Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Paul writes to us this morning, ‘why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’  So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.’

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Let’s join in a word of prayer:  Loving Lord Jesus, as we share this time of worship, joined together in your presence, strengthen our resolve to withhold judgement and actively accept each other for the person each of us is.  Help us gain a new perspective of peace, confidence, and joyful fellowship as you fill us with your Spirit, and feed us on your word.  Gracious Lord Jesus, hear our prayer for your name’s sake, Amen.

Would you say, “most Christians agree on everything”.  Is that right?  Well, sometimes even we, as Christians, are quick to disagree and even judge other people, even other Christians.  The way they live or the way they express their relationship with God.  The words they use.   
In this broken world, we recognise there’s a lot of false teaching around, and a lot of what we would consider casual Christianity.   We don’t want to get taken in by it.  So we learn to judge as wisely as we can, and test everything against the precious Word of God. 

 At the same time, the basis for our judgment isn’t always the best it could be. It’s sometimes easy for us to filter what the Bible teaches with our personal bias.  And to extend this judgement from ideas to people.

A story is told about a Catholic priest who was walking down a lane behind his church to his car.  Suddenly a thief jumped out from behind some bushes and pressed the muzzle of his gun into the priest’s ribs.

The thief said, “Give me your wallet!”  Without hesitation, the priest reached gently for his wallet in the breast pocket of his coat. It was then the thief caught a glimpse of his collar.  “Are you a priest,” the thief asked?  “Yes I am, my son” said the priest. 

“Well, put your wallet back,” the thief said. “I don’t rob priests. I may not be Catholic, but I am a Christian.”  

At that point, the relieved priest put his wallet away and pulled out two cigars with shaky fingers.  He offered one to the thief.  The thief responded with indignation, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. Smoking is so wrong.  I can’t believe a priest would do such an evil thing!”

Sometimes people have convictions about certain things, but fail to deal with other things that really matter in their lives and their relationship with our Saviour Christ Jesus. (Observation by Scott Kircher 6/19/2012)

So, Paul seems to echo the words of Christ, recorded in Matthew Chapter 7,  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

(Mt 7:1–2 NIV)

When we stand before our God in heaven, Scripture reveals that we will need to give an account of ourselves.  I have a sense that we will not be standing in judgement, because Jesus took all our wrong actions, attitudes, and words to the cross.  But instead, this will be a recognition for us of all that was wrong, and all that we are turning over to God, as we leave that behind to be part of a perfect eternity.

When Paul asks the question ‘why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer?’ I suspect he says this to encourage us to respect each other in the Christian Community out of love for one another.  And not just to avoid judgment ourselves.

With this epiphany rising up in our spirit every time we are tempted to condemn others, we can take hold of the words of Jesus to us today.  When Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Or “seventy times seven” in another version.  A response that I am convinced was intended to indicate we shouldn’t limit our forgiveness.  In just the same way we want God’s forgiveness never to be limited.

We are facing decisions about our future as we endeavour to discover what our Worshipping Community is passionate about.  We will certainly encounter situations where our intuitions and  passions will drive us in different directions, even as Christian brothers and sisters.  So we keep in mind that we are not to condemn one another as we all try to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

We should rather try to understand each other, with forgiveness over the attitudes we misperceive, the words we often misunderstand, and the ideas that we sometimes find difficult to accept.

Paul wrote in Romans to the Church of his day, and to all Christians, throughout time.  The early Christians were in dispute over eating food that could be purchased in the market place, especially meat.  As Gentile Christians, they were not required to observe kosher.  Even so, they would be purchasing meat and other foods in the markets of Rome that most likely would have been presented first at the altar of some false god or goddess.  So to eat it would remind them of their previous life and practice of pagan worship.  And this would burden their conscience. 

I have read that many of these early Christians preferred to eat only vegetables, rather than take a chance of eating sacrificed meat.  Others celebrated their freedom in Christ Jesus to accept the purchased food to be eaten with joy and thanks to God.

In the same way, the Jewish Christians disputed with the Gentile Christians about days of worship. 

The Jewish Christians worshipped on the Sabbath, and again on the Lord’s Day.  While the Gentile Christians saw no obligation to worship on the Sabbath, but gathered for worship on the Lord’s Day. 

Paul encourages the freedom of the choices that the early Christians made, and warned against condemning each other, which would have fractured their Christian unity.   

What Paul was most passionate about was proclaiming Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of God with the Good News of Salvation.  As we find in his letter to the Church in Colossae, ‘do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’  (The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). Col 2:16–17)

I have an intuition that what Christ Jesus wants from us during the times ahead is to exercise our ability to bring forgiveness and understanding where misunderstanding would attempt to create barriers between us.  

As we consider our future, and discuss openly our thoughts and feelings, let us dismiss every cross word and angry thought in the light of the Gospel that shines through with the love of Christ Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

It reminds me of a poem by  Annie Johnson Flint:

“God has not promised Skies ever blue,

flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God has not promised days without rain,

joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

“But God has promised strength for the day,

rest for the weary, light for the way,

grace for the trials, help from above,

unfailing compassion, undying love.”

 – Annie-Johnson Flint

As we share in God’s blessings today, may the grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.

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