Scripture today is from Matthew 18:15-20
My sermon is called….. “Forgiveness?”
Grace, peace, love and forgiveness are yours through Jesus Christ, our living and reigning God. Amen.
Have you ever heard someone, perhaps another pastor, one of your Sunday School teachers, or maybe me, talk about the Mysteries of the Church? Usually when we think of the Mysteries of the Church, we think about things like:
The Immaculate Conception – How could Jesus really be born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit?
The Sacrament of Holy Communion – How does that bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ?
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism – How, with only water and the Word, can faith be given, even to a tiny infant?
The Resurrection – How could Jesus die, be buried, and yet be alive three days later, be risen from the dead?
But you know there are many other unknowns throughout the Bible that might be called mysteries. Have you ever asked yourself…
· How did Noah get all those animals on the Ark?
· How did the water of the Nile become blood?
· How did the Red Sea part allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land?
· How did the millions of people and animals survive for 40 years wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land?
· How did Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego survive in that fiery furnace? That list could go on and on.
These mysteries, these unknowns, these profoundly non-intellectually understood stories, which reveal the power, the might, the awesomeness of our Creator. But Wait! Then there are the accounts of the miracles of Jesus.
· Healing the sick.
· Giving sight to the blind.
· Making the lame to walk.
· Feeding over 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two small fish.
· Driving out demons.
· Walking on water.
· Raising people from the dead.
These mysteries of the Church, these mysteries of the Bible, these mysteries of the life of Christ are innumerable.
Today, I want to talk about a different mystery. It’s probably the mystery that confounds me more than any other, perhaps because it’s a mystery that affects me more personally than any of the others. That’s the mystery of forgiveness. If you followed along with the scripture lesson for this morning, you might think that the message for this morning should be more along the line of confrontation than forgiveness. In the Ezekiel 3: 16-20 we find, the prophet Ezekiel picking up on a theme that was established early on in his days as a prophet. That is, that he has been appointed by God to be a watchman. He has been given a gift by the Lord to talk to the people of Israel. The people that he is addressing are his fellow captives in Babylonia. You have to understand that Ezekiel is a lot like the prophet Jeremiah. What he had to say to the people was not what they necessarily wanted to hear. But that’s where his title of watchman comes into play.
I grew up in South Florida and back in the 1960’s we had, in our county, a Department of Civil Defense, perhaps a forerunner to the Department of Homeland Security. My next door neighbor was the head of the Civil Defense team for West Palm Beach, Florida. (That’s because he had been in the military and still owned a uniform that fit.) On top of the fire station in our town, there was an air-raid warning siren. It was there to notify the town if we were under attack by incoming nuclear missiles. It also warned us of tornados and other weather related dangers.
In the old days, back in Jesus day and before, prior to things such as “early warning radar” and NORAD and satellites, the way that towns and cities would protect themselves was by erecting a wall around the outside of the city. That was great, but they still needed to have someone to keep an eye out just in case the enemy decided to attack. That job of course was given to the watchman. It was the most important job in town. This watchman had in his control, the life and death of the people of the city. If he did his job, the people could be prepared. They could be prepared to fight, to put up resistance. They could perhaps overcome their foes. But, if he were to decide to take a little nap, if he decided to sneak away and take a day off, or if he decided that the threats were probably more perceived than real so that he would ignore the movements in the bushes….well, then the city could be overrun and the people could all be killed. Now, Ezekiel the prophet wasn’t posted up on a wall looking down on the Israelites warning of the enemies that were coming from the outside, although there were real, live, threats from invading forces. Ezekiel had an even tougher assignment. He was to warn the people of Israel of the enemies attacking from within. He was God’s own messenger to the people and he was commanded to tell the people that what they were doing was not pleasing in the eyes of the Lord! In today’s lesson, we hear of an added little bonus for Ezekiel, the watchman. He is told, in no uncertain terms, that if he fails to warn the people adequately, he will be held responsible. He also gets to inform the people that if he tells them of their sin and they do not repent, they are going to die, but he will be saved. That’s supposed to be the good news portion…and it is, for Ezekiel …but when you have to tell people something like that….well, it doesn’t make it any easier. So, we move from the OT to the Gospel.
