The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18A (September 7, 2014)
Lessons:Ezekiel 33:7-11 Psalm 119:33-40 Romans 13:8-14 St. Matthew 18:15-20
Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 12:1-14 Psalm 149
Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
18.15 "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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
St. Matthew 18:15-20, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The Nature of God
This week’s Gospel lesson is quite well known by a relatively small number of believers. It seems to come into play whenever believers (or congregations…) find themselves in conflict. To the extent that it helps believers sit down face-to-face and work out their differences, it has probably been useful in those settings. After all, there is wisdom in this teaching from Jesus: when two of you have a problem, talk to each other. If that doesn’t work, have someone moderate your conversation. If that doesn’t work, deal with it as a community. As long as the church is made up of human beings there will be disagreements, misunderstandings and hurtful actions — some intended and some unintended. It is helpful to have a process; a method to help us work through these experiences together.
The longer I look at this text, though, the less convinced I am that its central purpose has to do with resolving conflict in the church. After all, the process described here isn’t one that hears both sides of the story, seeks the truth, and attempts to put things right. It is decidedly one-sided. A sinner is first confronted by the one who has been wronged, and as the process plays out others are drawn in to support the accuser. One imagines that this disciplinary procedure was used in the first century to admonish those whose sin was clear, and public, and harmful to the community. Hardly the type of process we’d use in the church today if there were disagreements to resolve or misunderstandings to clear up.
You see, this passage has less to do with the church (or individual believers) and more to do with God. Who is God? God is one whose primary interest is in reconciliation. Who is God? God is one who has created the church as a witness to the world of the great desire God has to be reconciled to us, and to have us be reconciled to one another. Who is God? God is one whose love for all of creation runs deep, and who wishes for every living person to know the peace that comes from knowing God’s love, and sharing it with one another.
The church, when it is at its best, does not ignore the pain and brokenness that is bound to become evident when people live together in community. It works to mend the tears in fabric of our life together — not just so our experience of community might be richer and more meaningful, but also to proclaim what we believe to be true about God: that in Jesus Christ, and through his death and resurrection, the whole world has been offered reconciliation with God.
So let us resolve our differences with honesty and courage and integrity. We will certainly have an experience of community that is richer and more meaningful. But more importantly, we will give the world a chance to see in us what God is all about: calling us to repentance, gracing us with forgiveness, and offering us the gift of a new beginning. That is the good news of Jesus Christ. May our life together proclaim it!
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What occasioned the need for Jesus to speak these words in the first century?
- How does this command from Jesus highlight the work he did to re-unite us with God and with one another?
- When has the church been an instrument of God’s grace and forgiveness in the world?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What broken relationships exist in my life?
- How might I have the courage to point out another person’s sin, or the integrity to confess my own?
- What does working to heal those relationships say about how I understand God?