Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
1 When Israel came out of Egypt, •
the house of Jacob from a people of a strange tongue,
2 Judah became his sanctuary, •
Israel his dominion.
3 The sea saw that, and fled; •
Jordan was driven back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams, •
the little hills like young sheep.
5 What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? •
O Jordan, that you were driven back?
6 You mountains, that you skipped like rams, •
you little hills like young sheep?
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, •
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 Who turns the hard rock into a pool of water, •
the flint-stone into a springing well.
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement 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.
Some 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. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Then 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?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But 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.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Sermon on Fourteenth Sunday of Trinity
Paul makes an awesome statement in our lesson today – “So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” Paul speaks of one of the last things here – judgement. This is terrifying for me, and I think for most people today, because if we take this statement seriously, we can only imagine all of our failings, everything which touches our conscience when we remember them and we shudder at our own evil propensities.
Even though he ends up with this statement of final judgement on each and every one of us, this passage is not without hope for us poor sinners.
“Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.” Paul wants us to have a clear conscience, doesn’t he? He does not want us to speak of others, except to pray for them – which comes through in so many other passages, for instance in the greetings at the beginning and end of each letter to the young churches.
Who am I to stand in judgement over you? I can hardly stand when judgement is made over myself, so how can I pass sentence on you? This question that arises amongst us today, doesn’t it? – for instance, when we look at the state of the judiciary in this country. Don’t we sometimes wonder about the probity of our current judges? And yet we and the courts continue to make judgement on others day in and day out.
Paul asks us probing questions in this passage. In this letter he speaks to a real situation in the Church.
Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
Diet was a real problem in the early church, for some were pagan who had no rules of clean and unclean food, while others were Jewish whose food laws we all know to be strict and all-encompassing. How do we reconcile everyone when we invite them to supper? For us today, it is like inviting an anglican and a primitive methodist to a drinks party. That is awkward, isn’t it? For the anglican is most likely to love a glass of sherry while the methodist would not go near alcohol in any form. Or you can think of vegetarians and carnivores, as Paul is here.
That was the situation in the early church, how can the pagan and jewish christians sit down to table together? – They had such different ideas of what was right to eat. Some would offend by offering the wrong food-stuff, and then if you ate the wrong thing, well there was judgement on you, by your own conscience or by the crowd. However, Paul is saying there should be no worries about the menu. It is possible to sit down together no matter what your personal background. But there are always problems when people get together, aren’t there? In Corinth, for instance, they may have agreed on eating together, but the amounts taken in became a matter of debate.
Paul circumvents all this discussion and moral outrage at the menu by saying that all have been invited to the Great Banquet and so all are welcome. We are not the gatekeepers inspecting invitations at the door. Instead, we are fellow revellers at the Feast of the King. We are all happy to be at that Banquet – we will all rejoice with whomever joins us at table.
“Welcome those who are weak in faith.” In other words, no judgement should be passed on anyone’s part, for we ourselves have not issued the invitation but God has called us all to His Kingdom.
This discussion can be part of our lives here, don’t you think? We may not castigate people because of what they eat, though I am sure our eyebrows are raised when we see some menus. We don’t shun people because they only eat fish on Friday, do we? Or bacon on any day? But how often have we judged others as “improper”? – even our loved ones? I know this happens even in the most loving of families, let alone the dysfunctional. Paul is telling us to let go of all the things that get in the way. No person is improper, are they? We can love the sinner, but hate the sin, just as Jesus taught. That alone tells us that there are no barriers to entry into the Kingdom as God’s people, except the ones we place in our own way, like those motes in the eye which make it impossible to see clearly, as Jesus said.
I suppose all of this discussion is about the type of community we create for ourselves. Is it one of regulations? Or do we make it possible for everyone to enjoy our company? Do we entangle people in our expectations, or do we free our neighbours for themselves? This is the vexed philosophical problem of the other – how is human being a social being? It impinges on ethics, for we have to decide how we deal with each other.
Paul wants us to find ourselves at home with one another, but where is this “home”? It is not your place or mine. No one can claim to be the host in this “home”. This is God’s home, not ours. Paul is telling us that only God can make the judgement on each one of us. Judgement by God is a very different thing to the judgement we pass on each other, for too often such opinions are not based on love for the other – they are not made with the desire to set the other free.
At the beginning of our reading we have, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.” Often our invitations are selfish, for we want others to conform to our ideas. They have to be “just like us”, don’t they? That is one of the problems the church has in any place. Judgement seems to be passed on both sides. Within the community we say, “they don’t belong”, and outside the local congregation we say, “they exclude.”
If we listened to Paul, all barriers would evaporate. Those outside would not feel excluded and those inside would only welcome every person to come alongside, if only as a precursor to join the great congregation which God assembles. Our behaviour is not founded on human frailty, but on divine strength, the might of a merciful God.
Paul’s purpose in this section of the letter is to exhort us to the best possible behaviour. What better behaviour than to be non-judgmental with regards the person standing in front of us. Whether their faith is strong as Mount Zion or as small as a mustard seed, they are valued. When we realise this, we come to the summit of our experience – we realise how the grace of God has come into our lives, because we always stand before God just as we are.