Loud cheers…..yeah….yeah…..away from that awful Law and now for the good news!!!!! And we read the words of Jesus, talking about how to confront our brother if he sins against you. Why do we have to bother with this? I mean, after all, if the guy is out there sinning against me by thought word or deed….he probably deserves whatever punishment he’s going to get anyway right?! And further more, if he’s out there sinning against me, maybe I ought to be doing some confronting! Maybe the guy needs to hear a few words from me. And I’m just the guy who can do it!!!!! In our sinful world, this far too often becomes our attitude. We love to, once again, be selective listeners or selective readers or hearers of the Words of Holy Scripture. You see, this is the way most of us would like to read the opening lines of this text: Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. Period.” Far to often, I hear people almost enjoying, feeling superior, by pointing out the faults and the sins of others. And you know what my first reaction is when I hear that: I hit them with a Bible verse: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” And when I do that, I am no better than them. What Jesus was talking about in that “sawdust” verse is hypocrisy. You know people just love to use the Bible to try and make a point and to try to beat someone into submission with words of Holy Scripture. How hypocritical is it for me to use Jesus’ words if I don’t read all of what he says. Because if you continue on in the Gospel text it says: “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” You see, the whole point of this confrontation is not to belittle. It’s not to judge. It’s not to turn away. It’s to turn the person back to God. It’s to bring the person back into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The same way that Ezekiel was serving as a watchman, warning the Israelites of their sins against God and urging, pleading, begging them to repent, that is how we are to go to our brothers who have sinned against us. Not trying to create a crevice. Not trying to drive a wedge. Not going after them with a vengeance, but approaching them in love. That’s right love. Just a little side note. You think it’s odd that we talk about confronting a brother in love, or loving our enemies. Look at today’s Epistle lesson. The apostle Paul takes on two subjects that have created more rancor throughout the ages than just about everything but religion…..government and taxes. Note his final words in dealing with these touchy subjects. Love. Brothers and sisters in Christ. God is Love. Do you think that Ezekiel enjoyed going and telling his brothers that they had to mend their ways? That they had to change their way of thinking and living and acting and turn back to God? NO! and to make matters worse….He was scorned. Do you think it’s easy to confront someone these days with their sins? But it is a necessity. People need to hear about sin. People need to hear about their sin. This is not to say that you follow along behind your brother or sister or husband or wife or son or daughter and continually point out every mistake they make and say, “just wanted to let you know you’re a sinner.”
What it does mean is that if someone is sinning grievously and is unrepentant, they should be confronted. Once again, not to push them out the door, but to show them the door is wide open. When Jesus died on the cross he carried on his shoulders the sins of all humanity. Yours, mine, theirs. ALL of the sins, of all the world were ransomed in that one sacrifice. They were paid for. Do people need to know, do people need to hear that they are sinners? Yes. But they also need to hear the loving words of forgiveness. They need to know that no matter how bad society thinks they are, no matter how bad they think they are, God loves them.
And He’s already proven it by sending His Son to die for them. I told you earlier that I was going to talk about mysteries and I have to be honest….The biggest mystery in my life I is understanding how this God that reigns in the heavens above…This God that created life… This God that formed the mountains and the rivers and the oceans and the stars and the planets… This God that has His hand in everything that happens in this entire universe, in this planet, in this country, and in this state, also has me. He holds me in the palm of His great and wonderful hand and promises me that I am forgiven. He promises me that I am His child. I don’t understand it. I can’t intellectually figure it out. All I can do is relish it. All I can do is fall on my knees and be grateful for it. All I can do is love and give thanks and praise to Him who loved me first. Where I grew up there was a bumper sticker that said, “Mi Casa es Su Casa”. It means my house is your house. If I were going to have a bumper sticker on my car now, it would read: “Mi pardon es Su pardon.” It would mean, “My forgiveness is your forgiveness.” We say it every Sunday…. “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When we forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, we show the love of God and strengthen our faith.