We’re not here to judge. We’re here to love.

One of the things you have to try and learn to do when you chair meetings, is to keep them moving, and not let them get bogged down in minute detail. Of course sometimes that detail is a necessary part of the discussion but for much of the time your job as chair is to keep things moving to keep the meetings gaze firmly on the big picture.

In the reading we heard from Epistle to the Romans this evening, they are it seems stuck in the detail and cannot seem to find a way out. They are arguing over this and that about what food to eat or not and the consequences for eating such food. Paul’s chairman’s letter comes as the chair to try and help them.

Interestingly he doesn’t say to them that what they are discussing is unimportant rather that they have lost sight of the big picture and so their life together has become a stumbling block for others for they have ended up arguing about judgement and how their actions will have eternal consequences.

Listening to Paul’s words you can sense his despair (echoed by church leaders down the ages) as he tries to tell them they are wasting too much time on the wrong questions. They should certainly not be worried about judgement for that is God’s department instead he says they are to focus on building the kingdom of God, a kingdom built on righteousness, peace and joy.

When a painter stands at the easel they have a sense of what they are going to paint. Whilst they paint they might concentrate on a particular area of detail but in doing that they never lose sight of the painting they want to end up with.

The Christians in Rome had lost sight of the picture Paul had invited them to paint for God with a palette of righteousness, joy and peace.

Instead they are quarrelling with increasing anger about things which are really not that important.    In a way it is a kind of narrowing of God’s love, shaping it according to our ideas.

We human beings always seem to always want more rules and less grace. We like things tidy and neat, grace invites us into a more uncertain place.

Parish Life is 2015 is not so very different than life for the early Christians in Rome. We still get drawn into the detail, we still lose sight of the big picture, we still need to be reminded that the kingdom of God we are working for is one of righteousness, peace and joy.

The challenge is always how we hold those things in a kind of creative tension, where we are secure enough to be challenged by each other but ever mindful of holding onto to the big picture and seek to encourage each other even when we disagree.

Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail, however along the way we are never to lose sight of the kingdom, of how we are companions along the way, dependent on each other and challenging as it may sometimes be, in love with each other.

I recently came across an article about Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin and one thing I remember from it was how encouragement was the best way to motivate people. We likely know it for ourselves, how we respond so much better to encouragement than criticism.

That’s not to say that criticism and challenge does not have its place, but always done with the bigger picture in mind, supportively and with love. We’re not here to judge, we’re here to love.

That’s why words matter, why what we say needs to be carefully measured, why we should refrain from speaking too quickly. I used to joke with one of my old churchwardens that she needed to engage brain before mouth because too often it was the latter that came first and then I was often left to pick up the pieces.

That it seems to me was part of Paul’s frustration that words had become so cheap, that criticism so endemic in the life of the church. The Christians in Rome, were losing sleep over who was going to heaven and who wasn’t and so he reminds them that ‘whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s’.

No doubt this division amongst the church in Rome had its consequences. People were likely turning away from the church, they always do when things are not well, and he reminds them that ‘The kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’

We need reminding of that too for every church, every diocese, every organisation has its history and because we are fallen human beings it is never perfect yet throughout our journey together we are to keep our eye on the big picture on anticipating the kingdom that St. Paul’s words direct us to.

May we never lose sight of the power of words both to strengthen and build up but also to undermine and knock down and may we in our life together pray that we are never stumbling blocks to our Lord.