Happy Tuesday friends. One of these days I'll write this blog on Sunday and have it ready for Monday. But....today is not that day. Today begins the final march on our Romans message series looking at the last 3 chapters. We've been really moved by the feedback to the series so far and are really excited by the retention and engagement we've seen so far.
Today we'll go through Romans 14 but I probably won't expand on it too much as I think that Joyce preached an absolute banger of a message this past Sunday. (She also *almost* set a new record for longest sermon at 32 minutes. Can't take that crown away from me!)
Take a moment to read through Romans 14 and make notes of your own questions, thoughts, inspirations. If you're willing - share them below in the comments.
Scripture to Read
Romans 14 begins can come across as a long tangent about food about the beef (sorry) between people that eat certain things and those that don't. But, as Joyce so wonderfully described yesterday this isn't really about meat eaters and those that don't eat meat. Any meat that was sold at the market was likely offered up to one of the gods that the Romans would have worshiped. Faithful Jewish Christians would not want to eat meat that had been offered up as a sacrifice to other gods and so they abstained from eating any meat. Gentile Christians didn't have this cultural experience and thus didn't get why the Jewish Christians were getting so worked up about it. Keep in mind that church at the time didn't look like our structured setting; it was likely just a meal, conversation, and prayer. If the meal was the central focus of the time together it would be pretty awkward if your guests refused to eat was being served! Thus, to avoid further conflict the church would go off on its separate corners with Jewish Christians eating by themselves again and Gentile Christians doing the same thing. Paul was really against this. He was against it when Peter tried to mandate it (Galatians 2) and he was mad when it was happening organically in Rome. For reference, this would be similar to if we offered a contemporary and traditional service and never provided space for both groups to come together. It wouldn't feel like the church!
When I think of Romans 14 I think of two pictures from my wedding. My favorite two pictures from our wedding. McKinsie and I are not big picture takers you should know. I think in our 8ish years of being together we've taken maybe 100 pictures? Maybe? But we're also huge hypocrites because whenever someone does take a picture of the two of us candidly we are super thankful. So, these two pictures that I'l show in a moment are towards the end of a long picture session and we're exhausted and ready to go eat food. The photographer asks us to place our foreheads together and mutually hold McKinsie's bouquet in what was supposed to be an endearing shot. We....didn't do that. Enjoy.
This second picture picture has been the wallpaper for my computer for a long time now and I really think it perfectly captures Romans 14, at least for me. Our wedding was obviously one of the happiest days in the world for us, as I trust was for your own wedding. However, marriage comes with gripes and frustrations that might make us look more like picture 1 than picture 2. Some of them are big like the ones I discussed in my message a few weeks back while some of them are small and stupid such as forgetting to take out the trash, not doing dishes, folding clothes wrong, or washing darks with lights. I'm sure you all have your own experience of things that are pretty small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But if we let those things fester they can keep us in a permenant state of picture 1 going "Grrrrr" at our partners. Plenty of times McKinsie and I in our pride have failed to move past picture 1. But then I'll sit down at work, turn on my computer, and be faced with that picture of two love birds laughing their butts off at their wedding in an act of protest to their photographer and all I can think to myself is "she drives me nuts....but she really is my best friend." I move on. She moves on. And we get back to laughing. My heart breaks at how rapidly the divorce rate in the US is skyrocketing. Of course, I do not support any marriage that is unhealthy or abusive and applaud the courage of partners who walk and not accept it otherwise. But....my heart breaks because I know deep down in those two wayward partners there was a time when they laughed like McKinsie and I did at our wedding. That there was a time when they also said "they really are my best friend." But somewhere along the line that stopped. That makes me sad.
Romans 14 makes me evaluate my marriage and ask how many times I've been stubborn, prideful, or opinionated lately with McKinsie. It challenges me - no - demands me to be better, to be united, to focus less on how she leaves candy wrappers around the house or how I wrinkle every shirt we own and instead cherish the gift of love that we have together. That there is no better sound in the world than her laugh; except maybe when we're laughing together.
Obviously Romans isn't about "us" or our relationships. It's about the church and the relationship we have with one another in church and how that relationship models the relationship that God wants to have with us. (If there is a world record for how many times someone can use the word relationship in a sentence I'm confident I just beat that.) I'm sure you all have memories of the church that are happy, joyful, hopeful, and otherwise filled with expressions closer to picture 2. I'm sure the tensions around general conference, the cultural deconstruction and mistrust of organized religions has caused emotions that feel closer to picture 1. I know I've felt it as well. I also know that I have contributed to the division by having what I would consider "necessary but painful conversations" from LGBT inclusion, race, climate, and anything else that might be considered "political." Maybe that was a mistake - maybe it was good. Time will tell. Or maybe as Methodists - people of the extreme middle - we can sit together in misaligned thoughts, convictions, and beliefs and rest on the most important thing we can all agree on. We are sinners that are made free by God's everlasting and unbound love for us; all of us. That's Romans 14. That's the Methodist church I hope to see again someday.
Take a moment to evaluate your own relationship with friends, loved ones, co-workers, God, and even yourself. Have you been a stumbling block to your own happiness or to your relationships? Have they been to you in some way? What would it take to get back to a happier place? Whatever that is my prayers and my love go with you.
There's lots more to cover but Joyce honestly did so well at it. Go back and listen to that message again. See you tomorrow for Romans 15.
Praying the Hymns
I wrote the phrase "The Gift of Love" up above and now I can't stop humming the hymn so I'm going to torment you with it and invite you to sing it along with me. Enjoy <3