Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
Alison’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/8nq42qMuEDg
In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen
As we mark this year’s season of creation, I was reminded at the beginning of our Romans reading about the food we eat and how God made it all at the beginning! In the first Genesis account of creation, God made all the different kinds of vegetation on the third day of creation and all the other living creatures on the fifth day of creation.
The Romans passage really speaks to the futility of having disagreements about what is OK to eat and what is not. Something that continues to this day! The substance of the disagreements would be substantively different at the time Paul wrote – but this is still a divisive topic! At one end of the spectrum – Some take the account of creation in Genesis to mean we should all be vegans, as humankind was required to look after the garden God had made in the second version of the story and God made the seed-bearing plants on the face of the whole earth and every fruit tree to provide food. At the other end of the spectrum – Others have a markedly different view than that clearly God made some animals to eat plants and others to be carnivores. So it goes on – ‘Quarrelling over opinions’ is something that beset the church in Paul’s day and something we can have difficulties with in our day.
Paul asks us to uphold everyone – and particularly those who hold different opinions from those we hold ourselves. This is easy to say, but frankly not remotely easy to do! Opinions are subjective but when we disagree about stuff, we can easily slip into the habit of stating our opinion as fact! I think the different approaches to our current pandemic also bear this out… Some are probably being too careful. Some are probably not being careful enough…
In relation to our food choices, I do think as Christians we have a duty to make choices that are good for the earth God gave us to steward. This is a heavy responsibility – and one humankind has not always done well.
A bit of a health warning – I am sharing some of my opinions – about living lightly on the planet. I do not always manage to live up to my opinions, but I do try to honour the lordship of Jesus in my choices and my opinions are subjective and disagreeing with them well is also Ok. We may well even find eventually that we are reaping the consequences of humankind’s choices in our COVID pandemic – (whether we understood the implications or not, of course – only time will tell!)
Though Paul is making a different point in our reading from Romans, I think eating in honour of the Lord matters, and giving thanks to God for what we have to eat as we eat it matters. This requires us to be mindful of our choices, honouring means respecting God’s wishes for our world that we look after as God’s stewards. Choices to care for our planet we can do and some of this has been more prevalent in recent days are: –
To source what we need to consume locally. This cuts down the food miles considerably – which is better for our world. Being careful if buying our apples in the supermarket to pick the British ones! All this helps our local economy and producers too.
Even I the most unlikely and least green fingered gardener have been growing things to eat this year. Home grown tomatoes have been a bit of a revelation really! All that was needed was a little love and attention every day through watering and I have been eating succulent and delicious tomatoes for weeks… And probably now need a recipe for tomato chutney!!
Choosing fairly traded products is good too where they are available.
Other options include not being wasteful and throwing a lot of food away because we haven’t gotten around to using it!
We also need to be concerned and mindful of how food is presented to us. Moving away where practical from single use plastic. (I absolutely acknowledge this has been more difficult in recent times – but good to see some soft fruit in cardboard punnets in the Co-op in Wincanton last week!)
In the letter to the Romans Paul continues – We do not live to ourselves – we live to the Lord. We have to take account of those around us – Our locality, our community, our neighbours both near and far. The current set of circumstances is such that some people are even more dependent on foodbanks and support than usual. It is not unreasonable also to think that this is going to get more difficult as our uncertain times move into autumn/winter
We are planning to support a local foodbank in our harvest celebrations this year. Giving practical help and sustenance to those most in need – in this instance the Lord’s larder based in Yeovil. It does not bear thinking about that we are likely to have people without enough to eat nearer than we would want to believe. The low yield in this year’s wheat harvest across the country is also not going to help us with this with likely consequences including- inflating the cost of basic essentials too. So to our harvest celebration bring some long date products to support this work. These are things they particularly need (tins of macaroni cheese, beans with sausages, tinned soup, confectionary, toilet rolls and shampoo). We may think this is a strange list and some other things would be more wholesome but this is what they are asking for. This stuff is practical and is readily consumable for people often with limited access to cooking equipment.
There are lots of things we would usually do for harvest that we can’t do in 2020 (for covid related reasons) – particularly in relation to decorating the church (please don’t expect this) and fresh produce (please don’t bring this). We will take time in our harvest services to give thanks for both these things. But this year – could we concentrate on practically supporting those locally with less than ourselves. So the list they want is tins of macaroni cheese, beans with sausages, tinned soup, confectionary, toilet rolls and shampoo.
We also need to think about our choices for our global neighbours. We make choices which can positively and negatively impact others across the world. Let’s be mindful of this to in how we approach our food with a God honouring approach, not living just to ourselves but living to the Lord and the power of his love in our lives…
The final part of this passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans is rather sobering. It talks about accountability before the judgement seat of God when the time comes and having a heavenly perspective on our choices particularly over judging our brothers and sisters. Making judgements which are for our own benefit and not the wider benefit of society and the world around us!
Nothing makes this easy to hear and digest. I have recently been reading a fictional account of the person – who took St Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. In the story she was a woman called Phoebe, she took and bore the brunt of the frustrations of the first readers, when they were digesting its contents. Paul is far from diplomatic! But trying to get his point across passionately and so it was understood and understood well! Different people within the Roman Church reacted differently to aspects of it and in different ways. Phoebe had to pick her way through some challenging and difficult conversations, whilst trying to help people stay focused on the lordship of Jesus and his saving love for us
I think this is also an important point to end on for us too. We hear things differently, we see things differently. We live in very turbulent times. Even in the most turbulent of times concentrating on the Lordship of Jesus over our lives, the Lordship of Jesus in our lives and even more so the Lordship of Jesus through our lives is the key to living in the moment, day by day as we so need to in our current times.
I am going to end by reading a poem called “For the earth’s healing” – Written by Jan Berry
We listen with joy to the song of the morning
when angels rejoiced, and the skies came to birth;
when God placed the sun, moon and stars in the heavens,
shaped mountains and rivers and seas on the earth.
We dance in a world that is filled with God’s glory,
of green growing beauty and creatures at play;
we laugh with its wonder and cry with its sorrow,
and rest in its quiet at the end of the day.
We weep for an earth that’s in need of God’s healing,
the oceans that roar and the rivers that cry,
we search for solutions, and shout out our questions,
to God who commands us to look to the sky.
We dream of a world that is living together,
with beauty and goodness and loving to share;
the answer God gives to our hope and our longing:
‘The world that I fashioned is placed in your care’.
www.rootsontheweb.com – © Jan Berry, Hymns for Healing, Holy Rood House.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995