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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Today’s Reading | Romans 14:13–22a

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. (NRSV)

I find these verses fascinating in light of a saying my mother often repeated: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I can certainly see the wisdom of her words when I think about the transitions I’ve made as a pastor into three distinct Presbyterian congregations. And I recall our attention to the customs and expectations of our friends in Cuba when we visited their congregation. “When in Rome . . .”

Paul was speaking to the church in Rome during a great time of transition for the early Christians. Some were intent on following the laws of Moses, while others had realized that those laws were no longer applicable in the same way because of Christ. Paul’s words were focused on unity. Don’t judge those who still insist on the old ways, who won’t eat meat because they think the old good laws are still a way of being faithful. And don’t think your newfound freedom in Christ is something you should use to judge the ones who don’t know that freedom yet. Don’t be a stumbling block to someone else’s faith.

During our continuing time of transition at Fourth Church, it might be a good thing for us to focus on Paul’s words. He was not advocating that we all become mush with no independent beliefs or thoughts of our own, but he was signaling a need for mutual forbearance during a time of transition. Mutual forbearance is one of the values of Reformed faith. How do we hold onto our belief but make room for the belief of another? And how do we stay pointed the whole time toward unity? How can we avoid being stumbling blocks to another’s participation in our community of faith? Another of my mother’s sayings was, “Easier said than done.” That one also fits, but let’s keep trying.

Holy God, it’s hard to claim your grace and freedom and understand why others don’t see or feel it. We are egocentric people who want our own way. Help us live into the way of mutual forbearance so that we might all thrive in our faithfulness to you. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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