The Christians in ancient Rome had a problem: they were a diverse congregation. They had members from several different races, several different languages, several different cultural backgrounds.
Now, the Church is actually supposed to be diverse in this way — our diversity is actually the strongest evidence that the Holy Spirit lives among us, that we are one new nation, pieced together out of people from many different nations. Diversity is a gift, not a problem.
However, diversity does come with a problem: how can a church bring unity out of this diversity without crushing the diversity? Unity has the obvious benefit of strength; diversity has the obvious benefit of flexibility. How can a church preserve its strength and its flexibility?
Or, to put these questions more personally: what is the best way for Christians from different cultural backgrounds to love one another?
That is our topic today.
And the reason we are talking about this today is because your shepherds, your elders, have noticed that there is a rising potential for tension and division among Christians over this question of how Standard Operating Procedures — SOPs — are applied during this season of pandemic.
I think most of us have noticed that some people in Kuala Lumpur are very careful to follow every detail of the SOPs, while some are more relaxed. I also think most of us have noticed that, generally speaking, this diversity of approach follows cultural lines: people from some cultural backgrounds tend to be more relaxed; people from other cultural backgrounds tend to be more careful. And I think most of us have noticed that these general trends are also true in our congregation.
Now, that kind of diversity is actually a good thing for our community, for our society. Because the bible says that Jesus’ Church is like a human body, and a human body is made up of bones and joints. We are designed to be both strong and flexible. We need the strength of our bones, and we need the flexibility of our joints. We need this diversity. This diversity is a gift from God.
It is this diversity, however, that make us vulnerable to attack. We have an enemy who wants to divide us. And the easiest way for our enemy to divide us is by attacking our joints, the places where we are designed to be flexible. And the particular joint our enemy is attacking today is this diversity of approach to how SOPs should be applied.
So as we get ready to resume our in-person worship next Sunday, your shepherds thought it important for us to talk openly about this topic now. Satan’s attacks are always most effective in the dark. So I have been commissioned to bring this issue out into the light so we can deal with it properly: biblically.
This is why we are reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans today, from Chapter 14. We are not the first generation of Christians to be attacked at these flexible points: the Roman Church was also threatened with a rising potential for tension and division. The details are different, of course: we are worried about SOPs, they were worried about food. But the underlying issues are the same: how can we preserve our unity in the midst of this diversity? What is the best way for us to love one another across these differences?
So as we read through how Paul answered these questions 2000 years ago, please be thinking about how his solution to those ancient divisions can be applied to ours today.
Paul begins by bringing the issue right out into the light:  Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.  One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
People had noticed that some in the Roman Church were more relaxed in their approach to food, while some were very selective. At one extreme were those who were happy to consume everything: every kind of meat, every kind of wine. At the other extreme were those who only consumed vegetables and certain kinds of wine.
People had also noticed that, generally speaking, this diversity of approach followed cultural lines: Christians from a pagan Roman background tended to be more relaxed; Christians from a Jewish cultural background tended to be more selective.
And apparently these diverse church members were quarreling about this issue.
Which might seem strange to us: why would Christians fight about food? — until we remember that the Jewish people practiced a very selective religious diet quite similar to the Islamic one. That selective diet had been a gift from God to the Jewish nation, designed as a daily reminder to them that they were God’s special children.
Now, it is true that Jesus had come along and changed this: he basically opened up the doors of God’s kingdom to all nations, so that pagan Roman people could come in and worship alongside Jewish people. Which meant that the old selective diet was no longer needed, because the Jewish nation was no longer God’s only child.
But still, this diet was a very deep tradition for the Jewish-background people. And so:
The Jewish-background Christians in Rome apparently thought every Christian should want to follow the Jewish diet. It seems they recognized that this was not a salvation issue — they recognized that people are saved by faith in Christ — but it seems they also thought that following this selective diet was still somehow more pleasing to God. They thought it is only weak Christians — immature Christians — who still eat everything, because they have not yet learned the value of the halal diet; more mature Christians learn how to eat more selectively. And the very strongest Christians, if they cannot find any halal food and wine, will be content with eating only vegetables and drinking only water.
