12th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV)
Reconciliation in the community of faith
"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
For the last few weeks I have been stunned by how challenging the gospel lessons are for us in the 21st Century.
This week we are instructed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ regarding what we should do when there is conflict in The Church.
Isn’t it a bitter pill to be reminded that even as brothers and sisters in Christ, we fall into disagreement? Wouldn’t we love to imagine that since we are all blood-bought believers we would have a supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to live in perfect peace with one another at all times?
Yet, right here in scripture, quoted directly from our Savior’s mouth is a blue print for what to do when we fail to agree.
I guess it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that even Christians feud from time to time. Just the very fact that we are sitting in this Lutheran Church bares witness to a strong disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther and his followers.
But, we don’t have to look back in history almost five hundred years to see conflict in the church, do we? We can look back 5 minutes or two weeks or 10 years or 50 years to see how the works of the flesh as recorded in Galatians 5 impact us: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, and things like these tear us apart driving wedges between those whom we love.
I was blessed to grow up in a church where we called every man Brother So-in-so and every woman Sister so-in-so. By literally calling each other brother and sister we strove to remind one another with our words and deeds that we belong to one another and that we are a family in Christ Jesus.
As a family, Jesus prescribes the means by which we can love each other well when offended. He says first go to the person in private. Then take one or two witnesses to act as intermediaries. Then involve the entire church.
But, then here comes the interesting part. Jesus says that if the person does not listen even to the church, let such a one be to us as a Gentile or a tax collector.
I’m sure you know that Gentiles and tax collectors were hated in Jesus’ day. We might understand this verse to mean that we should hate the one who has sinned against us if s/he will not apologize.
But, this would not be consistent with the Jesus that I know--and that you know--would it?
So, how did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Well, we know that Jesus loved everybody. We particularly remember the story about Zacchaeus who was a wee little man and a tax collector. Jesus chose to publicly eat at his house, forgive his sin, and bless him to boot.
Apparently, even if one of our Christian brothers or sisters chooses to be unrepentant toward us, we are called to love them anyway—with the same unconditional love that Christ has shown us.
In response to such unconditional love Jesus says, “Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything that you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
My friends, this deserves a “Hallelujah Praise!”
As Christians, we have the ability to bind enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. We also have the ability—through the power of the Holy Spirit—to loose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
I love that we can literally lock away strife and throw away the key, if we so choose.
As we participate in the ministries of binding and losing, otherwise known as RECONCILATION, we will find that God our Father will be with us, enabling us to get on one accord, gathered in the strong name of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul once said, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13).”
Our Jesus put it even more simply when he stated, “The sum of the law is this—that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.”
As human beings it is a fact that we love imperfectly. We sin against one another. We cause strife and division in God’s house.
But, thanks be to God for Jesus Christ whose unconditional love and amazing grace sent him to the cross to die for all of us, making atonement for our sin, and gifting us with eternal life!
Because Jesus lives, we shall live also; and NO-thing in all of creation can ever separate us from the love of God that has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus!
Be encouraged my brothers and sisters! The Holy Spirit is always at work—in, through, and amongst us—to gather and regather us again. For it is within the Christian community that we meet and become Christ’s body in ways that are simply impossible for us as individuals.
I close with the lyrics of a song that I love from Hezekiah Walker. He says, “I need you, you need me. We're all a part of God's body. Stand with me, agree with me. We're all a part of God's body. It is his will, that every need be supplied. You are important to me, I need you to survive.”
On this day it is my prayer that God’s love would rest upon every church bringing an end to all conflict and division. It is my prayer that we would love and forgive each other, as much as we have been loved and forgiven by Jesus Christ. And it is my prayer that as we get into agreement about the things of God, that the Holy Spirit would be with us in special ways empowering our proclamation of the Good News Message that “Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ shall come again!”
I pray all of this in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta