Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 14:4
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

            Last week we heard Jesus say, go if your brother or sister in Christ sins against you go to them and point out their sin, if they listen you have gained your sibling (Matthew 18:15). The Christian community, the family of God is founded and built on forgiveness and mercy. This is the truth, we stand together by God’s mercy, but when you look around do you see it? How can we stand together as one if we are different? Difficult personalities, varying opinions. One wants to joyfully come back to church with faith, and sing with a coffee in hand and a handshake; another wants to honour the government our Lord has put over us, for the sake of the vulnerable. You know yourselves who you like in the parish and who you’d prefer to avoid. But just like our biological families we’re kinda stuck with each other, and God willing we will be stuck together forever with Christ in the New Creation.

            Yet this side of eternity we still suffer division, we struggle with the quirks of another, we rub some the wrong way. At times we might even sin, failing to love each other, to care for each other, to honour Christ who has promised to be with us. This is why Peter asks, ‘how many times must we forgive?’ And why Christ responds, ‘many’ (Matthew 18:21f). Our Heavenly Father in His great mercy has forgiven you your failures, your wicked acts, thoughts and desires, your sin. Like we heard last week, we together ask for mercy and forgiveness of our sin, and just as He promised Jesus forgives you. You are forgiven. Now you may forgive each other. And after forgiveness learn to live together, united under the mercy God has shown us. For He is our Lord and master, we are His servants (Romans 6:18).

            What Paul is addressing here is, fortunately, something I haven’t seen in our parish. It’s the exclusion of people within our communion. Some people knew that God can make all things clean, so they ate rich food, others knew that fasting was a Godly thing so they had vegetables and water (Daniel 1). Yet neither are contrary to Christ (Matthew 4:2; Mark 7:19). Others thought one day was most special, and others that all days were holy; Today those that make a special effort to pray, read the Bible and enjoy God’s gift of family on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, and those who try to spread this special devotion across the week. Again, neither are contrary to Christ (Matthew 28:1; Mark 2:27). And because neither are contrary to Christ, we should not look down on each other and certainly not exclude people from Communion because of this. It’s be like excommunicating someone because they want drums in church, or the organ. It’s not something that should divide the body of Christ, even if you happen to detest, I don’t know, jazz or ripped jeans. What unites us is Christ, our faith and life in Him.

            He is our judge, judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). He is our Lord and we His servants (1 Timothy 6:15; 1 Peter 2:16). He is our saviour and we His friends (John 4:42; John 15:15). Basically what He says goes. If He says someone’s in, they’re in and we have no right to question that. Now if they reject Jesus’ Word, that’s a bit different, that’s sin and needs to be dealt with for the salvation of the sinner. But if they go against your word, well you need to know that Jesus is their Lord and not you. And that Jesus is your Lord too. So stand with Him and we will stand together, for He able to make us stand. Remember the ancient Israelites, God made them stand on dry land in defiance of their enemy (Exodus 14). And their account is an example to us, not to fall away, but even against dreadful odds rely on Christ who has brought you from death to new everlasting life. Live for the Lord and die for the Lord. In everything we belong to Him who loves you. Stand together under Christ, the body under the head, and love each other despite our differences just as Jesus loves you, point each other to Christ and live as His church that we have been called to be. Together in forgiveness and love.

            And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.