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the sermon for

the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

10 September 2017

Matthew 18:15-20
There is only one response to sin... FORGIVENESS!

09102017Well, I've said it before. Guess it wouldn't hurt to say it, yet again... There are times, I just don't understand where Matthew's coming from! He's just... he's just so-o-o-o-o... so un-Lutheran! I guess, back in February, when he told us what was important, what really mattered, I should have listed to him! Should have believed him!

'Do not think,' said Matthew's Jesus, 'that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill... Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great!'

That, too, is one of "those" passages! That appear in Matthew and only in Matthew! It's important, to Matthew, for us to be righteous! To be good! To be better than good! And I guess I should have taken him seriously! Then, there was Ash Wednesday and another passage unique to Matthew! All about almsgiving and praying and fasting. And now, this morning! The quintessential Matthew! Typical! Classic! Reproving Another Who Sins! That's the section heading in my bible! Practical! Pragmatic! Matter-of-fact! Down-to-earth! Matthew at his best...

'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...' Yada, yada, yada... Blah, blah, blah...

You've heard it, before. Bottom line, it's three strikes and they're out! But then, that's Matthew! And like I said, sometimes... sometimes I just don't understand!

I mean, what's the point! To force someone to admit they've done something wrong? To make them confess their sin? To apply pressure more and more until they, finally, knuckle under; until they, finally, give in? It's kinda like during the last election, when one of the candidates said, as a society, we should reclaim the lost art of shaming! But what's the point? What do we hope to achieve?

And a second thing. Why is it always someone else sinning against me? Why is it never me sinning against them? After all, we don't begin worship by pointing fingers at each other. "We confess that YOU have sinned!" We confess that we all have sinned! Each of us! All of us, together! Falling short! Missing the mark!

But, you know, the most confusing thing, for me, about Matthew, is that he never says anything about love! Nothing about forgiveness! It would have been so easy for him just to say, "If another member of the church sins against you, FORGIVE THEM!" If another member of the church sins against you, turn the other! God the extra! Do unto! If another member of the church sins against you, deny yourself! Take up your cross! Do what Jesus does! It would have been so easy! But Matthew doesn't do that! Instead, he choreographs this dance of guilt and shame, of regret and remorse! As if you, first, have to say, "I'm sorry," before you can be told, "You're forgiven!"

"If another member of the church sins against you, YOU FORGIVE THEM!"

Forgive then! Just like god has forgiven you! Just like god still forgives you! But Matthew doesn't say that. Not here. Not now. Instead, it's an elaborate, convoluted plan. First this. Then that. Finally, if all else fails. He acts as if it never happens! One member of the church sinning against another! It's as if he's shocked, surprised when it happens! But what else would we expect from a bunch of sinners! Even if they are forgiven! Even if they are redeemed! Sinners are sinners are sinners! We're people captive, in bondage! We sin by what we think and say and do! We do what we shouldn't! We don't do what we should! We don't love god with all our heart! We don't love our neighbors as ourselves! Or maybe that's the real problem – unfortunately, we DO treat our neighbors exactly like we treat ourselves! There are going to be times when someone sins against us! Just as there are going to be times when we sin against someone else! It's not a matter of IF; it's a matter of WHEN! Hurt feelings! Personality conflicts! Differences of opinion! It's all in here just like it's out there! Pettiness! Ego! The whole nine yards! And when it happens... when it happens... all we can do is forgive! Forgive even if they never say, "I'm sorry."

"If another member of the church sins against you, YOU FORGIVE THEM!"

Truth is, most of those "sins" against us, against others, probably aren't recognized as sins except by the injured party. A thoughtless word. A careless look. An unthinking action. Those, more often than not, are the things that end up separating what god has joined together. And the easiest thing, the simplest thing, to do is forgive! Forgive! Forgive! And you don't need a confession in order to do it! You just do it and go on respecting, revering, irrespective, despite! But, then, Matthew doesn't say that. Not here. Not this morning.

He said it back on February 19th, in the Sermon on the Mount! "God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good," he wrote, "and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous!" But he doesn't say that, this morning. Last Sunday, he told us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow Jesus! He doesn't tell us to do that, this week! Next week, he says, "Forgive! Not seven times, but seventy times seven times!" But this morning, nothing about forgiveness. Not one word, one syllable! And I just don't understand why... why not... "If another member of the church – when another member of the church – sins against you, YOU FORGIVE THEM!" YOU, SIMPLY, FORGIVE THEM! It's by your forgiving that they're redeemed! By your forgiving and not by their confessing!

So, like I said, like I've said before... I just don't understand! There's times Matthew has it just right! God loving without limit! God loving without measure! God loving without reason, without condition! God loving with all god's heart and with all god's mind and with all god's strength and with all god's being! God loving till the last breath, till the last ounce, till the last drop! But then, three are passages like the one we read, this morning. When faith, believing, seems nothing more than a checklist we follow... item... by item... by item... dotting each "i"... crossing every "t"... When another member of the church sins against you... one (check)... two (check)... three (check)...

By, my friends, it's much more simple than that. It's much less simple. When another member sins against you... when you sin against another member... there is only one thing to do... Forgive! Forgive as god has forgiven you! Forgive just like Jesus!

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the sermon for

the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

03 September 2017

In the Beginning...
Pastors proclaim and administer. Priests love!

09032017I may, just as well, say it. Straight out! No beating around the bush. No pulling punches. Let the chips fall where they may! I know some of you may be shocked! But truth is, there is politics in the church! Not just a little, but a lot! The church is full of politics! Not the Republican/Democratic, red/blue kind. Although – truth be told – there's enough of that. But what I mean is the subtle kind! The kind we try so hard to pretend isn't there. Even here, in this place, there are political parties! Platforms! Principles! Opinions! Self-interests! For better, for worse, we have it all!