By contrast, the pagan-background Christians in Rome apparently thought every Christian should want to be free from every kind of religious diet. They thought it is only weak, immature Christians who live in fear of displeasing God by eating the “wrong thing”; mature, strong Christians know that God is pleased when we reject a religious diet, because that is a more inclusive attitude.
So the Jewish-background Christians tended to be judgemental. Their attitude was, “Oh, you disgusting pagans, when are you going to learn some cleaner habits! Don’t you want to please God?”
The pagan-background Christians tended to be condescending: “Oh, you poor Jewish people, unable to break free from your out-dated traditions! Don’t you want to please God?”
Paul is very aware of all this. He knows that the Jewish-background side tends to think they are the ”stronger” Christians because they are better at following rules. So he makes it clear, right at the beginning, that actually it is weak Christians who still insist on following the Jewish laws so strictly.
So we can imagine the pagan-background side going, “Ha! See? We told you guys!”
But then Paul turns to them and says:  The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and — back to the other side — the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
That makes sense, right?
Both sides of this conversation do want to please their Father. What they disagree about is how. And who has the ultimate authority to make that decision? The Father does.
These Christians are like children squabbling: “Daddy is more pleased with me than he is with you!”
Paul is saying that is God’s business, not theirs.
Then he goes on:  One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike.
Now, what is this sudden change of subject? Wasn’t Paul just talking about food? Why is he talking about days now?
Well, this is actually still about food: very religious Jews had an elaborate calendar of fast days. And apparently they thought pagan-background Christians should want to fast with them, while the pagan-background folks were like, “Whatever! I fast every night while I’m asleep.”
Each of them, Paul says, should be fully convinced in their own mind.  Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Basically, Paul is saying, if you want to fast, do so! If you want to feast, go for it! But whatever you do, do it for the glory of God alone, not for your own glory. We live and die for him, not for ourselves. You don’t get points for bashing your brothers and sisters with your opinions, no matter how well reasoned they are!
So  you, then — my Jewish-background friends — why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you — my pagan-background friends — treat the other side with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: “’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”  So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
In other words: it is not our business to decide which child pleases God the most.
We are all from different backgrounds. We all have different starting-points, we all have different experiences along the way, and this diversity is God’s gift to the Church. But this diversity, this complexity, also keeps us from demanding exactly the same kind of obedience from everybody all the time.
Yes, there are 10 Commandments for us to live by — but they are very, very broad.
The 10 Commandments are like the boundaries of a huge park for God’s children to play in. Some of God’s children are very bold, perhaps a bit ADD, they run around everywhere in that park, they push the boundaries, and that is fine. Some are more timid, perhaps more contemplative. If they find one small corner of that park — a corner labelled “special Jewish diet” for instance — and they decide they feel safer just playing quietly in that corner…that’s fine!
Now, as parents, would we want our timid children to learn more boldness? Probably. Would we want our ADD kids to learn more restraint? Most likely. But that is a process we would want to guide, right? We would not want our bold kids to be dragging the timid kids out of the corner, or the timid kids to be lecturing the bold kids, “Oh, I’m gonna tell dad you were climbing the fence!” We would be saying, “Hold on! Let mommy and daddy sort this out. You both just go play, okay? We will correct each of you as needed.”
In the same way, God is our heavenly Father. He knows which child is which. He knows how he wants to guide each of us in the particular way we should go.
 Therefore, Paul says, let us stop passing judgment on one another! Have you noticed: the 10 Commandments do not say anything about food, clothing, music, movies, when we should fast, when we should feast. So let’s work very hard to accept one another without quarreling over disputable matters.
That is the first half of Paul’s solution: stop passing judgement on one another. Stop quarreling over disputable matters. There are important things to pass judgement on! — food is not one of them.
Okay. That is what the Roman Christians should not do.
What should they do instead?
