First Congregational Church
September 10, 2017
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 18:15-20 & Romans 13:8-14
“The Simple Life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This morning’s scripture passages are two of the several listed for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary, that calendric list of Bible passages for every day of a three year cycle. Not every single word of the Bible gets a slot in the Lectionary, and in some ways, I really wish that these two passages might have been skipped over.
Matthew 18:15-20 (NIV)
Dealing With Sin in the Church
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or 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 that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Romans 13:8-14 (NIV)
Love Fulfills the Law
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
The Day Is Near
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton is Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and he told a story in 2011 that spoke to this morning’s scripture passages.
“A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit my mother on the farm where I grew up in the foothills of Virginia. I went for a drive to check on old familiar places and while driving about, I glanced down a road and across a pasture at a church and remembered a story my late father had told me about that church. It brought a smile to my face as I stood at his grave later that day.
Most of the denominations in that part of the world were against tobacco, but the vast majority ignored the fact that many of their members were tobacco farmers or worked in tobacco factories. Not that church. They took their anti-tobacco stance seriously.
Daddy told me that every spring, when the farmers in his congregation planted their tobacco, the Preacher would go and see them and read them the section in the church discipline book, forbidding involvement in “the tobacco trade,” and the scripture we read from Matthew. A few weeks later he brought two elders with him and did it again. And some time before Memorial Day, the women and children of the congregation gathered in solemn assembly to excommunicate their fathers and husbands and brothers, etc. Then everyone would go home to a nice Sunday dinner.
Sometime in the Fall, after everyone had harvested their crop and sold their tobacco, the women and children would gather again and vote their menfolk back in, just in time, my father added with a wink, for the church to collect a tithe on the proceeds of the tobacco sale.
There are so many “pieces” of these passages that are just uncomfortable. Knowing what we all know of Jesus, does it make any sense that he would suggest that we deal with sin in a simple set of 1-2-3 steps? While the verses from Matthew about dealing with sin may sound logical, practical and neat-and-tidy, who of you would like to be on the receiving end of such a procedure? And in your heart of hearts, who of any of us would really like to be on the administrating end of that one, either? And goodness knows I have enough to keep me busy without trying to be a disciplinarian to the likes of all you!
Wise Scott Hoezee, from Calvin Theological Seminary said this. “I would suggest that Jesus was being gently ironic here, telling his disciples that even when you’ve done all you can to come to an understanding with a person whose behavior is genuinely difficult—and even if you had to keep some distance from such a person for various reasons—you are even so never finished with reaching out to that person in grace and love.”
There’s the 19th verse of Matthew, where it says, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” How many times have really good and faithful people come together, two or more, and prayed in God’s name, and what they prayed for didn’t seem to happen? I would venture to guess that more than one or two individuals that met over a cup of coffee and prayed in Jesus’ name for the hurricanes to take different directions were a little disappointed, if not frustrated.
And from the Romans’ passage, Christians have been trying to get ready for that distant day of salvation for a couple millennia now, and we don’t seem to be any closer than just after Jesus’ resurrection.
But we need these passages to remind us of our larger tasks as followers of Christ: to make sure our houses are in order, meaning our mouths and tongues and hearts and minds, because whatever we let loose, out of our mouths, we can’t take back, and the words are out there - for eternity. And whatever we bind up in our hearts, holding our tongues and reigning in our hearts and minds, stay there for eternity, too. I’m certainly not suggesting that we don’t share important information when it’s appropriate. But sometimes, at least for me, the reminder is needed, that I have far more control over what comes out of me than I realize.
My pal, Steve Garnaas Holmes suggested that When it comes to “whatever you” do, having eternal consequences, maybe “whatever” refers to our own sins. The hurts you hang onto you're stuck with. The hurts you forgive open you to divine healing.
Maybe: “whatever” means whatever relationship. The relationship in which you stay connected, despite conflict, is rooted in God. The relationship you break loses its divine energy.
Maybe: “whatever” means whoever. Whoever you oppress truly experiences oppression; whoever you set free is truly free.
Maybe “whatever” means yourself. You can set yourself free, or bind yourself up. God doesn't do it; we do it to ourselves.
Maybe: let go of what God doesn't care about and hang onto what leads you to God.
“ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” In some ways, it’s so very simple. All those rules from the Old Testament were about helping people to fulfill God’s holy law. Except that a holy law needs more than mere actions; it needs a holy motivator. And what is more holy than love - from sensual or romantic love, to love of family and kin, to the love that we practice toward one another, to agape love, God's immeasurable, incomparable love for humankind. So we were given Christ, who regardless of who we are, or what we’ve done or ever will do, loves - us - to the deepest of our being. So shall we pray.
God of Love and Light and all that is good, thank you for giving us such love that is beyond our wildest imaginations. Help us to remember that you love each of your children with that same love, that regardless of what any of us do, have done or will do, you will continue to love us as your beloved. Help us to go into this world, into this week, and no matter what happens, help us remember that nothing will separate us from your love in Christ Jesus; that your presence is a near as our next breath. Inspire us to really live this high life and our calling to be your people. And all your children say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.