Scripture: Romans 14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Observation: There was apparently a disagreement among believers in Rome. Were Christians required to follow kosher dietary laws or not? Some thought yes, others no. As each side tried to press their views, divisions arose within the church. Paul essentially told them to knock it off. If one’s conscience required abiding by kosher dietary laws, fine. If not, that was fine too. It wasn’t necessary to define a single practice within the church. In any event Jesus, not fellow Christians, would be the ultimate judge on the matter at the end of the age.
Application: When I was first ordained in 1998 I served as associate pastor of a “Swedish Lutheran” church. By the time I got there, almost 30 years later, the Swedish roots of the church were quite understated as most of the members were not Swedes. But every once in a while I discovered a remnant of its original Swedish identity.
My first summer there I met with the committee planning the annual “fall festival” to be held in October. I wondered why it wasn’t called “Octoberfest”, but said nothing. As the meeting was winding down I asked, “Folks, where is the beer booth on this map? Everyone knows that beer is the biggest fundraiser at Octoberfest.” The people looked at me like I was from Mars or something! One of the committee members said, “Pastor, there will be no alcohol on the premises. Ever. It’s written into the constitution.”
Apparently, I had asked the wrong question.
I later learned that the church I belonged to before I went to seminary was a “German Lutheran” church. Germans and Swedes had very different expectations about some things, including alcoholic beverages. Yet we were still part of one denomination. There was room for both.
Even today there are some Christians who are okay with alcoholic beverages on church property, others not. Some Christians abstain from alcohol altogether. Some Christians avoid dancing (seriously), others are fine with it. Some Christians don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent (like today), others do. Our passage for today reminds us that we don’t all have to be the same in terms of our piety. There is room for diversity of practice within the body of Christ.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, give us grace to focus on what unites us as Christian brothers and sisters, not on what divides us. Amen.