Instead, Paul goes on, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
What does that mean?
Here is Paul’s example:  I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.  If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
This sounds like Paul is saying that, if someone in my community gets upset because I’m eating char siew, and if I disregard their feelings and keep on eating my char siew, then I am destroying their soul.
Does that make sense? Are our souls so easily destroyed by upset feelings? Because — look, for instance: over the years my wife has sometimes eaten things that ”distress me” — mostly because of the price. Could I use these verses to say, “Hey! When you ask to go to this restaurant, I am distressed! When you order that steak, you are destroying someone for whom Christ died!”
That cannot be what Paul means! Paul cannot be saying that “acting in love” means never hurting someone’s feelings. Some people have very sensitive feelings. Some people are very easily offended. If Paul meant to say that our job as Christians is to never upset our vegetarian brothers and sisters, then he would have told all to just eat vegetables! But he did not say that, therefore he did not mean that.
What does he mean then, when he says we should make up our mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way?
We need to realize two things here:
First, we need to realize Paul is not just talking about personal opinions, he is not just talking about personal feelings, he is talking about Jewish religious law.
And second, we need to realize that Paul is talking about what people eat during worship. He is not talking about what people eat at home or in a restaurant.
How do we know? Because Paul highlights this word “unclean” three times right here. This is specifically religious language. And for the ancient Jews, religion was never just a private thing. The entire community was supposed to follow the same religious rules all week so that, when they gathered together for worship at the end of the week, their collective worship would be pure and pleasing to God.
Okay. So how does that help us understand what Paul means by “stumbling block or obstacle”?
Apparently, there are people in the Roman Church who still believe God is more pleased if they eat halal. So they work very hard all week to eat halal. Which is fine, Paul has said, because each person should be fully convinced in their own mind.
But then they come to worship on Sunday. And worship, in those early days, always involved a meal, a pot-luck, a BBQ. Everyone would bring food from home to share with one another.
And, unfortunately, some Jewish people were so strict they could not even sit in the same room with non-halal food. Now, God’s law never actually put that rule in place — not for ordinary people — but that is what some Jewish people had been taught from young. Yes, Jesus had corrected that misunderstanding, and so had Paul. But old habits are hard to break!
So these Jewish-background Christians are coming to church, trying to worship God in a room full of non-halal food. In their heads they might be thinking, “It’s okay. Jesus said it’s okay. So it’s okay.” But in their hearts they are distressed; they are thinking, “I don’t know about this! It feels so unclean! And how can God be pleased with my worship if I am unclean?”
They are feeling alienated from God — separated from God — in the very place where they should feel closest to God. They are trying to learn more about Jesus, but they are distracted. Their heart is distressed in the very place where it should be most at rest.
And then, of course, during the week they end up talking with their other Jewish-background brothers and sisters about how strange and unclean it all feels. And the more they gossip together, the more they reinforce their own Jewish-background opinions. And the more they lock themselves into a Jewish-background echo-chamber, the less likely they are to listen and learn and grow in unity with their pagan-background brothers and sisters.
They end up stumbling into sin: they turn into gossips and then into isolationists. Ultimately, they turn into racists, discriminating against anyone who is not Jewish, who does not follow the rules the way they understand them.
And all because of food!
Basically, Paul is appealing to the more relaxed pagan-background Christians. He is saying, “Look, God has given you guys the gift of flexibility. You are not rigidly locked into tradition the way our Jewish-background friends are. Now, does God want our Jewish-background friends to learn how to be more flexible in these matters? Yes, he does. But we cannot force them to grow, that only happens — slowly — as we worship together faithfully every week. If you guys insist on making worship uncomfortable for them, they will never grow. Instead, they will isolate themselves from you more and more, they will grow weaker and weaker instead of stronger and stronger, and eventually they will stop coming to worship completely!”
 Therefore, Paul says, do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.
Do not give your friends reason to go home and gossip with one another and get the idea in their heads that your worship is unclean worship.
