12 Pentecost Proper A18
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 18:15-20 Sermon
September 4, 2011
281 TLH "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear" (now playing)
771 WOV "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"
660 TLH "I'm But A Stranger Here, Heaven Is My Home"
IN THE BUSINESS OF FORGIVENESS
TEXT (vs. 15-17): "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Advertising slogans. All we need to do is turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, and we’ll experience these one or two line phrases that various companies have adopted. Companies hire advertising agencies and pay big dollars to develop these slogans for them.
Here’s a few to consider: “Don’t leave home without it.” That’s American Express. “Just do it.” That’s Nike. I’ve often wondered how much those three little one-syllable words cost Nike? Or how about, “There are some things that money just can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Master Card.” Or, “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” Or, “This Bud’s for you.” And when we hear, “Just fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on your car insurance,” we immediately think of the cute little gecko with the Australian accent on those Geico commercials.
Slogans are things that stick with us. It makes products easier to remember. And even when we’ve heard those slogans so many times that we’re ready to scream if we hear them again, we still remember them. We remember the product. And the businesses are counting on that, all the way to the bank.
As I was studying our Scripture readings for today, I began to muse about one slogan that would best describe Christ’s Church. Think about this: We’re in the business of forgiveness.” How does that strike you? Does it sound too corny or gimmicky? Actually as Christians, and as Lutherans, that’s one very good description of what we do here. We are in the business of forgiveness. And that’s what I chose as the theme for my message to you this morning.
Actually I think we have a pretty good handle on this forgiveness business. Just look up here in the front. There’s a baptismal font, where a saving faith is created and sins are washed away. There’s the altar, where we are reminded of Christ’s one atoning sacrifice for us. It’s here where we receive the true body and true blood of Jesus through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for, that’s right, the forgiveness of our sins and strength for our faith.
And when our service begins, we hear the words “We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against thee by thought, word, and deed.” Or we say, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment.” That’s the confession of sins.
But right away, we hear the words of absolution. Our sins are completely absolved and forgiven. You’ll hear me say, “I announce the grace of God unto all of you; and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” That’s what we need to hear!
Our business is forgiveness. Everybody should know that when they walk through those doors carrying a whole ton of sin and guilt on their shoulders, that here is where they can get rid of all of that. We boldly and proudly proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and that through faith alone in him, all of our sins and iniquities are forgiven. This is something that we continually proclaim.
Furthermore, there should never be any doubt in anybody’s mind as to how this forgiveness operates. Anybody who comes in here should never leave here and be in the dark about how forgiveness and salvation works. This is our job. We’re in the business of forgiveness. And we’re literally surrounded with reminders of how God loves us and what he has done for us through grace alone.
This is one of the more unique things about Lutheran worship. If you’ve experienced other types of church services, the focus is always upon the worshipper. The idea is to create some sort of emotional love affair with Jesus within the people. They will have the attitude of “doing church” like they would do dinner and a movie. It’s taken on all of the allure of the entertainment industry. It’s not that people shouldn’t enjoy worship and find it interesting, but we’re not in the entertainment business.
We’re in the business of forgiveness. The focus of our service is upon Christ and what he has done for us. We don’t try to create a lot of emotional hype. Rather our focus is directed toward God and his love. Here is where God comes to us and meets us right where we are. Here we sit, bruised and battered from what Satan has been doing to us. And what we find is the comfort of the Gospel right from our Saviour’s mouth. We find all of the love and acceptance God has to offer right here. We focus on what God has done for us, and our worship is our response to that. We’re in the business of forgiveness, and what joy that brings into our lives! We are forgiven children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And that’s a truth we will carry with us throughout our lives.
Oh yes, we have this forgiveness stuff pretty well in hand. We’re experts at it. We can come here, confess our sins, receive absolution, receive the Lord’s Supper, and we’re good to go. Like the hymn writer says, “Break forth my soul for joy and say, ‘what wealth is come to me this day,’ my Saviour dwells within me now; how blest am I, how good art thou!” Can you think of any better words to describe the forgiveness we have received in the Lord’s Supper?
So now that we’re all sitting back, happy and contented with all of our sins forgiven, you’d better hang on because the other shoe is about ready to drop. If you think of the slogan I just made up, “We’re in the business of forgiveness,” there’s a whole different facet of this we haven’t even examined yet.
