March 1, 2017. Romans 14.
As Ash Wednesday dawns this year, our weather in East Tennessee is Ash Wednesday-ish. Rainy, cloudy, cooler than last week, drearier. It fits. In the same way we love a sunny Easter morn, we accept an Ash Wednesday darkness.
We understand other things intuitively, too, as being right and fitting. The Ten Commandments. The Great Commandment. With both sets of commandments, we find certainty. Do we always obey? Do we always comply? Well, maybe not. But we try.
We find something different in the readings for Ash Wednesday and also for Thursday this week, as we begin a Holy Lent. Paul talks with the Romans about food, about how they conduct their lives, about judgment, and mostly about faith. He is very direct with the Romans in the 14th chapter:
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Moral relativism? No. That’s right, no. Something more wonderful. Love.
Paul’s words are grounded in love. An outpouring of God’s love to others who need gentleness, and an outpouring of God’s love to me. To me, a sinner groaning Psalm 51 from today’s liturgy. To me, someone God sees personally. Yes, we are the Bride of Christ, the Church, all of us together. And simultaneously, God sees me – and you – individually. And He loves us. He sees us and He loves us.
Our dear Bishop Frank Lyons visited our church last summer. If you were there for one of the services, do you recall how he came to stand in our midst during his sermon, how he preached love, love, love over and over? His message of God’s love was powerful. Is powerful.
I am awed by God’s plan, awed with His love. He sees me and loves each of us individually, and then it is by connecting with and loving others that we begin to understand more of His plan.
At this point, however, I am brought back to how often I judge when I think of others, when I think of myself. How do we stop the judging cycle? By asking Him to help us. To help us be gentle with one another and with ourselves. And by remembering this, from Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 14:
19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
As we begin observing a Holy Lent, let us remember to light a candle in the darkness, to hug a friend in need and also give them practical support, to repent of our judgment of others, and to pursue peace and mutual upbuilding with love. And gentleness.
It’s Ash Wednesday, it’s a somber time, and it’s a time to remember that God loves us more than we can imagine.