 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,  because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Our worshiping community ought to be a place where everyone has the chance to come and experience righteousness, peace, and joy, fairness, unity, and freedom.
Obviously we are not going to do this perfectly. Obviously not everyone is going to feel like they fit in all the time. But our worshiping community ought to be a place where we are at least trying to listen to one another, and have a conversation — together — about how to move forward together.
And this is, in fact, how we become pleasing to God, and how we receive human approval.
Remember, this whole disagreement is actually about how to please God. The Jewish-background folks say God is pleased when his children keep their worship pure by eating halal. The pagan-background folks say God is pleased when his children are willing to eat anything with anyone. Paul is saying they are both a bit right: God is concerned about pure worship and he is concerned about including everyone in that worship as much as possible.
So when God’s children make up their mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister — on either side of this conversation — then we are serving Christ and pleasing our Father and more likely to get along with one another.
 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Do not destroy the work of God — do not destroy the Church of God — for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
So the bottom line is this: everyone in the Roman Church needs to keep growing in their faith, but they cannot force one another to grow.
Those who are more relaxed about what they eat need to make sure they don’t end up condemning themselves by insisting on conditions that result in division. Those who are more selective about what they eat need to make sure they don’t end up condemning themselves by joining an activity they believe is wrong — or by insisting on conditions that result in division.
So, now: are there parallels with our situation today?
Yes. We have already noticed some of them: our congregation, just like the ancient Roman congregation, is diverse. We have also noticed that some of us are more relaxed in our approach to the pandemic; some of us are more careful. And we have noticed that some of these differences tend to run along cultural lines.
But now that we have learned the specifics of what our ancient brothers and sisters were dealing with, we can notice at least two more parallels:
First — just like theirs — our situation today is a matter of law, not just opinions or feelings. They were dealing with how to interpret religious law; we are dealing with how to interpret civil law. But the underlying questions are the same: how can we apply the law so that it protects us and unites us — but without absolutely crushing our diversity of expressions? We need a united strength…we also need flexibility.
Second — just like theirs — our situation today is complicated by fear. There were people in those congregations who were afraid to come to worship because they were afraid of being spiritually “infected” by unclean food; today we fear physical infection. But the underlying questions are still the same: how much fear is appropriate? At what point does prudence cross the line into paranoia? At what point does courage cross the line into carelessness?
So, lets dig into some of the details of our situation now and apply Paul’s wisdom to it:
Some among us are looking at the covid numbers in Malaysia and concluding that there is little danger in gathering together for worship — as long as we try to wear masks and maintain social distancing. But some among us look at the same numbers and have the exact opposite reaction: it is far too dangerous to even leave the house! And, as we have already noticed, our background — our culture, our age, our health, our personal experiences, even our gender — influences where we end up on that spectrum.
Now, the truth is, the covid numbers, the government — and therefore the law — support those who believe there is very little to fear. By law we are allowed to gather for worship, as long as we mind the SOPs.
This is very similar to what Paul told the Roman Christians: really there is nothing to fear as long as we act wisely. And the law agrees. Therefore we should gather for worship, because that is God’s command: we will not grow in our faith if we do not meet together regularly face-to-face. Zoom has been wonderful! but it is not enough. And that is becoming more and more clear as time goes on. Therefore, the bible says, we should be encouraging one another to meet.
However, as Paul pointed out 2000 years ago, fear is seldom rational. And so those of us who tend to be more fearful of covid might come to worship thinking, “It’s okay! Jesus said it’s okay. Paul said it’s okay. The government says it’s okay. So it’s okay!” — and the whole time be experiencing this profound discomfort and distress.
And the potential effects are exactly the same as they were 2000 years ago: the one who is not afraid of covid tends to treat with contempt the one who is afraid, while the one who is afraid tends to judge the one who is not afraid. The first one says, “Come on! Where is your courage? Where is your obedience to God’s command for us to worship together?”while the other one says, “Come on! Where is your caution? Where is your obedience to God’s command for us to love and protect one another?”