Forgiveness has two distinct prongs. The first we have already discussed, which is how God forgives us. The second one upon which we’re about to embark is how we forgive others. And as good as we are at receiving God’s forgiveness, we fall flat on our faces when it comes to forgiving others. So if we’re in the business of forgiveness, we’d better be just as good at giving it as we are in receiving it. And that isn’t easy.
This is where our Gospel lesson for today really comes into play. The concept is really very simple. If a Christian sins against you, then take care of the matter just between the two of you. If it can’t be resolved, then take two or three witnesses with you and attempt to settle the matter. And if that doesn’t work, then take it to the Church. And if that doesn’t do the job, then you’ve done about all you can do. It’s time to break fellowship. Of course you keep on praying for them and the situation with the hope of resolution, but the breaking of fellowship is the most powerful blow.
This morning, I’m going to share with you some words that I know I’ve read to you before, but I’d like you to listen to them again: “The congregation zealously watches over the purity of doctrine and life of its members, and when anyone is overtaken in any trespass it strives in the spirit of meekness and love to restore such a one in accordance with Matthew 18:15-18 and Galatians 6:1.”
If that sounds familiar to you, it should. What I just read is section IX paragraph 1 of the bylaws of this congregation. Section IX has the heading “Church Discipline.”
Matthew 18 verses 15-18 are the verses from our Gospel reading for this morning. And since our bylaws also reference Galatians chapter 6 verse 1, I’ll share that with you as well: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” This certainly goes hand-in-hand with the Matthew text.
This section of our by-laws is a public testimony that as a congregation, we are in the business of forgiveness. We not only proclaim the forgiveness we have between God, and ourselves, but the forgiveness we put into practice for each other.
I am always amazed at how often Jesus’ words are completely ignored. When Jesus tells us how to be reconciled with our brother and how we are to forgive, he is not just giving us a polite suggestion. In effect, he’s saying “since I have forgiven you, now here’s how you must put that into practice amongst yourselves.”
But you know how we humans are. We’ll go and spread gossip about somebody. Or we might take the old “passive/aggressive” approach, where we get mad and just don’t speak to them at all. Neither way is correct.
One-on-one is where it has to start. There is no excuse to do otherwise. And from a practical point of view, this can save a lot of heartaches and problems.
And I’ve seen some bad stuff happen too. Reputations have been ruined, marriages have broken up, jobs have been lost, and lawsuits have been filed, all because somebody didn’t want to bother with settling the matter face-to-face with the other person. When you ignore what Jesus says and do your own thing because you think you know better, the results are never good.
Listen to the words of Colossians chapter 3, verses 12-15: “12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
The whole idea behind Jesus’ directives in our Gospel lesson for today is to bring an erring brother back into the fold again. In every respect, this is an example of “tough love,” with the result of keeping their soul from eternal perdition. That’s why this section of Scripture is prescriptive of what we call “church discipline.” Church discipline is done out of love, and not out of spite for another person.
Church discipline according to Matthew 18 is done when, and only when a specific sin is involved. Church discipline cannot in any way be exercised when there is just a difference of opinion, which has nothing to do with the Bible or God’s law. There has to be actual Biblical grounds for church discipline to be enacted on any level, and not just because we don’t like somebody or somebody’s ideas.
People will have differing opinions. That’s the way human beings are. We all have different likes and dislikes, and we will all have our own ideas on how things should be done. And as long as we aren’t going against a direct command of God, we are entitled to them. That’s why church councils and voters’ assemblies decide many of these things by common consensus or a majority vote.
But we need to come back to the matter as to why Jesus had to address this issue in the first place. He knew, as we all know that sin is an ever-present problem even in the assembly of believing Christians. We all daily sin much. That’s one of the reasons we gather together here on a Sunday morning.
And now we’ve come full-circle. We are in the business of forgiveness in all respects. People need to see it when they come and worship with us, and they need to see it individually in each of our lives as well.
In our church, just beside the chancel, is that candle light in a red jar, which is called the Sanctuary Lamp. Even though it originated in the Old Testament, the reason for it directly relates to the last verse, verse 20 of our Gospel lesson for this morning, which reads: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
As we gather together, irrespective of how few or many we are, we can be assured of Christ’s presence amongst us. Since we’re in the business of forgiveness, we need to remember that there is no forgiveness for our sins apart from what God gives us through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Through Word and Sacrament, God comes to us. He seeks us because he loves us and wants to save us. He wants us to be ambassadors of his love as we deal with others. Jesus is the one who has set us up in the business of forgiveness.