St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-17-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-17-2017

Hearts Changed and Unchanged

Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

We can read the parable in today’s Gospel story and easily get the general idea. The king, representing God, forgives a great debt; the forgiven doesn’t pass the kindness along to his debtor, as he could have, even should have; this angers the king and the forgiveness is retracted.

But this is only the “general” idea of the story; there’s so much more to it than that.

First, we must understand that the debt owed the king, ten thousand talents, isn’t only a lot of money; it is a debt that could not possibly be paid off through labor, about $118,386,320 by today’s standard. Still, the King asked to be paid. It is only when the servant drops to his knees and pleads and makes a promise to repay, that he and the king know is impossible, does the king “have pity on him” and forgive the debt. The king had a change of heart, a softening, if you will. The king, representing God, had a softening of heart… “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life…” (John 3:16)

So the problem revealed in the parable isn’t only that the slave wouldn’t forgive a smaller debt than what he had been forgiven; it is also that his heart wasn’t also found to be softened, by the kindness previously shown to him, when he later encountered his debtor.


We, as brothers and sisters within the Church, are not without sin; this we know. What makes us different, as brothers and sisters within the Church, is that we also know that we are forgiven by God for our sins! And we know that our sins incur a debt we could not possibly repay; it is by God’s grace alone that we receive that forgiveness. That should surely soften our hearts.

Another part of the story that demands more attention is that Peter’s initiating question makes no mention of what kind of sin committed against him should be forgiven, or, more accurately stated, what qualifies as a sin committed against him.

In this story that detail is left out because it is not relevant beyond the fact that we have been forgiven much more than we deserve, hence we should forgive much more than our offender deserves.

In our Epistle reading for today, however, Paul does take us into the territory of what qualifies as sin among our brothers and sisters.

Paul is writing to a Church that is made up of people from different cultures. Some are Jews living in Rome and others are native Romans; converted pagans. The Jews have the inheritance of laws forbidding eating certain foods; the others don’t have that history. Hence, there is conflict among them as to what is sinful to eat and what is not. And, added to this is the fact that most, if not all, “meat” is bought from markets selling the flesh of animals sacrificed to pagan gods which many think is a sin to eat.

Paul urges them to be at peace with each other and to not bicker about these “earthly” things; concentrating instead on the welfare of the community joined in the name of Christ. In short, he says that these things are not worth arguing over for, either way, “God has welcomed them [all], …and they will [all] be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Then Paul speaks of “Some [who] judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike”. Here he is apparently talking about days of fasting in which some think it is important to observe while others may not think so. Or, looking from another angle, some may think it a sin to not observe the day by fasting. But the rest of that very verse and the following verse get far too little attention. Listen closely,

“Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those 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”.

Let all be fully convinced in their own minds…”

Paul is telling us that, as far as these matters of earthly personal choice, we decide what is a sin and what is not; what separates us from God and what does not. Now there’s a concept you don’t often hear a preacher speaking of!

In our world we hear so much condemnation of those who don’t agree with the preacher who is certain that he or she knows what is sinful; they judge and they condemn. And by doing so they place a “stumbling block” before those who are weak in faith and a barrier before those of no faith!

Six times, in today’s reading, Paul uses the words “judge” or “judgment”; all but one, when he speaks of “the judgment seat of God”, are in the negative. I remind you, as I said earlier; Paul is encouraging peace within the Church in Rome and focus on the welfare of the community joined in the name of Christ. Further, in the greater part of this letter and in his missionary life, Paul is promoting the Christian faith; striving to spread the Good News in the world; bringing more and more people to the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Paul knows that this cannot be accomplished by a Church with internal divisions and judgmentalism! The Chapter even opens with his words “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions”! Paul knows that bringing people in with the intention of arguing about how right I am and how wrong you are will drive more people from the Church, and dissuade more people from coming into the Church, than it will serve to keep the existing Church strong, vibrant, and growing!


Later in this chapter Paul does warn us to be careful not to let our personal convictions lead others astray. “If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died”. But he adds to this, “So do not let your good be spoken of as evil”.

These somewhat confusing, seemingly contradicting, statements come into better understanding when we reconsider them under Paul’s stress on judgment as a negative. Eating what someone else might consider unclean in their presence isn’t the problem. Insisting that they agree with you, that they do as you do, (judgmentalism) is the problem.

Paul again, in the latter part of the chapter, states emphatically, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”; again, seemingly contradictory until looked at through the lens of nonjudgmentalism.

 Weaving all this together we can see, in this chapter, what Paul try’s to convey throughout his writings; that being the need to recognize that everyone who comes to the Christian faith continues to grow in the faith; some started earlier than others and are more advanced; some grow more slowly than others. But if we (and I’m talking about you and I now, in this current age) if we use our faith maturity, such as it is, as a point of argument against those of little faith, we defeat the purpose of the Church.

We must remember that each one of us was once weak in faith, that we were given the blessing of being brought into the Church, and from there, by the power of God, our hearts were changed and we grew stronger and stronger. Thus, we cannot expect newcomers, or those with less growth than ourselves, to meet our standards before we welcome them into the Church. To the contrary, we must welcome them first, and then nurture their growth as we were nurtured; by showing them how our hearts were changed and how theirs can be also! All the while recognizing that it is the Lord, not us, that “is able to make them stand”.



Romans 14:1-12
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
14:3 Those 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.
14:4 Who 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.
14:5 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.
14:6 Those 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.
14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
14:8 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.
14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 Why 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.
14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Matthew 18:21-35
18:21 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?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
18:24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
18:25 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.
18:26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
18:28 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.’
18:29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
18:31 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.
18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
18:35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Exodus 14:19-31
14:19 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.
14:20 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.
14:21 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.
14:22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
14:23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.
14:24 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.
14:25 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.”
14:26 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.”
14:27 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.
14:28 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.
14:29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
14:31 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.

Psalm 114
114:1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
114:2 Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
114:3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
114:4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
114:5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
114:6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
114:8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.