Sunday 13th September

September 13th 

Romans 14.7    “None of us lives to ourselves; none of us dies to ourselves…”

 

Several family members sat down to tea with us recently. We sat outside. One was an organic beef farmer of the rare Shorthorn cattle. Two others were vegans, both well versed in the conditions most poultry and cattle are kept, and the conditions they die.

 

Our interest of course was to know how they were, and how their life was going. The conversation was honest, and yet most careful, lest we judge each other, which at heart, we knew we could not escape from doing.

 

There is an old 1960s song by Phil Ochs:

And they argued through the night:

Black is black, and white is white;

Then walk away both knowing they are right.

And nobody’s buying flowers

From the flower lady.

 

A bit like the Brexit negotiations.

 

Bertrand Russell describes a moment when he and his wife had to make a difficult decision. “Looking back, after many years, I still think I was right, and she still thinks she was right.”

 

Some Christians, in the time of St Paul, abstained from all meat in case they ate meat supplied to pagan temples. Other Christians said it mattered not. What came from the inside, as Jesus said, not from the outside, was what mattered.

 

Within this discussion, or argument, Paul suggests no one should condemn another Christian because:

v7 “None of us lives to ourselves; none of us dies to ourselves”.

 

There are two profound truths I want to explore here:

The desert father, St Anthony, reflecting on this verse taught

‘our life and our death are with our neighbour’.

We are not isolated individuals who might or might not choose to associate with others. Human beings are communal.

We are bound together by biology, language, culture and economics.

 

So if, contrary to Paul’s thought, we ‘live for ourselves’, we are living a delusion, and a sad one at that.

 

And perhaps in this time of pandemic, it is even more poignant when someone dies alone. It is rightly considered a social tragedy.

 

So despite Christians holding different moral positions, this sense of being bound together is the starting point for thinking about Church.

 

Which brings me to my second truth. We are justified by faith, and this trumps the entrenchment of all moral positions we may sincerely hold.

Paul goes on to say:

“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.

That is why the Messiah died and came back to life, so that he may be the Lord both of the dead and the living…”

 

If there is commonality in a common birth, there is still more so in our common redemption. And in our incorporation into the body of Christ.

 

In a Church often wracked by division, this is a point to hold on to.

 

Paul asks, in the light of our redemption, “Why do you condemn your fellow Christian? Why do you despise your fellow Christian?”

 

His point is we are united in Christ. We are justified by Christ. In being justified by God’s love, our lives are intertwined; we cannot condemn each other.

 

Belonging together is God’s gift, even if we wish that it were not so.

This is the necessary backdrop for being able to respect those who have a sense of liberty that is greater than we would be comfortable with.

 

So as I sat down with my meat producing farmer, who was a family member, and as I sat down with my vegan family members, I hear the words of Paul:

 

v3 “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat”.

 

The reason why no judgement is passed is Paul’s favourite reason, because all rests on grace:

As Paul put it in verse 3 “for God has welcomed them”.


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