When I did my student teaching a couple years ago in college (smile), my cooperating teacher continued to remind me that the best way to teach was to teach and re-teach, in other words, to repeat the same lesson over and over until the children got it. When I began the Doctor of Ministry program one of the books I read reminded me that as children we like to hear the same old familiar stories, over and over again. As we grow older, too often we want to hear something new and exciting. That is the way I am, I do not necessarily like to watch the same move twice, especially not twice in a row. Although my children are now pretty much grown, I do remember that when they were little I cannot tell you how many times we watched the same movie or read the same book, over and over and over again. Interestingly enough, however, as Christians, we are very much God’s children and we do want to, like to and need to hear the same old stories over and over and over again. Yet, the same old stories we hear are not just “old” stories, but they are the message of life and salvation, from Christ’s birth, through His life and to His death and resurrection.
The reason I bring this up is because for the first twelve or thirteen weeks of this Pentecost season we were following along as Paul and sometimes Peter were telling us about our being saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith given and strengthened through our making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. For the past two weeks we have moved from these words of justification to hearing Paul speak to us about living lives of faith, that is about living the sanctified life. And again, like the last two weeks I am compelled to remind you that while we are hearing Paul talk about living the sanctified life we want to continue to remind ourselves that our sanctification has its roots in God as the prime mover just as our justification has been completed by God. So, as always we are reminded of who is running the verbs and the fact that we get it right when we remember that God is the prime mover and anything and everything that we do is done for our good only as the Lord stirs in us and motivates us, as He works the good works that He has planned for us to do in advance, in and through us and so they are done to His glory. Again, this morning Paul continues giving us lessons in sanctification.
Today is one of those Sundays when all three of our lessons work well together. Our Old Testament lesson reminds us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we are to forgive and forget. Joseph had forgiven his brothers many years earlier, I would suggest even before they entered Egypt to buy grain because I believe Joseph realized his greater importance in God’s plan before his brothers arrived. Yet, here, after Jacob’s death the brothers have not forgotten their sin and guilt against their brother which was still bothering them and so they ask, again, for forgiveness. Joseph, on the other hand, knew and understood the meaning of forgiveness because he had forgiven and had “forgotten,” their sin and moved on. Certainly, now he had the opportunity to remind his brothers, again, of their forgiveness.
The Gospel reading also reminds us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Certainly we are like the first debtor in Jesus’ parable in that our sins amount to the fact that we owe our very lives to God. And the debt of sin of our fellow human beings is certainly nothing compared to our debt to God, so certainly we will even more be moved to forgive the tiny debt of others as our good and gracious Lord has forgiven our huge debt. And I would add, from the Old Testament lesson, to forgive and move on, no longer dwelling on the past because such dwelling reveals either a lack of true repentance or true forgiveness.
And finally, in our text for today, the Epistle Lesson reminds us of the proper understanding of forgiveness, that is that we are to forgive those weaker in faith because of their weakness. And sometimes, even though we might think more highly of ourselves, we may be the ones who are the weaker in faith.
Paul begins by speaking of those weaker in faith. He says, “1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (v. 1-4). Very often, most of us, when we hear Paul speaking about those who are weak in faith, our first reaction is to think that Paul is speaking about others, not us. We never like to think of ourselves as being the ones who are weak in faith, and maybe that is true. So, if we are not the ones who are weak in faith, then certainly we will want to pay attention as he speaks to us about being strong in faith.
When it comes to living lives of faith; when it comes to living lives as Jesus would have us to live our lives; we know that in our world many people do many things in the name of “faith.” Some people do good things, some people do maybe not so good things; yet ours is not to judge, at least we are not to judge the motive behind a persons actions. Paul reminds us that the Lord will be the judge in the end.
Paul goes on to speak about church traditions. He says, “5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 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, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living”(v. 5-9). Now please understand, Paul is not speaking about rightly preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. He is speaking about rites and ceremonies in any particular place, in other words, how we do a wedding, or how and when we do confirmation, and the like. Each congregations celebrates certain traditions according to their own reasoning and these can be good or not so good. If we have a tradition of having confirmation on Palm Sunday, then that is good for us and we are not to think less of a congregation who celebrates confirmation on Pentecost Sunday.
The “bottom line,” according to Paul, is that we do whatever we do to the glory of the Lord. And here we might remind ourselves, as with sanctification, we can do good things to the glory of the Lord only as we are motivated to do them by the Lord and as He works them in and through us.
Finally, Paul speaks about the final judgement. He says, “10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? 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 confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (v. 10-12) Ultimately, God is the final judge. And in the end, on the last day, on Judgement Day, every knee, believer and unbeliever alike will confess Jesus as Lord. So, it is not important, and it does not necessarily matter what we may judge in our own minds at this time.
Again, the “bottom line,” if you will, then, is forgiveness. When I speak to couples getting married I usually remind them of what is the most important thing in a marriage. Many people talk about love as being the most important thing, yet that is too often too much of a vague topic, from a feeling to a state of mind or whatever. Some people talk about communication as being the most important thing in marriage and I suggest that communication is important, yet I can communicate how much I do not like you and that would not be a good thing to communicate. I suggest that forgiveness is the most important thing in marriage, that is to be able to say to each other, “I’m sorry,” and “You’re forgiven.” As we have heard here before, true peace is only that peace which is ours when we are free from guilt and we are free from guilt only as we are forgiven. And we have also heard here before how the most beautiful words we hear are those we hear every Sunday morning after we confess our sins and those words are, “Your sins are forgiven.” Our readings for this morning remind us of the importance of this forgiveness which is what shows our faith and opens the doors to eternal life.
What does this mean? We want to admit, if we have not done so yet, that no one is perfect, except Jesus. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much adding to our sinfulness. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We sin sins of omission, not doing the things we should be doing. We sin daily and are in constant need of forgiveness. And so we need to constantly repent and confess our sins.
We are also to encourage and educate each other. Perhaps our neighbor is the one who is weak in faith and perhaps it is simply because he or she has not been taught what is or is not good, bad or indifferent. Perhaps we are the ones who are weak in faith and perhaps it is because we need to be more regular and diligent in our making use of the means of grace, perhaps we need to be in Bible Class and in Divine Service every Sunday so we are strengthen in our faith.
We are to forgive each other. How can we not forgive even as we have been forgiven by God? The law motivates us through guilt. The Gospel motivates us through love. As we hear and hear again of the great love our Lord has for us, the great love He has shown us, His giving up the glory that was His in heaven, taking on flesh and blood, living the perfect, obedient life for us in our place, taking our sins and giving His very life, suffering hell for us in our place, so that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, how can we not help but love and forgive others?
Because, finally, God will be the final judge and all will confess Jesus is Lord. Here again we go back to God as the prime mover, the beginning, the middle and the end. God is the beginning, He created all. God is the middle, He redeemed all. God is the end, He is the judge of all. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
We all have opinions, according to our own understanding or misunderstandings. Some opinions are stronger than others. The same is true of convictions. And so we are to not quarrel over opinions or over things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. We are, however, to encourage one another, knowing that in the end, Christ will be the judge of all and all will stand before Him and rightly confess Him as Lord. And we do this as our Lord works in us and through us so that our lives are lived in such a way that they say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.