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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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