We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to Christ. And if we belong to Christ, we belong to each other.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 24 A
Texts: Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s, Paul says. And if we all belong to Christ, we all belong to each other.
That means that in Christ, there are no individual believers, you on your own, I on my own. All in Christ are interconnected. What hurts you, hurts me. What gives life to you gives life to me.
You can’t understand Paul without realizing how central this is to everything for him. You can’t understand Jesus without it, either. But it’s not what you and I were taught in our culture of American individualism. So there are things we need to hear and learn.
One of them is this: belonging to each other in Christ doesn’t mean you and I and everyone else is the same.
Paul’s Roman Christians are divided between Gentile and Jewish Christians, and the community is falling apart. Some kept kosher and observed Jewish festival days. Others didn’t believe they had to. Both groups derided each other, and Paul urgently calls them to live into their deeper oneness in Christ.
And hear this: Paul believes diversity is blessing and gift and isn’t erased by unity in Christ. Eat what you will, celebrate when you will, or don’t, Paul says today, as long as what you do is done in honor of Christ. Our disagreements, if they are done in Christly love and for the sake of Christ, are part of the gift of the community, Christ’s Body, our primary reality.
Do you see how different that is from what we’ve learned? Maintaining and celebrating our diversity – whatever it is, if it’s theological, or cultural, or ethnic, or genetic – is assumed in Christ, all under this deeper reality: we do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to Christ. And if we all belong to Christ, we all belong to each other in all our diversity or our disagreement.
Belonging to each other in Christ also means that the community can’t afford to lose anyone.
In Matthew 18, Jesus describes a vision of God’s beloved community, where the central reality is that no one is lost. Everyone belongs.
So in the verses before today’s parable Jesus says these things:
- God’s will is that not a single one be lost.
- All 100 sheep – for God, 99 ½ won’t do, as the spiritual delights – all 100 must be together.
- Causing another to stumble in their trust in God is one of the worst things you or I could do.
- Reconciliation within the community between those who are hurt and those who did the hurting is Christ’s work in our midst.
Which leads Jesus to today’s parable.
Jesus says once and for all today what he’s said in many ways and places: forgiveness is the life of the community and it’s non-negotiable. The ruler in the story loves both servants, but one cannot forgive the other. The ridiculously high debt he had in this story was wiped away, and he thought that was just about him. But forgiving his debt came from the king’s gut-level compassion for all the king’s people, and the king expected that the forgiven one would share in that same compassion. Everyone belongs inside the grace.
This forgiveness is all about the community. Jesus’ last line literally says, “So my heavenly Father will do to you all if you all do not forgive each individual sibling from your hearts.” Jesus speaks to the plural: the community must be the source and place of forgiveness. Or the community, together, will suffer.
This isn’t an individual thing, where if you fail to forgive someone it’s between you and them. Where if you are forgiven by God that’s all that matters to you. Forgiveness belongs to Christ’s community, happens in the community, and a broken relationship between any of us affects all of us. Because we do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to Christ. And if we all belong to Christ, we all belong to each other.
We have not lived this well in the West, even as Christians.
Most indigenous American cultures and indigenous African cultures live with the community as the central identity. A death or suffering affects all. A birth brings joy to all. Problems are solved together.
But in Western cultures, the individual rules supreme. Individual rights, no one gets to tell you what to do, everyone for themselves, this is the code the dominant culture in the West has lived by for centuries.
It will take you and me much prayer and contemplation together to learn a different way of being in Christ.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. Whether we live or whether we die, we are God’s own.
It’s all here, in Jesus’ teachings, and in all Paul’s letters. We have all we need to begin to let go of our individualism and find the joy of belonging, of interconnectedness with all our siblings in Christ.
And if we can live this, we can also bear this truth as yeast in our culture, witnessing in this polarized, “live in your own bubble” world that all people belong to each other, and no one can be lost, or we all are lost.
And that could change even a country divided as deeply as ours. Because whether we live or whether we die, we all are God’s. And God’s Spirit binds together all God’s children on this earth.
And when all God’s children start to live that way, we will all see what God has dreamed all along.
In the name of Jesus. Amen