Friends, I do want to pause here and point out that your elders do not think our congregation has actually gotten to this level of internal division. It is clear to us that you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family.
But this kind of division is happening in churches around the world. And we know we are not immune. That is why we decided to address this issue now, so that it will not become a real problem for us.
In fact, in some ways we have a greater potential for this kind of division than many other churches in our city — simply because we are so diverse.
A congregation that is mostly one race, one cultural background, will experience less tension over this kind of issue because most of the people in that congregation already have the same cultural expectations. If 90% of the people in a church come from a more formal culture, then they will all follow the social-distancing rules very easily, and will probably feel a great deal of pride about that! — without even realizing that 10% of their congregation feels very alienated by such formality. In the same way, if 90% of the people in a church come from a very warm, affectionate culture, then they will be much more relaxed about the social-distancing rules, and will probably feel a great deal of pride about that! — never even realizing that 10% of their congregation are really troubled by all the hugging and all the eating and talking!
Our particular problem is that we do not have a 90%. We are 20% this, 20% that, 35% this other thing…and that is good! But it also means we need to pay closer attention to this matter if we are going to maintain our unity without crushing our diversity.
So how are we going to resolve this potential source of tension and division?
Well, if you recall, Paul’s advice for our ancient friends came in two parts: what not to do, and what to do instead.
First, we need to not pass judgement on one another. We need to stop quarreling over disputable matters. There are important things to pass judgement on! — SOPs are not one of them.
Second, we need to make up our minds not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way. We need to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
So let’s talk specifics:
How can we keep from passing judgement on one another, or quarrelling?
Well for one thing, we need to remember that this question of how strictly to apply the SOPs is a disputable matter. A disputable matter in the bible is something that is not clearly commanded or forbidden. A disputable matter is an area where we are supposed to remain flexible in our application.
Paul said it another way in another one of his letters: in Jesus Christ, neither social distancing nor not social distancing has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
So, next week, when we gather together for worship, and I see someone who interprets the SOPs a little more strictly or a little more loosely than I do, I am not going to pass judgement upon them. Instead, I am going to remind myself, “This is a disputable matter. God has accepted them. So who am I to judge them and reject them?”
Then I am going to be open-minded. I am going to assume that the other person is trying to express their faith through love. I am deliberately going to remember that there is supposed to be a flexibility among us is how we express love.
For instance: some of us come from cultures where the proper way to express love is to protect the other person’s physical health by wearing a mask and social distancing. Some of us come from cultures where the proper way to express love is to protect the other person’s emotional health by hugging them and sharing food with them.
Now, both of these expressions of love are good and godly expressions! The only problem is that the situation today favours one expression over another. These pandemic SOPs are easy for some of us to follow, because our cultural background has prepared us to be good at them — but very hard for others of us, because we have a lifetime of other habits to overcome.
So, if you are here today, and you come from a culture that highly values compliance to the law, if you are a person for whom the SOPs are intuitive and easy to follow…please do not pass judgement on those among us who are not so good at following the SOPs. Please resist the urge to demand perfect compliance with the SOPs. Yes, everyone should follow the SOPs — but we need to give one another room to grow in this area of self-restraint. To paraphrase Paul’s command here: do not by your discrimination destroy someone for whom Christ died. Do not drive people away from worship by passing judgement against them, holding them to a higher standard than God’s standard.
However, the opposite is also true: if you are here today and you come from a culture that values personal interaction morely highly than strict compliance to the law, if you are a person for whom the need for worship and fellowship is much greater than your fear of covid…please do not pass judgement on those among us who are, perhaps, struggling with fear. Please resist the urge to demand that they come to worship. Yes, everyone should come to worship — but we need to give one another room to grow in this area of courage. To paraphrase Paul again: do not by your courage destroy someone for whom Christ died. Do not drive people away from worship by being overly relaxed about the SOPs, insisting on a lower standard than God’s standard.
Okay. So we are not going to pass judgement on one another over this disputable matter.
