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. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 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. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11 For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Paul is writing to a divided church. At first glance, it doesn’t seem very serious. Some people eat whatever’s in front of them, others are vegetarians. No big deal. Some lift up holy days, others don’t. This is their worst problem? Really?
But it’s much more than those little things. The separation comes from a congregation steeped in judgment. It’s not just that you eat anything, it’s that you are wrong for eating anything. If you aren’t being a Christian the way I am, you are less of a Christian. You are wrong. You are unworthy.
And that was a problem. To sit in judgment of others is, as Paul writes, taking God’s place. Especially when God has already declared them all to be welcomed, included, loved, worthwhile. This judgmental attitude was divisive. It was harmful. It left some people feeling privileged and others feeling shamed.
Good thing the church doesn’t do that anymore, huh?
One of the most pervasively negative attitudes that people who aren’t in the church have toward people in the church is that we are too judgmental. It’s an ongoing issue, this issue of judging others. For the Romans it was eating. . “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat.”
It’s no longer about what we eat, but about the style of worship—including the music. “Those who like electric guitars and drums must not despise those who prefer pipe organs, and those who prefer pipe organs must not pass judgment on those who like electric guitars and drums.”
Or even less significant things. “Those who think the pastor is totally awesome must not despise those who think the pastor is slightly less than totally awesome . . .”
So if it’s problematic, why do we keep doing it? We judge others because we’re frightened that others will judge us—and find us unworthy, unlovable, flawed. Which is our deepest fear. We’re deeply afraid we might not be as worthwhile as we pretend to be. So we bolster ourselves, protect ourselves from that terribly vulnerable position of being found “less than.” Less than everyone else, less than good, less than worthy, less than what we project to other people. We judge others to protect ourselves from vulnerability.
Yet vulnerability is a key to humanity. We experience love most profoundly when we are vulnerable.
About 5 ½ years ago, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. I was nominated as a candidate for Bishop of the RMS. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.
I could already hear the taunts and jeers, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.
There was still an out, however. To be considered an actual candidate, biographical information had to be submitted online. Which I hadn’t yet done.
I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. But in the end, for a variety of reasons, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.
And there it was. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and laughter would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying high. Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy had risen up and was demanding attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. It was the most vulnerable feeling I could ever imagine.
I didn’t get very far in the election. But it began a process of radical spiritual growth that included the realization that I am worthy of being loved and respected and cared about. Right now, as imperfect and as flawed as I am, I am nonetheless someone God has declared is already enough. Just as I am.
That’s the point Paul makes. Each one of you is worth being loved. Right now. Not because of your achievements or making the travelling soccer team or a promotion or because other people judge you positively. But because of who you are. Because of who God made you to be. Because the authentic, deep-down, real you is already loved. You, at this moment, with all your baggage, all your frailties, all your weaknesses, all your vulnerability—you are welcomed by God. You are enough.
Take the mirror you were given at the beginning of worship. Look in it and let this begin to sink in. You are loved more than anything in all creation because of who you authentically are. The fact that you are worthy of that love is incredibly liberating. It is life-giving. It gives you the courage to face any judgments that deny how worthy of love you are.
Because right now, today, this morning, as you look at yourself, you are loved. Period. Deeply and completely loved. What you have to offer the world matters. You are already more than enough. And love changes everything.