September 11, 2005

17th Sunday after Pentecost

"Where do You Live?"

(Romans 14:1-12)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

In the irreverent comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is a send up of the King Arthur tales, there is a scene where one of the knights, Sir Bedevere is confronted by a group of villagers. It seems they have gripped one of the local women and claim she is a witch. It's very obvious that her long crooked nose is fake and has been tied on and she's been dressed up to look like a witch. Sir Bedevere questions the evidence and the people confess that they made it all up. But they still want to burn the woman as a witch.

You know, we may not judge people as witches anymore, but we do judge them by everything else under the sun. We judge people by their clothing, jobs, friends, the kind of car they drive, the music they listen to, their hair style, their family and even where they live.

We love jumping to conclusions, don't we? Sometimes that's ALL the exercise some of us get. That's what normal people do, right? But don't forget, we're not the normal people. We're the abnormal people. We've given our lives to Christ. And through Christ, we're called to live by different standards. God calls us to love each other and treat each other the same, no matter what. (1)

We're not called to live in Judgment House where doors are locked and bolted; where there's no handle on the outside of the door and you can only get in if somebody lets you in. We're called to live in Grace and Mercy House, whose door is always open and a welcoming committee is there to greet you. And if they're aren't there when you enter, it's not because you're not welcome, it's because they've gone out in search of others like you who need a place to live.

As we continue our look at Romans, let's see what Paul has to say about judging others and where we should live.

Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)

[1] Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.

[2] Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.

[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.

[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.

[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.

[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.

[7] We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

[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.

[9] For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

[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.

[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."

[12] So then, each of us will be accountable to God.


I. WHICH HOUSE?:

A. Paul, in essence asks, "Where Do You Live?" In which house do you live, the House of Judgment or the House of Mercy and Grace?

And it's a subject most of us don't want to hear about. Paul point blank talks about standing in judgment of others. You can almost hear the disbelief, sadness and spiritual amazement in his voice as he writes: [4] Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?

Why would he write something like that? Well, you have to remember that the early church was made up of two distinct groups of people, the Jews and the gentiles. The Jews were those who had been raised with strict dietary laws, especially concerning meat offered to idols. In Rome, most of the butcher shops were run by the pagan temples. You offered an animal sacrifice and the meat was then sold to the public in their butcher shop. The money went into the temple coffers. For practicing Jews, eating that meat was a Corky No-no! It was tantamount to worshipping the idol yourself.

They also lived by a strict, hard and fast rule that the Sabbath was the Seventh day (or our Saturday).

The gentiles, were raised without any knowledge of dietary laws and most of them, initially, had no concept of what Sabbath was all about. But when they accepted Christ, they began worshipping together on the First day of the week, or Sunday, the day which coincided with Christ's resurrection. And they celebrated the Resurrection of Christ. Every Sunday was seen as a miniature Easter.

So, you had a group of well meaning, knowledgeable people, old timers who'd had a religious awakening, stirring up the new comers, the new baby Christians, who were still growing, not just in their faith but in their knowledge of the faith and WHY certain things were done. The old timers weren't being mean spirited. They simply thought they were right. That's the way they'd always done it in the past.

This controversy over eating meat from idols and which day was the Sabbath was getting out of hand. So, Paul writes this portion of the letter to address that issue.

B. What difference does it make to us today? Well, not much really, at least in answer to the questions of meat sacrificed to idols. I can't remember the last time I went to a pagan temple to buy steaks. The Sabbath question has pretty much been answered over the years simply by practice. But also due to what Paul writes here. Paul was clear, it's not about the day or the food. It's about honoring God.

[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.

[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.

Paul tells us basically, Quit fighting about the inconsequentials. It's all about honoring God.


II. ALL ACCOUNTABLE:

Unfortunately, we still pass judgment on others all the time, even in the church. I just read about a pastor in Virginia who was confronted by a man after church one day. "Preacher," the man said, "I have two complaints about you. First, when I was chairman of the trustees, you tried to tell me how to do the job. You should just let the church leaders do their job the way they want."

"What is the second complaint?" asked the pastor.

"Well," said the man, "I don't like the hymns that the choir director picks. I wish you'd would tell her to pick more of the old ones."

Obviously the man was not aware of the mixed message. He wanted the pastor to refrain from telling leaders people how to do their jobs, but he wanted the pastor to tell the choir director which songs to sing. People are amazing aren't we? (2)

For the first 18 years of my life, I used my stepfather's last name even though I wasn't legally adopted. The only two things that had the name Strayhorn on them were my birth certificate and my driver's license. When I enlisted in the Coast Guard, they insisted that I use my legal name. The first day of boot camp they were calling out names, checking to make sure everyone was there. And they kept calling this one name but no one answered. About the third time I thought to myself, "I wonder who that dimwit is?" And then it dawned on me that I was the dimwit, because it was my name they were calling.

