Scripture: Romans 14:1-12
Key verse: (8) “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 are the Lord’s.”
Reflection: Dr. Shirley Guthrie taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary for almost 40 years. Not long after his retirement he was diagnosed with an advanced cancer. When the doctor told him, he responded by quoting Romans 14:8: “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 are the Lord’s.” That embodied one of the many things I loved about Dr. Guthrie. He walked the talk. His life reflected the freedom that is ours in Christ —freedom even from anxiety about death because we are claimed by God’s love in Christ.
Another freedom faith provides described in today’s reading is freedom from judging others. Paul describes a community where some eat only vegetables and others eat anything they want; where some observe special days while others judge all days alike. His conclusion is that regardless of our dietary choices or calendar observances, our lives are ultimately defined not by us, but by the love of God in Jesus Christ that has claimed us — “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” So Paul asks, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or why do you despise your brother or sister?”
What a powerful word to our world today. A recent cartoon in the New Yorker had the caption, “The problem with our country is that 50% of Americans think the other 50% are idiots.” Can we imagine a world where we do not despise one another, because we all belong to the Lord? That reminds me of another Shirley Guthrie story. In the midst of one our denomination’s heated polity battles, Dr. Guthrie was invited to mediate a debate in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery. I was at the meeting and was excited Shirley was moderating because I thought he would support “my side.” I was shocked when he suggested that perhaps God was no longer listening to either side. “You’ve got self-righteous people on all sides arguing with other self-righteous people,” he said. “Maybe God is saying ‘no’ to what we are doing while hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death.” In that moment, we were all put in our place. Our judgment of one another was placed under the judgment of God.
Ultimately, that is what Paul says to the Romans. There is no place for self-righteousness in the life of faith. There is no place for judging one another. Why? Because Christ has claimed us all. He is the only one afforded the seat of judgment. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” says Paul, “each of us will be accountable to God.” The freedom of faith is not an “anything goes” kind of life. Each of us will be accountable to God. We are claimed by God in Christ, and we are accountable to God through Christ. Let us live in the freedom of faith, loving God with all we are and loving one another as we love ourselves.
Prayer: In life and in death we belong to you, O God. And so do they. Free us from our proclivity to judge one another that we might live into the fullness of your grace, remembering we are ultimately accountable only to you. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].