Today, our gospel message comes to us from Matthew 18:15-20, “Reconciliation in the community of faith.”
Jesus said, 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).
Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to reveal your will for our lives and redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us with confidence that you are with us in the midst of the storms of life, bring peace to our troubled souls, and lead your church throughout the ages. Enable us to live as your redeemed saints, that our lives may witness to our faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
“Reconciliation in the Community of Faith”
For the last several Sundays, we have seen examples of great faith and discuss how such faith applies to our lives today. In the story of Jesus beckoning Peter to walk on water, we learned that great faith involves getting out of the boat. The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter demonstrated the necessity of persistence in a life of faith. Last week we read what Jesus taught his followers concerning discipleship. Jesus calls his disciples to live in faith by denying themselves, taking up their crosses, and following him—even if we do this far from perfect.
The gospel lesson for this Sunday reveals to us another element of living faithfully—the nurture and maintenance of relationships.
GOD OF RELATIONSHIPS
It should be of no surprise to us that the God whom we worship is a God of relationships. Humankind was created in God's image. Our likeness to God allows us to be in relationship with God. Even when we broke our relationship with God through sin, God moved to restore that relationship. The gospel of John proclaims that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.…
Our journey is imperfect as we walk with God. We are still sinful beings; at our core, we seek to be lord of our lives and rebel against God. Our sins exhibit our sinfulness against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone. The Holy Spirit moves in our lives to convict us of our sin and to move us to change our behavior. The Spirit may speak to us through our conscience, through Scripture, or through a friend's voice.
We frequently confess our sinfulness and our sins either in the privacy of our prayer closet or in our community worship. We seek God's forgiveness that is always freely given, and we avail ourselves of the Spirit's power to turn from our sin and walk along Jesus' path rather than trailblaze our own path through the wilderness of life.
God's movement in our lives is never vengeful or meant to cause us harm. God's purpose is to move in our lives and restore our relationship with him. God created us for a relationship with him, and he realizes that we do not experience either peace or abundant life until we have that relationship with him.
Today's gospel lesson invites us to be mirror images of God in our relationships with others—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course, this is easier said than done.
When we are offended and hurt, our natural, human response is to avenge ourselves against the one who offended us. We may do this in a variety of ways, of which the most destructive is gossip. Seeking to get sympathy, amass allies, and at the same time cause harm to the individual, we gossip. A follower of St. Francis had a problem with the sin of gossip. As punishment for his gossiping behavior, St. Francis had him lay a feather on every household's doorstep in the town of Assisi. When the man returned to St. Francis and reported that he had accomplished his penance, St. Francis then directed him to pick up all of the feathers. The man objected, "I can't do that," he said, "the feathers have been blown all around town by the wind." St. Francis slowly nodded his head and said, "So it is with gossip, the words you say can never be picked up again."
When offended and when our relationship with another is strained, bruised, or broken, our goal is to heal, restore, and renew that relationship. We are called not to hurt, insist on our own way or the correctness of our position, and not get even. Relationships are too important to suffer the attacks of bruised egos.
The first thing we do when offended or hurt is to communicate with the one who hurt us. We do not confront him and tell him or her that he or she is wrong. Instead, we simply share how we were hurt by what he or she said or did.
Forgiveness is a constant. Whether the individual asks for our forgiveness or remains unrepentant, forgiveness is given. This is not only for the sake of the relationship but also for our own physical, spiritual and emotional health.
We live with the hope and prayer that the relationship will be restored, even if it takes some time for that to happen. Christ's example challenges us, never to close the door on a relationship.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS
We, at times, downplay the importance of relationships. Assets, prestige, career, and ego are sometimes considered more important. Relationships are broken because of what people have done or said. We severe relationships with people who don't do what we want them to do or don't believe as we do. Relationships, though, are one of the most important parts of our lives. We are social beings who were created for relationships with our creator and with our fellow creatures.
Healthy, vibrant relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ are essential for a bold and loving witness to those around us. Many of us have experienced out the fighting and bickering of congregations have soured those outside the church on the Christian faith and darkened the congregation's witness.
Strong, dynamic relationships are necessary for Christian service. We have to be able to work together if we are to be about Christ's tasks. Hard feelings, bruised egos, and the unwillingness to forgive all hinder our ability to meet others' needs and share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ through our deeds.
We are a people of faith who seek to live out our faith in our daily lives. Faithfulness to Jesus Christ is more than simply knowing the right things and believing certain truths. Faithful living is allowing our faith to motivate and drive our words and actions.
Faithfulness impels us to live in relationship with others as friends rather than enemies, because while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us. Christ died so that we might call God our father, and God might call us his sons and daughters.
Gracious and merciful God, our human family's problems are very grave, and we are no longer isolated from one another. We are confronted daily with our addiction to violence, our hatred, and our greed. We are heartbroken. The media are relentless in their presentation and critique, and we all long for some good news. It is so easy to forget that your Son, Jesus, is always the good news and has given us the remedy for our brokenness. "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." He spoke so clearly. We ask your Holy Spirit to remind us of this again and again. We ask you for the gift of hope in our lives and know that we need to turn to one another for the confidence and assurance that we will emerge from situations that, in the short term, seem hopeless. Banish fear and anxiety from our hearts.
Father, affirm us to one another and remove the barriers that seem to sour our relationships and keep us at a distance. Heal the short tempers, the crabbiness and the grudges we hold, against one another, against our political system, against our Church, against our financial institutions. We could go on and on. Prompt us to be beacons in the present darkness, and especially beacons to one another. We are all guilty of some selfishness, many of us have lived beyond our means, and we become angry and irrational and embrace ideologies that protect our acquisitions. We need your help to stop contributing to the larger greed that tears at our world. We believe in your grace's power to change our lives and promise tonight to be once again open to that grace. Bless us with a peaceful spirit and a desire to be reconciled with one another. Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Sermon contributed by Kevin Ruffcorn.
Jesus gives his followers rules for the community to live by. They are good rules as we strive to live our Christian lives together in ministry and fellowship.