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Pentecost 14A Sermon
Matthew 18: 15-20
September
6, 2020

 

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Matthew 18:15-20

‘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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Have you ever wondered noticed some interesting warning labels on products? Good Houskeeping published an article including eight bizarre warning labels that made me chuckle and scratch my head. I just want to share a few … like the washing machine with the warning, “High spin speeds; do not put any person in this washer,” a hair drying with instructions, “Do not use while sleeping,” a clothes hanger that warned, “Caution: do not swallow,” and a label in the collar of a child’s shirt that said, “Wash inside out, remove child before washing.”
As strange and completely random as these may sound, there are usually good reasons for these products to have these warning messages on them. I am not sure what surprises me more – that someone tried to wash a shirt with a child still in it, that someone thought they could blow dry their hair while sleeping, or that someone tried to swallow a full-sized metal clothes hanger, but Generally these warning labels are specific responses to previous activities.

When we read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we usually see Jesus dealing a lot more with conflict, especially with the religious leaders of his day. Some of these are also recorded in the other Gospel accounts, but some are not. In Jesus’ three-year ministry of teaching, preaching and miracles, we have to assume that he did and said a lot more than are recorded. We get the highlights, the ones that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John felt are important to share, but each gospel is a little different in reporting than others. Like those warning labels, this is not random; each were writing to a particular community dealing with specific challenges to their mission.

There is a reason that Matthew shares Jesus’ story in the way that he does. It isn’t random at all. And that means that the community for whom he was writing this account were dealing with a fair amount of conflict as they sought to be faithful during those early, fledgling years as The Church. Notice that Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is not patrolling, looking for reasons to shame or exclude people from the community. As a matter of fact, he even claims that when people refuse to listen when the whole church confronts them on their sinfulness, they are to be treated like Gentiles and tax collectors. If you read Matthew’s gospel, you find that the religious leaders accuse Jesus of befriending and eating with Gentiles and tax collectors! If we treat folks that we disagree with the way Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors, then the community that we call, “The Church” will not be a place looking to keep people away because of their thoughts or actions; we will be a place looking to try to include and restore people to our sinful yet redeemed family.
Sometimes people claim this passage as a blanket guideline for dealing with conflict in the church. Most constitutions of Lutheran entities even refer to Matthew 19 as a model for dealing with folks who are accused of sharing words or actions that are detrimental to the mission of that church or organization. I think this text does encourage a lot of healthy ways to resolve conflict – like the importance of listening, of dealing directly with the accused without triangulation, or talking to others, about them, and getting others involved so that many perspectives are represented – I am not sure it can be applied as a blanket model of conflict resolution in all situations. Having said that, I do believe that Jesus’ teaching here is extremely valuable for the church in our day. To find out how we must look more at the context of these six verses.

Chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus putting a child in the midst of the disciples just after they ask him who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He commends them to become humble like a child, then warns them about putting stumbling blocks in front of children who believe in him. He tells a parable about a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to find the one who was lost, then shares the teaching from our gospel lesson today. After this, in a passage we will hear next week, he tells his disciples that they are to forgive others not seven times, but seventy times seven times. This entire chapter paints a picture of Jesus who is concerned about the most vulnerable in the community. And maybe Matthew shares Jesus’ words because he also shares Jesus’ concern in regards to his own community as they seek to be faithful followers of Jesus in their own day. It is not random. Matthew tells the story of a Lord who intercedes in times of conflict and wants everyone to be included, especially those who are most at risk among them.

Our gospel reading closes today with Jesus’ promise that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there among them. I remember this promise every time folks from our congregation gather for worship or other activities, no matter how small the crowd. That is a promise that I wanted to commend to us by putting that picture of our August worship gathering on the front of our bulletin. But Jesus says these things right after he teaches about sinfulness and conflict in the church. If you have been part of a congregation at a time when there is conflict, you probably felt like God was absent, leaving the community members to work things out on their own. But Jesus is saying right here that where people are talking and listening and working toward reconciliation and the inclusion of the vulnerable – and especially when the church is treating people the way that Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors - then Jesus is very much present in those times.

I am not sure the details of what exactly was going on in Matthew’s community, but I can see evidence here that it must have been marked by resentment, rumoring, repressed feelings and thoughts of revenge. The marks of a healthy, faithful Christian community are these: expectation – that we expect Jesus’ presence to break in whenever brokenness is present; reconciliation – that our goal is not only civil discourse, but the restoration of sisters and brothers to the community; justice – an understanding of where people are coming from, how they have been hurt and how they have hurt others; peace – not merely the absence of conflict, but righteousness of relationships with God and each other; and finally, love – which is the power to build community and to transform lives. We as a Christian family are called to tell and show each other that same love first shown to us, and then we are called to love all people as Jesus does.
Jesus is present with us out here in God’s wonderful creation as we gather to hear The Word and share Jesus’ body and blood present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus promises that he will not only be present in these joyful times, but in the times when we strive to listen, speak, forgive, restore and love as Jesus has called us. That is a promise that we all need to hear as we consider the many conflicts and divisions that exist in our communities. May we follow Jesus’ teachings and experiece Amen.