- September 17, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for September 17, 2017 (Proper 19 REV, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: ROMANS 2:1-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 18:21-35
Title: God’s kindness leads to repentance
“Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
My friends, as we continue with our exploration of the apostle Paul’s Letter the Church in Rome, we need to talk together this morning about justice, about prejudice, and about judgment. Lots of fun subjects, right?!
Well, they may not be what we would describe as “fun”, but they are vital and important to each of us.
In this second chapter of his famous Letter to the Romans, the apostle is continuing to build his argument.
Yes, this is a real Letter written by a real person to real people. But it is NOT an ordinary letter! This is a theological text and Paul is explaining his message to these believers in Rome who have heard about him, but who have not yet met him in person.
He wants them to understand what it is that he says when he travels around teaching and preaching, and – perhaps even more importantly – WHY he says what he does.
So, again, in this Letter, Paul is slowly and carefully explaining his understanding of God and of the good news about the Messiah.
And the foundation he lays here is a rather simple proposition, but that does not necessarily mean that it is easy. Remember: simple is not the same as easy!
This simple proposition is that every human being is equal in the sight of God! In the final analysis, Paul explains, “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). Or as my favorite translation puts it, God has no favorites!
That is very plain and simple, yes! But is it easy? How many of you actually think that God does not have favorites? That God does not think more highly of some people rather than others?
Perhaps that is too theoretical, so let’s get more personal. Now, I want you to be completely honest with yourself for a moment.
Can you think of people, certain people, who simply are not as good as you? People who just don’t get it? People who you would characterize as a bit off, or confused, or lacking certain important qualities, like common sense perhaps?
Do those kinds of thoughts ever arise in your mind? It’s so easy to pass judgment on other people. In fact, I think that this is almost second-nature to most of us.
What takes work and effort is learning NOT to pass judgment. Not to criticize and demean and to assume that we are better, that we do things better than “those” people.
Have you heard about the recent crisis involving the Rohingya people? Well, it’s not actually a recent crisis at all, though many in the States have only just begun to hear about it. And it’s just the same old story of prejudice that always seems to haunt humankind.
The majority Buddhist population in Myanmar does not consider THESE people to belong to their country, because they do things differently. How they speak, how they dress, how they keep their hair, how they worship God – the Rohingya are judged to be deficient in these things and so they are persecuted, oppressed and driven out.
Will we ever learn? Will we ever grow up enough to move beyond such foolish prejudice?
“Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others, for in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself” (Romans 2:1).
It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture in Paul’s argument. Of course, we do not ALL do the same things. Of course, there are people who do horrible deeds which deserve punishment.
Of course, I believe that all of you here today are good people with good intentions.
But, for Paul, we are all equally flawed and broken in the sight of God.
Think of each of us as a container, as a bowl, designed and intended to carry the image and likeness of our beautiful, good and wonderful Creator, like the most pure and valuable liquid in the world.
Some of you might have only one minor crack where this divine image leaks out. We know that other people have giant holes that do not allow them anymore to carry ANY of God’s image at all. Most of you are probably like me. We have a few holes and cracks. We keep trying to plug them up, but it seems like more holes just keep on showing up as life moves along.
There is only one person who carried this image and likeness of God without ever leaking a single drop! Only one whose container never had any holes or cracks.
THAT one is the Lord Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19).
All humanity stands in a different category. Paul continues his argument into the third chapter of this Letter, and there he finally reaches this famous conclusion:
“There is no distinction,” he says, “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23).
All of us go astray. We are not fully alive. We leak. Our containers are cracked and broken.
And yet we spend most of our lives playing little games and arguing about whose leaks are the worst!
It’s those cosmopolitan liberal elites! Or those small-minded conservatives! Or those illegal Mexicans! Or those illegal Rohingya!
On and on and on we go. And we keep playing these silly little games, creating our silly little clubs and arguing about whose silly little club is best and why it’s so much better than the other silly little clubs.
And the while, we’re leaking. We’re cracked and broken. All of us.
What does Paul say about all this? “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Do you not realize that God’s kindness – God’s gift of life to you, and God’s patience in allowing you to choose what you do with this gift – do you not know that the point of all this is NOT to explain why you are better than other people, why your ideas are better than theirs, but rather so that you will repent?
Do you not know that God’s gift is given so that you will turn away from the foolish and silly little games that people play?
The truth is, my friends, that we need the judgment of God.
We talk about it every single week when we stand and recite the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
What that will look like is impossible to say, but it is an unshakable and undeniable part of what it means to trust in Christ and to follow him.
He will judge all people – on the basis of what we do. Our actions. The fruits of our lives.
And that is good news. Yes, you heard me right.
Judgment is a mark of God’s goodness. In fact, God’s judgment may even be something which we want, something we long for and pray for!
That’s what the brilliant early Christian writer named Origen suggested. Born around the year 185, Origen wrote: “I think that even if it were possible, no one should try to escape God’s judgment, for NOT to come to God’s judgment is NOT to come to improvement, to health, or to a cure” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, IVP, 1998: p.52).
No one should try to escape God’s judgment, because it is the way to improvement, to health of the soul and to spiritual cure.
I’ll bet that’s a new thought for most of you!
Yes, we NEED God’s judgment, and to prepare for it now, in this life, means that we will walk on the good road to growth and to full maturity in Christ.
As the great Abba Moses of Ethiopia once explained: “the nearer a person comes to God, the more he sees himself [clearly] as a sinner” (Give Me A Word: The Alphabetical Sayings, by John Wortley, 2014: p.199).
So my friends: do you desire life that is deeper, more authentic and more real than the foolish games played in human society?
If you want to truly live, then judge no one, and prepare yourself for the judgment of God.
THAT is the path of repentance, and it leads to “glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good” (Romans 2:10).
May it always be so among us here at Saint Mary’s. Amen.