What I find wonderful about this church is that our parishioners and the clergy of this parish take seriously what we read in the Bible. We don’t view the Bible, and especially the words of Jesus, as suggestions, or ancient sage advice that does not correlate to the way we behave today. Isn’t that right? I am so glad you all agree, and I am sure when stewardship season comes around, Fr. Charleston and I will happily remember what you all agreed to today, to do exactly what the Bible says to do when giving to the Church.
Taking to heart the lessons of the Bible and of Jesus is a two-edged sword because when we take one lesson to be the truth, we then need to understand all of them are the truth. If you love to hear that those who humble themselves like a child receive the kingdom, or that the power of The Holy Spirit and the prayers of the faithful can heal us, or that Jesus will leave everything to find the lost sheep. We also have to believe that as Jesus explains to us today, when someone sins against us, it is, in fact, equally as much our responsibility to seek out forgiveness as it is the person who has sinned against us. That’s the thing about the Gospel; it cuts both ways. When we start understanding that we are all on the same team, we stop being mad at each other and start have empathy for one another.
Some of you may think I am off my rocker today, so let’s walk through the readings for today and consider what God reveals to us. Let’s see if I can make the case. In the first reading today from the Prophet Ezekiel, he warns Israel that they must caution others that their actions will bring about God’s wrath, and if Israel does not listen, they too will receive what they sow. “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Then Paul tells us, “Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Both are warnings that for God’s will to be made manifest in our lives, it involves us taking action.
This brings me to the Gospel today; the location of this teaching of Jesus is essential in, what we read today comes right before the parable of the unforgiving servant. I won’t get into that parable because it is the reading assigned for next week, and since you are all familiar with it, you should understand the significance.
How do we feel when we hear, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am often much happier to sit and stew in my anger, as opposed to confronting a person who has wronged me. Today, I think it is more appropriate to be mad at someone and never confront that person at all. It’s more suitable to tell many other people about the person who has wronged you. We often think the best way to deal with a situation where someone has sinned against us is to go to someone we perceive has power over the said person and get him or her to punish the perpetrator. The key to this strategy is to make sure that once punished; no one ever knows that you were the one who told, that would, of course, be too aggressive.
Jesus continues and tells us if the person we confront for wronging us listens great, we have gained a brother or sister. But if not, bring the person before some witnesses, and if the person still won’t listen to bring the person to the church for help. I think we call this mediation; today, don’t we? What Jesus suggests is not that far off from some practices currently inside and outside the Church. What Jesus is proposing is that Christians should never be passive-aggressive people. We must be aggressive people. Aggressive to reconcile with those who we wrong, and to those who wrong us. The only thing passive-aggressive behavior has ever got anyone is heart attacks and substance abuse problems.
Some of you may have noticed Jesus says in this reading that if a person refuses to repent, that person is “to be to us as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This phrase will lead some folks to believe that Jesus tells us it is perfectly acceptable to let some folks know they are not quite right for this church, or for God’s kingdom, because they refuse to repent.
On the surface, this saying of Jesus appears to shoot down my whole thesis. That is until you remember a few things about who Jesus is. I am sure you all know the Apostle Matthew; you know the one who wrote what we read today. Well, his name used to be Levi, and before Jesus called him, his occupation was a tax collector. As far as the Gentiles go, we don’t even have to get to Paul to learn how Jesus expected them to be treated. Do you remember Matthew, chapter eight? A Roman Centurion begged Jesus to heal his servant, and upon his request, Jesus said this, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” And Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant, Jesus answered the Gentile’s prayer. Based on Jesus’s actions, I think it is pretty clear how Jesus expects the Church to reconcile with the tax collector and the Gentile. I would even go so far as to say Jesus makes it the Church’s responsibility to pursue the reconciliation of a sinner.
Jesus calls us to race towards reconciliation. Jesus calls us to go to our brothers and sisters when we sin against them and ask them for forgiveness. Jesus also asks us to do something that is, perhaps, the most counter-cultural thing ever, to run to those who have sinned against us, to forgive them, and not to punish them. Imagine a world bound and determined to forgive and not punish. That’s the world Jesus wants for all of us. That is a lesson from the Bible we all need to take seriously.
Sermon preached by the Reverend Christian M. Wood
Church of the Redeemer
18th Sunday after Pentecost
4 October 2020