The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18A (9/10/2017)

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 [Jesus said,] 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.

You Have Regained That One

As long as God insists on populating the church with humans, there are going to be times of conflict. It’s a simple reality. Some need to be comforted and others need to be challenged. Some are ready to move forward, and others are inclined to recapture a piece of the past. Some are measured and cautious and others are impulsive and spontaneous. Some are inspired by ancient truths, and others are drawn to new ways of thinking and believing. God has gathered us all of us into this community, with all of our unique attributes and tendencies, and we’re not always going to have the same vision of what the future looks like.

Add to this the fact that even the most well intentioned among us are imperfect, and as the confession insists: “we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” As long as God insists on populating the church with humans, there are going to be times of conflict. By the 20th chapter of St. Matthew, the disciples are angry with James and John. By the 15th chapter of Acts, Paul and Barnabas have to meet with Peter and James in Jerusalem to hammer out where and how the young church will reach out to welcome newcomers. This is the way it has been since the beginning. We shouldn’t be surprised when we find ourselves at odds with one another from time to time.

Faithfulness doesn’t have to do with never hurting anyone else (although it may have to do with trying not to…). But faithfulness does have to do with how we respond. In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus provides some guidance. Some have seen in this passage a process by which conflicts can be resolved, and errant church members can be brought in line. In fact, churches have included forms of this as mandates for how to move through conflict. (See, for instance, chapter fifteen of Saint Peter Lutheran Church’s constitution.)

Jesus may well have something different in mind here. Early on, he teaches his followers that when one person harms another the best way to address it is to meet face-to-face. In fact, when that happens, there is the possibility that one or the other of the parties sees the situation in a new light, and in the words of Jesus, “you have regained that one.”

We live a faith that has at its very core the gift of Gods’ radical, unconditional forgiveness. We are called to live in this world as a reflection of Christ. In every time of conflict our goal should be the same: to meet face-to-face, to share openly and honestly our understanding of what has happened and how it has affected us, to prayerfully consider what the other has experienced and the impact it has had on him or her, and then to strive to regain what we have lost in the conflict: the love and friendship that binds us.

In the example Jesus provides this week, the failure of this process leads to a strange place. Jesus counsels his followers, if they can’t discover how to be reconcile to one another, to treat the offender like a Gentile or a Tax Collector. One can’t help but remember how Jesus treated just these kinds of people: with open arms, and a loving commitment.

May we do so as well.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What insults or conflicts does Jesus have in mind as he teaches his followers?
  2. When else do we see this happening in the lives of the disciples, or the early church?
  3. What overall purpose does this Gospel lesson commend to us?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I met facer-to-face with someone, and refined a friendship?
  2. When have I been reluctant to admit that I have wronged someone?
  3. What does my commitment (or lack thereof) to forgiveness say about my faith?