(Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-13; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35)
Is there anyone here who isn’t familiar with the saying, “We all put our pants on the same way?” The meaning of the saying is that when we get right down to it, no one is essentially better or different than anyone else. Everyone is born, everyone eats, everyone sleeps, everyone drinks water, and everyone puts his or her pants on the same way: one leg at a time.
I had never really thought of this phrase applying to Christianity, but this week’s scripture passages from the Letter to the Romans and the Gospel According to Matthew made me realize it does.
In the passage from the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes and advises about different kinds of people: those who are weak in faith, those who are strong in faith, those who eat only vegetables, those who eat meat as well as vegetables, those who view some days as holy, and those who see all days as holy. Those who are weak in faith believe that there are restrictions to what they can eat. They believe they shouldn’t eat meat and so eat only vegetables. Those who are strong in faith know that God doesn’t care what food they eat, so they eat meat as well as vegetables. Those who are weak in faith believe they need to observe certain days as holy. Those who are strong in faith know that God doesn’t care about observing holy days. A weak faith doesn’t yet understand that God doesn’t require ritualistic “works” from us (for example, eating only certain foods or observing certain holy days). A strong faith understands that God only cares about the integrity of our relationship with Him. Whatever we do – eat/not eat, observe/not observe – should be done to honor God.
According to the Apostle Paul, we honor God when we act in accordance with our conscience. If we are convinced that eating meat is a sin against God, then we shouldn’t eat meat. If we are convinced that eating meat has nothing to do with sinning against God, then we should eat meat. The same is true for how we feel about holy days. Each of us is responsible for ourselves before God, so we are to discern the will and the way of God faithfully for ourselves. However, even though we are each, individually, to faithfully discern the will and the way of God, we don’t do so on our own. Paul is writing to a church community and asking the members of the community to welcome each other regardless of differences in belief regarding religious practices. We faithfully discern the will and the way of God for ourselves not by ourselves, but in a community of faith. We gather to worship, to sing, to pray, to study the Bible, to fellowship, and to do ministry and, through all of these communal activities, each of us comes to understand what is the faithful way to honor God.
None of us has the right to judge a brother or sister in Christ. The truth is, in God’s eyes, no human is better or worse than any other human. Our petty ways of drawing distinctions between each other mean nothing to God. We are so far from the glory of God that no matter what we are or do we are still human, which means that we aren’t perfect and will sin. As Paul states in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t matter to God if you are rich or poor; beautiful or ugly; white or brown or black or mixed; male or female or both (some people are born with genitalia for both genders); young or old; an American citizen or a Canadian citizen or an Iranian citizen or a North Korean citizen; and so on. All have sinned and God would like all to be redeemed, because God loves everyone. Only God has the right to judge, because only God is God. The rest of us are just doing the best we can and would be wise to support others who are trying to do the best they can. And, Christians, especially, are not to judge each other because we serve the same Lord.
The bottom line of the Roman’s passage: “You all put your pants on the same way, so stop judging each other! No one is enough above anyone else to be qualified to judge!”
Which leads us to the passage from the Gospel According to Matthew . . .
Peter wants to know from Jesus how many times he should forgive another member of his church who has sinned against him; maybe seven times? Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” At which point, we can imagine that Peter gulped! Seventy-seven times? Impossible! I have been wronged again and again and again. How can I keep forgiving?
Jesus tells a parable. A king calls to him a servant who owes him ten thousand talents. This was an incredible amount! Ten thousand talents was more than a day-laborer would make in 150,000 years! Of course, the servant cannot pay the debt. He begs to be spared a horrible fate. The king pities him and forgives him the debt. The servant leaves the king and runs into another servant who owes him 100 denarii. This other servant couldn’t pay the debt but, instead of having pity on him, the initial servant has him thrown into prison! When the king hears of this travesty, he calls the servant to him and says, “You wicked servant! 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” (18:32-33). The original servant ends up tortured in prison until he can pay his debt.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” All of us have a debt too great to pay to God, a debt that God has forgiven through Jesus Christ. Out of a mercy too great to be measured, God has forgiven us a debt too great to be measured. If we really grasp the enormity of the debt and the enormity of the mercy, our hearts are transformed. They are filled with gratitude and rejoicing. Never again can we harshly judge others, even those who are indebted to us. We are to forgive our debtors as God has forgiven our debts.
Once again, we are confronted with the fact that we all put our pants on the same way. No one is above another; no one is below another. In truth, we humans are merely a fellowship of forgiven sinners. No one deserves our judgment, nor do we have the right to judge. Only God has the right to judge because, well, God is God: “I Am Who I Am,” as He said to Moses.
As is often the case when I’m thinking about a sermon, the devotional I read addressed the subject of judgment this week. Sarah Young, in her devotional, Jesus Calling, wrote for September 13 about judgment from Jesus’ perspective:
"Come to Me and rest. Give your mind a break from its habitual judging. You form judgments about this situation, that situation, this person, that person, yourself, even the weather – as if judging were you main function in life. But I created you first and foremost to know Me and to live in rich communication with Me. When you become preoccupied with passing judgment, you usurp My role. . . . The intimacy I offer you is not an invitation to act as if you were My equal. Worship Me as King of kings while walking hand in hand with Me down the path of Life."
The implication of “we all put our pants on the same way” is enormous! When you catch yourself judging someone else – for whatever reason – stop! You’re not sinless yourself so are in no position to judge. Plus, you’re not God. When you catch yourself arguing because you think you know the answers – stop! You’re human like everyone else so you are in no position to act as if you, above all others, have all the answers. Plus, you’re not God. When you catch yourself feeling holier-than-thou – stop! Your way of being holy is not the only way of being holy. Plus, you’re not God.
When you catch yourself trying to be God, stop! And, then, come back to this church community, the place and the people among whom you seek to honor God with who you are and what you do. Worship, sing, pray, study, fellowship, and minister together. Discover how your conscience tells you to honor God. Then do it. And, please, make sure you’re wearing pants while you do. Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, September 17, 2017, the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
 Insights for this sermon were gleaned from the commentary for the lectionary readings for Proper 19, Ordinary Time 24, in Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year A, edited by Walter Brueggemeann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, and James D. Newsome. Louisville, KY: Westminter John Knox Press, 1995, 482-486.