Instead, we are going to make up our minds not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way. We are going to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. We are going to give one another room to grow, and this is how we are going to do that:
If you are here today, and you are one of those who easily joins in worship and hardly worries about covid at all…in one sense you are the “strong” ones in this equation. To paraphrase Paul yet again: one person’s faith allows them to join in worship without worry — fully convinced that whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord — but another, whose faith is weak, is afraid to join in worship.
Since that is the case, Paul’s writing here makes it clear that the burden is mostly on the strong to lift up the weak. Those who are fearful of covid are more likely to have their faith seriously shaken if someone in our congregation catches covid, whereas those who are strong might stumble for a moment if someone we know catches covid — but then have the strength and the flexibility to overcome it and keep their faith in God’s goodness.
Therefore, those who are strong in this way need to make up our minds not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of those who are more likely to stumble over their fear of covid.
What does that look like in this situation?
It looks like all of us trying our best to follow the SOPs. I know that for those among us who are not very worried about covid, this does not come naturally. Frankly: we get caught up in our fellowship with God and with one another, and we forget. So let us make up our minds to be considerate in this matter. Let us try to make the conditions of worship as comfortable as possible for those who are afraid. And so, let us also make up our minds not to be offended if someone reminds us to comply a little better with some aspect of the SOPs that we have forgotten.
But the opposite is also true: if you are here today and you are one of those who worries about covid quite a lot, so much that you are willing to give up personal fellowship with God’s people…well, in one sense you are also the “strong” ones in this equation. As Paul might say: one person’s faith allows them to live in isolation from the church for months — fully convinced that the Lord is able to make them stand — but another, whose faith is weak, needs to meet face-to-face with other Christians every few days.
Since that is the case, Paul’s writing here makes it clear that there is also a burden upon you to lift up those who are weak. There could be many reasons for your strength in this area: perhaps God birthed you into a culture that trained you in self-sufficiency or emotional stability, so that you do not really need as much emotional support as other people do. Perhaps God has given you a family: parents, siblings, a spouse, children, and they are providing the support you need during this time of isolation.
Whatever the reason, your strength is not your own, it is a gift from God, a gift to be used to build up others. So, for instance, if you do have the gift of self-sufficiency or emotional stability, so that you do not really need other people very much — please know that other people really need you! They need your strength, your stability, your fellowship, your support. Or, if you have the gift of a family that cares for you emotionally so that you do not need the rest of your church family so much — please know that you have brothers and sisters in this congregation who do not have any family here in KL. They need you to be the family they do not have.
Therefore, those who are strong in this area need to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification for those who do not have access to your rich resources.
What does mutual edification look like in this situation?
It looks like all of us trying our best to come and join in worship. I know that for those among us who are very worried about covid, this does not come naturally. Frankly: we get caught up in our fears and our needs and we forget how much others need us. So let us make up our minds to be considerate in this matter also. Let us make every effort to remember that none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.
But as Paul said, each of us should be fully convinced in our own mind. So, please understand this: if you have considered all these things and you are still consumed with doubts about whether it is really safe to join us in worship…please stay home. You are not going to be judged by us. And you are not going to be pressured by us! though I do ask that you not be offended if someone keeps inviting you to join. We miss you when you are not here — that’s all! But we do not want you to come because of pressure or guilt, we want you to join because of faith expressing itself through love. To paraphrase Paul one last time here: whoever has doubts is condemned if they come to in-person worship, because their joining is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Brothers and sisters, I want to end by reminding us all of our Good News. Here is our Gospel for today: Christ died and returned to life so that we would no longer have to live in isolation, cut off from people from other nations. Christ died and returned to life so that we would actually need each other. We are actually richer now that we need one another than we were before when we stood alone, isolated in our nations, our languages, our cultures. God is doing a new thing here! and it is really amazing that we get to be a part of it.
So I am going to close here by moving directly to our benediction for today. It is right there on the closing page of our worship guide, and it is Paul’s summary and conclusion for all of us:
 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him 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 endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
 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.