A few years ago, I began preaching a sermon that wasn't based, as usual, on a verse or two. Instead, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of my ordination, I'd root it more on my experience as a pastor. Looking back over the years. Identifying the themes that made my ministry mine. When my career is over, it would give me something to pass on to my kids, to my grandkids. Help them understand why I did what I did.

Anyway, this year, I got to thinking back to the beginning. When I was young... and innocent... and more than a little naïve... I wore a clerical collar, back then! I guess, it was the thing to do. "Friar Tuck" was the brand name! It had a white tab that slipped in and out of the collar. The clip-on tie of pastor's fashion! I was twenty-four, at the time. Moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Columbia, South Carolina to attend Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. I'd been endorsed by the Professional Leadership Committee of Pacific Southwest Synod and after my first year, I met with a couple people from the committee, for the first time.

The first question was what you might expect. "How was your first year?" But it was the second question that raised a red flag and opened my eyes to the politics. "Why didn't you go to Berkley?" Why didn't you go to Pacific Lutheran Seminary, the one supported by this synod?" Not "Why did you go to Southern?" But "Why didn't you go to PLTS?" Well, to make a long story short, two years later, the "Committee" voted not to endorse me! They didn't vote to reject me, only not to accept me! And they recommended I pursue ordination through a southern synod, closer to Columbia! In the end – or rather, in the beginning – I was ordained by the North Carolina Synod!

So there is politics in the church! Lots and lots and lots of politics! And that's okay. Because looking back, I realize it was those politics that shaped me, that shaped my message, that shaped my ministry. You see, that last year, I had to figure out just what it would mean if, for some reason, I wouldn't be ordained? What if I never became a pastor? What would I sacrifice? What would I have to give up?

Well, I wouldn't be able to preach... not back then. Not on Sundays or holy days, at weddings or funerals. I wouldn't be baptizing anyone. Or presiding at the Supper. But everything else? Everything else I'd be doing, simply, because I was baptized! Simply because I was a Christian! A member of the church! That last year of seminary, I realized that the overwhelming percentage of the things I would do as a pastor, I do just because I'm a believer! Teaching! Adults! Kiddoes! Saying grace at potlucks! Reading the lessons! Helping to lead worship! Assisting at Communion! Going to council meetings! Serving on ministry teams! Visiting the sick! The homebound! The imprisoned! Mopping floors! Changing filters in the air conditioner! Setting up and taking down tables and chairs! Anyone can do any of that! You don't have to be "called and ordained!"

Sixty... Seventy... Eighty percent... of everything I do as a pastor, can be done by anyone! Forgiving sins! Feeding the hungry! Giving the thirsty a glass of cold water! Welcoming the refugee, the exile, the stranger! Even answering questions others might have about god or Jesus or the church! It's something we can all do! It's something we all do, each and every day! Not because we're called ordained, but because we're baptized and sent! Ordination makes a pastor. Baptism makes us priests! Each of us! All of us! Pastors proclaim the gospel! They administer the sacraments! They teach and they preach! But baptism gives us the right, the privilege – the duty and responsibility – to do everything else!

And frankly, there for a while, I was tempted to remain just a Christian. Plain. Ordinary. Run of the mill. Becoming a pastor comes at a cost. People would think I did what I was doing because it was my job. People would think I did what I was doing not because it was part of my baptism, but because I got paid for it! I wasn't sure I wanted to pay the price. God love us! Go loves us all! So that we all, in turn, love the people around us! Baptism makes us priests! Baptism makes us al priests! And life is our parish! The world is our congregation!

Looking back at my ordination, I was asked, by the church, to do two things. To Preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the confessions! And faithfully to administer the sacrament! To baptize! To serve the Supper! To forgive! That's it! That's everything! And the sign of that office isn't a collar. It's a stole! Two things! Preach! Administer! And everything else, I do – we do – by virtue of my, of our, baptism! Serving, in the name of god, all the people god brings into our life! Husbands, wives! Brothers, sisters! Parents! Grandparents! Children! Grandchildren! Aunts, uncles, cousins! Neighbors, friends! Classmates, coworkers! And we take it all for granted! We do it without, ever, thinking about it! Loving others! Naturally! Automatically! Because god first loved us! And all the while, we never wear a special uniform!

Eventually, as you might guess, I was endorsed by another synod... in the South! I received a call to serve at a congregation not three hours from here. And for the past thirty-four years – thirty-four years, this next Thursday – I've served "called and ordained"! But early on, I decided to dress appropriately. When I was doing things, uniquely, as a pastor, I've worn a stole! But when I was doing something as a baptized child of god, I wore clothes. Plain. Ordinary. Everyday. Street clothes! Civvies! So that you could see the difference! There are things I was prepared to do, ordered to do! But what I've done, what I do – for the most part – is what any of us does by virtue of our baptism!

We live in challenging times. For a half a century, the church here in North America has been shrinking! Getting smaller! Grayer! Today, it's getting harder for a congregation to get and to keep a pastor. Ordained ministry – especially here in West Texas – has become a luxury many, maybe even most, congregations can't afford. Either a church like ours dies... Or we become the priesthood we were mean to be! We become the people we have always been! A people baptized and a people sent! A people loved and a people loving! Just like Jesus! Without limit! Without measure! And to do that, you don't need a collar! All you need is a cross! A cross!

No. This is a time of opportunity! A time of possibilities! A chance to become, once again, the church we were made to be! The church becomes the church not in its songs... or in its prayers... or, even, in its pastors... The church becomes the church –whole and nothing but – in this bowl of water, front and center! My friends, you are that church! You are the priests! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit!

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