Paul says we should be careful about how we judge one another because "each of us will be accountable to God. We will all stand before the judgment seat of God."

Paul really only reiterates what Jesus said and reminds us of one of the basic tenets of our faith. "Judge not lest you be judged." And that's not just a catchy phrase to put on a T-shirt or make a bumper sticker out of. It's supposed to be a way of life and a mark of who we are. It's supposed to be one of the signs that we're abnormal.

Once we accepted Christ, we were evicted and moved out of Judgment House. And we're challenged to move into Grace and Mercy House. Because, living in Grace and Mercy House proves "we live to God and not to ourselves."


III. WE LIVE TO THE LORD:

A. It's only in Grace and Mercy House that we can "Live to the Lord." You see, it's only through the Grace and Mercy of God that we were able to leave Judgment House. But we can't do it on our own. We have to be set free by Christ.

The movie Coach Carter, starring Samuel L. Jackson, is based on a true story of a basketball Coach who locked his players out of the gym and the game until they focused on their schoolwork. But in the process taught them how to play, how to succeed and how to be champions on the court and in life. There's one scene where, after quitting the team, Timo Cruz wants back on, but the price to rejoin the team is impossible to pay. Coach Carter requires him to do 2500 push-ups 1000 suicide sprints within a week. Committed, Cruz hits the deck and begins.

The week is over, and Coach Carter goes to Cruz to give him the assessment of his work. Carter tells him, "I'm impressed with what you've done, but you've come up short. You owe me 80 suicides and 500 push-ups. Please leave my gym."

Cruz is crushed. He's worked hard every day to try to complete the impossible task, but he failed. Coach Carter turns to his team and says he'll see them tomorrow. As the coach turns to leave the gym, one of the players says, "I'll do push-ups for him. You said we're a team. When one person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph, right?"

He goes to the floor with Cruz and begins doing push-ups.

A moment later, another teammate says, "I'll do some. I'll run suicides too." And then, one by one, every player but one has begun to do push-ups or run for Cruz. And even though he is weary beyond belief, Cruz continues to participate along with his teammates.

And finally, the last player chooses to join in as well, saying, "I'll do some…"

While Carter is encouraged by their attitude, he doesn't let them off the hook. He tells his assistant coach to, "Keep countin'. Call me when it's done."

But as he leaves, you know he's proud of the boys. And you know they finally get what being a team is all about.

That scene teaches us a couple of things. One, like Timo Cruz, the task of standing accountable and blameless before God is impossible. There is no way we can be perfect and not sin in a fallen world. We can give it our best shot, but we will always come up short and alone.

But the Good News is that we don't have to do it alone. Christ Jesus stepped into the scene and said, "I'll take his burden of sin. I'll take her burden of sin. When they triumph, we all triumph." Or as the apostle Paul writes: [7] We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

[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.

[9] For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

We need Christ but the second thing is that we need each other, too. Not only can't we bring about our own salvation but we can't live in Grace and Mercy House alone. One of the keys for living in Grace and Mercy House is to constantly show Grace and Mercy. That's how we "live to the Lord," as Paul says.


CONCLUSION:

A certain pastor was visiting one of his parishioners, and as they were talking the conversation began to lag. The lady of the house, wanting to pick up the conversation, pointed out her window to her neighbor's back yard where the wash was hanging on the line. She said: "See that lady next door and the wash she hangs out, see how dirty it is, she never hangs out a clean wash."

The pastor felt somewhat uncomfortable and tried to change the subject and quickly drew the visit to a close. As he was departing from the house the lady of the house walked out on the front porch with him and again the wash next door was clearly visible to both of them. They both realized at the same time that this wash was sparkling white, just as white as any wash could ever be. The truth began to dawn on them that it wasn't the neighbor's wash which was dirty, rather it was the window through which they had viewed the wash. (4)

How clean are your windows? Where Do You Live? Which house do you live in? Judgment House or Grace and Mercy House?

You and I have been challenged to deviate from the world, to be abnormal. We've received a prescription for holiness and we've put on Christ. And now we are called and challenged to LIVE TO THE LORD. But we can't do it by ourselves and we sure can't do it in Judgment House. We can only do it in Grace and Mercy House.

How clean are your windows? Where Do You Live?

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. Bryan Belknap, Group's Blockbuster Movie Illustrations (Group Publishing, Loveland, CO, 2001) pp. 78-79

2. Walter A. Clot, a pastor in Bluefield, VA.

3. Coach Carter, 2005, Paramount Home Video

4. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1984

Other References Consulted

www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)

www.SermonMall.com

www.deaconsil.com

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Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.