Saturday, September 13, 2014

Walk the Talk

1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those 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. 4Who 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.
5Some 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. 6Those 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.
7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If 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. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10Why 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 judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, 
     “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, 
          and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 
12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Hear the sermon!

Most of what I really need

To know about how to live

And what to do and how to be

I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

That’s the beginning of a poem by Robert Fulghum, based on his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it he gives little tidbits for getting along in the world—Share. Play fair. Live a balanced life. Be aware of wonder. Take a nap.

Our readings from the Bible today are similar guides for how to get along together as a church—as a group of people who experience the love of Jesus Christ.

If we were to simplify the Bible messages from Matthew and Romans the elementary message would be: 

Walk the talk.

Many of us are here in church because we feel like something is missing in our lives.  Maybe it’s the church’s absence after wandering away. Maybe it’s a desire to connect with something bigger than yourself.

Maybe it’s loneliness. Maybe life feels out of control.

Or, maybe you saw the sign outside and thought an ice cream sundae seemed like a good idea.

Many different circumstances bring us to this sanctuary. But when we are here, we are one in Christ. We are here to worship and endounter God, learn the Word and love each other. Something happens to us here in church. Something incredible. But, this church experience is the beginning of the journey of faith, not the end. We are to take what we learn and experience here out into the world. We are to live out our faith. We are to walk the talk.

In many ways, a sanctuary is like a Kindergarten classroom. Kindergarten teachers have a very difficult job. Children from many different backgrounds are suddenly thrown together into one room. Some of them are gifted. Some of the have learning disabilities. Some can read and do simple math, others don’t even know their letters and numbers. Some have been to preschool or daycare and know about following classroom rules and others have only ever been with their parents and siblings.

The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans offers advice on how to deal with such a mixed variety of people. The early church didn’t pop into existence after Jesus’ resurrection, it evolved. The early Christians were working out their theology together and there were big fights and divisions among the followers of Jesus.

They fought about how they should walk the talk. How should they act as Christians? They fought over what they could eat, whether to keep Sabbath and whether they needed to be circumcised first to join the church.

Paul is writing to the church in Rome about the disagreements they are having with each other. There were people who were weak in faith. That is they didn’t trust in the God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Instead, they thought they had to be more pious and upright to win God’s favor. They refused to eat meat thinking it made them more holy than the other people. These are actually the weak in faith.  The strong in the faith recognized the power of God’s love and forgiveness.

Paul tells us the strong and the weak are one.  We should welcome the people, not to fight over whether or not to eat meat. We should sit side by side, with a vegetarian salad in front of one person and a grilled steak in front of another. We shouldn’t pass judgment on what people eat or other religious customs since it is God welcomes all. Paul writes:

 3Those 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.

If God welcomes them, Paul says, who are you to judge them? Judgment belongs to God alone.

10Why 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 judgment seat of God.

Lucky for us, God is a god of forgiveness and reconciliation.

As Presbyterians we believe that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own actions. Part of our understanding of salvation is that we are sinners in need of God. We all fall short of the glory of God. Our Reformed founder John Calvin calls this total depravity. It’s kind of a downer, really. We all sinned in the past, we are all sinners now, and we will be sinners in the future. Absolutely nothing we can do will change that. :(  

Total depravity is depressing to think about, but it does keep us humble—and equal. The best pastor is no holier than the town drunk than the eyes of God. Total depravity means there is no room for spiritual arrogance in the Kingdom of God. There is no distinction or difference among us. All of us have fall short of the glory of God. All of are dependent on God's forgiveness. 

But the good news is that total depravity is only one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is God’s total grace. 

God’s lavish love is deep and wide and it's manifested in forgiveness. It frees us to live in grateful response to God’s love. We can live this way because we are forgiven in Jesus Christ.

We don’t earn our salvation by eating only vegetables, practicing circumcision, keeping Sabbath or adhere it religious rules. God grants salvation out of love for us. Following the rules, fasting, doing charity work, coming to church are all things that we do in response to God’s love and grace, not to earn it. 

We come to church to hear the talk of forgiveness, we respond by leaving the church to walk the talk. In Jesus’ parable Peter ask Jesus how many times he should forgive someone.  Peter tosses out the number 7, probably thinking he was being both smart and generous since 7 is the perfect number in Jewish theology and some Jewish teaching indicates that a person should be forgiven three times. Peter was probably like an eager student waiting for Jesus to pat him on the head. But, Jesus says forgiveness should happen 77 times, far more than 7. He then tells a story about how much God is willing to forgive our debts or sins.

In Jesus’ parable, the slave has a big debt to pay. We don’t understand how big the debt is because most of us have no clue how much a talent (the currency) actually is. Jesus exaggerates in the story. The servant's debt is so huge there is absolutely no way he could repay it. It would take him thousands of years to earn enough to repay the debt. The servant is in total debt.

But the servant encounters God’s total grace and the debt is forgiven. 

 It’s passages like this that led Calvin to think up concepts like total depravity and our dependence upon God’s grace. And this is good news. God sees how deeply we are in debt and forgives all of it. The king had pity of the servant who was on his knees begging for forgiveness. 

Total depravity on one side of the coin and total grace on the other.

But that’s not the end of the story. The servant was likely overjoyed at his forgiveness. Who knows, he may even have talked the talk, telling his friends about the awesome king who forgave him. The servant had heard the words of forgiveness and experienced total grace firsthand. But the servant didn’t live out the lesson that he learned. The forgiven servant didn’t walk the talk.

Instead, he comes upon another man who owed him money. What does he do? When he sees a man who owes him a small debt he grabs him by the throat and tells him to pay up. When he sees the servant on his knees pleading with him he had no pity and tossed him in jail.

Of course the king was furious when he heard the news. He asks, How could you not have mercy upon your fellow slave? Then, he insists that the servant repay his huge debt in its entirety and hands him over to the jailer to be tortured—which is kind of scary. But, if you think about it, there are consequences for withholding forgiveness. It is torture when we can’t forgive someone. Holding our anger and resentment eats at us from the inside. The only person we hurt when we withhold forgiveness is ourselves. 

Each of us is like that servant, in total debt that we can never repay. God forgives us and frees us through Christ. When you experience it, it is an amazing thing. Knowing that you are loved and forgiven by the God of the universe is a gift beyond words, a joy so deep and pure that you can’t really explain it. But's it not to be kept inside. It’s a peace that follows us into the darkest valleys of our lives and it’s a freedom that lets us love each other with abandon.

Embracing God’s total grace and trying to apply it in our lives allows us to live together in a community – with the weak and the strong.

Like a kindergarten class, we all come from different places. Some of us have horrific sin and pain that are obvious in our lives. Others of us hide our sin well beneath a veneer of middle class respectability. But here we are all together. We aren’t gathered to point out what divides us. We gather to glorify that which unites us--God.

We gather here each week to hear the talk, to read the Word, to remember God’s story. It’s a story that a kindergartener can understand: God created a wonderful world. Some bad things happened that separated the people from God. Through Jesus Christ, God is forgiving and reconciling all things, including you and me. We will live happily ever after because we are loved and forgiven by the God of the universe. We are the recipients of God’s total grace.

Go out into the world and walk this talk.

1 comment:

  1. What confirmation to me that the Lord is speaking His grace and love to the people!! Thank you for that!! Love you Sue!!!