
5 M​ay the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 s​o that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

8 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 9 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.”

10 A​gain, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 A​nd again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”

12 A​nd 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.”

13 M​ay 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.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon
Rev. Dawn HydeIn high school, I played on the school soccer team.

I loved my first year playing. I was on Junior Varsity (JV) and got to play all the time. The other girls were around my age and same skill level. We had fun together and we played well together.

My second year of playing soccer, all of that changed.

Our JV coach was fired … and instead of hiring someone new, the school decided to have one team ­ the Varsity team­ with an extended roster.

Early on, I realized that I was not going to be accepted by this crew. Most of the girls were older and better skilled.
They had played together for years.

During tryouts, they were nice at first, but soon the classy cliques were formed.

And it became clear to everyone who was in and who was out. Just a few of the girls from my JV team were accepted in the cool crowd. And it did not take them long to start treating the rest of us as if we did not exist.

I was judged for my outdated cleats and lack of fit fashion. I was rarely passed the ball in drills or games, and mocked when I missed the perfect play.

It didn’t take long for the coach to start treating me differently.
The early confidence of making the team faded and with little time to show any of my skills, I’m convinced he thought I had none.

Come the first game, I didn’t get to play. At all.

The coach would talk to the other girls, encourage them in their success, forgive them for their failures, watch with awe as they played. And when he finally put me in for a game, it would be the last few minutes. He wouldn’t even watch us play. He would sit down with the “star” players and begin debriefing the game…like it was already over.

Those of us on the field would pull together plays, but no one cared. No one watched. We didn’t matter. We were not worth anything to the team.

After that, I dreaded going to practice and playing games.
I was always anxious about playing, scared to mess up and be pushed even lower on the totem pole.
I started acting even weirder around my teammates and coach because I didn’t know what they wanted from me. I didn’t know how to make it better.

I was achingly awkward.

Honestly, the anxiety of feeling less than still creeps up. When I step on a soccer field, pull up my shin guards and socks, touch a soccer ball. It all comes back, feelings of unworthiness undue me.

How many of you have felt unworthy, unwanted, or unaccepted?

There is a theologian Patrick Howell who says this:

“The craving for acceptance can absorb all our creative energies. It is comparable to the physical craving caused by rickets, a softening of the bones due to a deficiency of vitamin D. Children with rickets, over a century ago, would scratch the lime out from the walls to feed their bones. Likewise, people who are not accepted attempt to scratch out acceptance from others. They may develop rigidity because of their lack of security, or they may resort to boasting, a not so subtle way to provide themselves with the praise they so badly crave.”

I wonder if that is what Paul is referring to when he talks about the “strong” and the “weak.” The weak are those among us who are deficient in what we need to survive. Deficient in the areas of social connection, acceptance, love.

Most of us have been on both sides of the acceptance line. On one side being rejected. And on the other ­ accepted.
Even as we know what it feels like to be on both sides, we ­ like my teammates who made it into the cool crowd ­ can feel so happy to be included, to be understood, that we overlook or actively reject others.

Jesuit theologian Peter van Breemen says that “one of the deepest needs of the human heart is to be accepted and valued.”

We all need to know that we have value and worth. That our feelings and existence matter to the world around us.
This is what we look for in friends. We share this dream of finding at least one person who will love and accept us fully.

One with whom we can talk to about anything and everything without fear of judgement. One who accepts us as we are…not as we should be.

We look to each other. To this church community for acceptance. Through our faith we know that “God is the ultimate fulfillment of this dream.”

God is the only one who can fully know and accept us…but our human hearts still need affirmation from other human hearts. We need a glimpse of human acceptance in order to even fathom divine acceptance.

Acceptance is at the heart of our scripture passage today. Paul writes to the church in Rome with this central theme:

“Accept one another, therefore, just as Christ has accepted you.”

Paul writes about acceptance because even though he has not visited the church in Rome, he knows there are definite divisions ­ namely between the Jews and Gentiles.

Paul, a Jew and Roman citizen, criticized and rejected the early Christian converts before he converted himself. He knows what is at stake with these religious divisions ­ hostility, righteousness, war. We, too, know what is at stake when we do not accept one another. We witnessed this week the painful shooting in a church in Charleston because we do not fully accept one another.

Paul knows the dangers of division, so he seeks in this letter to reconcile these groups by helping them see Christ’s desire for their unity.

Paul focuses much of his attention on the Jewish community. For they are the “accepted” of the two.
From the very beginning God has chosen them ­ the line of Israel ­ to be God’s people.

And so Paul seeks to convince the Jewish Christians of two things:

(1)  They are still God’s chosen. Accepted by God
(2)  God has also accepted the Gentiles. There is room for all.

Paul bases his theological argument for acceptance in the Hebrew Scriptures. Reminding the Jewish Christians that from the beginning God blessed them so they would be a blessing for others. (Genesis 12).

In verse 8, Paul says,
“Christ has become a servant of the Jews…in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” ­ in other words, this means Christ came to fulfill the scriptures and extend acceptance of the Jewish community.

and also …Christ came i​n order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”

Paul’s theological argument is wise. He knows that in order for anyone to reach out and accept another, they have to have feel confident of their acceptance first.

The Jews needed to hear this. A huge societal shift was taking place. The Gentiles ­ pagans ­ who have been the “other” for centuries are now one with us. Receiving the same promises and accepting love of our God.

It’s jarring in our human experience to witness and live through this transition. Reconciliation of divided communities is a good thing.

But it is much easier to witness from the outside looking in. It’s so much harder when we are the ones having to make space in our hearts for those whom we defined as “other.”

Paul wants them the Jewish Christians to see that it is not a competition. We are not losing our acceptance as we give to others. It’s not us versus them. Strong versus weak. Accepted versus rejected.

Rather, we are expanding the circle of inclusion. We are affirming what God has already deemed true ­ That both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity are accepted by God. And thus they should accept one another.

Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich says, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”

Faith is accepting that we are accepted. By God. Fully. As we are, not as we ought to be. …And then out of our faith, we share Christ’s acceptance with others.

This is the vision statement of our church…

“We receive Christ’s radical hospitality and share it with others.”

It’s a two way motion. Receiving from God and giving to others. And it is what we do ­ in worship, in play, in service. We exist to “receive Christ’s radical hospitality and share it with others.”

In reality, this means making space.

At the table, scooting our chairs over, shifting our place settings. Getting up out of our seat to go find a chair for someone and placing it beside our own. Offering our food and drink. Offering a smile. Asking thoughtful questions, listening, inviting them into the table conversation.

Embodying acceptance means doing the hard work of identifying who among us is rejected.

Alone.
Feeling judged and unworthy.

Finding that person and inviting them to our table. Into our pew. Into our homes and our families and our lives.

Take a moment of silence… and think about where you need acceptance.

Where the world needs acceptance. In a moment we will share with each other.

[PAUSE :60]

Where do you ache for acceptance?

    • Dominican Republic and Haiti
    • Charleston, SC
    •  Church communities sharing space
    •  Race relations
  •  Religious groups ­particularly the extremists who do not wish to live in harmony with each other

Our God is a God of faithfulness. A God of acceptance.
Our God loves and accepts each one of us for who we are.
And our God gives us hope that one day, we will live in unity.

One day, we will praise God with one voice.
One day, we will find space in our hearts and around our tables to extend Christ’s acceptance to the other.

So let us reach inside, to the strength of our divine acceptance and reach out to accept another.

Let us reach out to each other. To those outside these doors. To those outside our heart. To those no one loves.

….And show Christ’s radical acceptance. Amen.