Proper 19 – Ordinary 24 – Pentecost + 15
17 September 2017
Psalm 114 pg 862
God of deep compassion,
you welcome the weak
and free us from the bondage of sin.
Break the cycle of judgement and violence
through Jesus our forgiveness,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There’s an old Chinese proverb. It says, “May you live in interesting times.” Actually, I think these words may be considered more of a curse, than an actual proverb, after all, we have lived and continue to live in interesting times.
Since the time when Paul wrote to the community at Rome, even he was living in interesting times. We often forget this, but Paul was traveling under arrest by Romans and he was travelling to Rome, not in the company of friends and companions, but solders, guards. Little did he know it, but Paul was going to his death.
Since the advent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, since the spread of the words of God, the teachings of Christ throughout the known world, we’ve been living in interesting times.
Since Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried, beaten, crucified, buried, and rose again, we’ve been living in interesting times.
Since Jesus was born, the Son of God, born of a virgin, lying in a manger, in the small rural community of Bethlehem, we, today, have been living in interesting times.
Unfortunately, interesting times for one is always a challenge for another, and Paul talks about that in today’s epistle lesson.
Today, Paul is looking at the fact that some of us catch on to things faster than others. Some of us perceive things differently than others. After all, the Holy Spirit gifts us with skills, talents, and confidence individually, and yet we are all members of the same Body of Christ.
Did you know that although our hands are strong, and talented, our ring fingers, the 3rd finger on our hand, are actually the weakest fingers and need the others for help, for support, for stability?
Yet we don’t put down that finger, rather we honour it with wedding vows and with rings honouring the fact that we are stronger together than we are alone.
So, Paul tells us: “14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” (Rom 14:1)
What Paul is talking about is Christians eating food offered to the pagan pantheon of gods. For those devoted to those gods, such a meal has special significance, but to us who follow the one true God, it is a source of sustenance, of nutrition, of food. It’s a free meal.
But there are those who today are Christian, but last month were devotees of these gods. To them, then, there is confusion about the food. “Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Rom 14:6b)
And we can see this in the world around us, as well. Those who wish to show their love and devotion to God by doing or not doing certain things. In Judaism, we find the rules for kosher cooking and rules of what can and cannot be eaten by the Jewish people. And in Islam we can find similar restrictions on dietary consumption.
But at the same time, we are all surrounded and upheld by the love of God. Like our hands, we are able to work individually but we are so much stronger when we pull together.
“7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Rom 14:7-9)
And this is where we, as Christians, stand out in the world: we support those whose faith, whose confidence in the Lord, in God, in the working of the Holy Spirit. “5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” (Rom 14:5-6a)
And, interestingly enough, we can find much similarity with this passage and today’s ideology of what a life of faith is like. So, if one day is as good as another, we choose to be here, while others choose to be where they are.
Another sign that we live in interesting times.
At the same time, we have today’s gospel before us, and within our hearts. We have the words of Jesus reminding us to be gentle with each other, to treat each other with the same love and compassion, with which we want to be treated. But at the same time, we often feel that forgiveness is difficult to attain, to achieve. Yet it is done by embracing our faults and leaving them with God, asking God to fill us with God’s love and compassion for us, and for our neighbour.
Todays’ gospel points out that forgiveness is so much more than we would ever imagine and that forgiveness, as Christians is our primary action our lives, and our hearts. “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’
22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt 18:21-22)
Today’s parable isn’t one of our favourites. It talks of a man who is forgiven, who is shown mercy, but who, in turn, refuses to show mercy to those around him.
“32 Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 18:32-35)
But for as much as we hear the words of retribution in this parable, in this simile on what the kingdom of God is like, it’s the emphasis on forgiveness, on openness, and on compassion that Christ wishes to convey to us, that Paul wishes us to embody in and for our lives, together, in Christ.
Jesus tells us: “35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Mt 18:35)
Strong words! But when we’re looking for loopholes of who we can forgive and when we’re allowed to give up on those who get under our skin, we need to hear them.
Paul reminds us: “8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Rom 14:8-9)
Reminding us that the body of Christ is in us, as much as we are in the body of Christ.
But the next verse brings us back to the emphasis of the gospel: “10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Rom 14:10-12)
And this is the most interesting of all. We all know our personal histories, we all know our own growing edges. We all have our good days and our bad, yet at the end of time, we will all stand before the throne of God, and we will all have our lives weighed in the balance.
So, we can see that we do, indeed, live in interesting times. We can see that things aren’t going to settle down at any time in the near future, until the kingdom of God is fully realized, in our midst.
At the same time, we need to remember that we all need a little love, compassion, support in the dealings of our lives. We need to know that if we don’t fully understand another’s journey, faith, or expressions of their lifestyle, yet we know that we have another brother or sister in Christ upon whom we can call, upon whom we know we can lean when we’re feeling a little unsettled in our lives, in our faith, in our faith practices.
After all, we live in interesting times, we evolve with the times around us, and we live our Christianity on our sleeves.
We, each one of us, knows where we’re coming from even if we don’t know where we’re going, but we trust God in all things, we trust the teachings of Jesus Christ in teaching us to love as we ae loved. We trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even when it feels like we’re wandering around with a blindfold.
Faith is something that has been a part of the world since the moment of creation, since God created our forebears in faith, Adam and Eve, and if we think about it, even they lived in interesting times. They explored the world, they named the animals, the birds, the insects and even the plants. They walked with God in the evenings, and they trusted in God’s love always.
Our lives, lives lived in the love and faith of God, are not something that is old. Rather our lives of faith are renewed each day by the love of God. Our lives of faith are what make our lives interesting, and by accepting that we live in interesting times, we make our hearts open to the urging of the Holy Spirit, at all times.
“9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Rom 14:9)
Christ rose from the dead to ensure that we will live in interesting times, Christ rose from the dead so that we can have the hope of the kingdom of God.
Christ rose from the dead so that we can grow in love and in faith together, accepting forgiveness that is rooted in the love of God for all of humanity.